Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Petitioner was convicted of forcing women into prostitution and sentenced to life in prison. On remand, a different judge sentenced petitioner to 35 months of imprisonment. Three years after the trial, the United States disclosed that the judge who presided over petitioner's trial and sentenced him to life in prison, Jack Camp, had bipolar disorder and had suffered a brain injury. The investigation also disclosed allegations of racial bias. The court concluded that petitioner sufficiently alleged that Camp was actually biased against him where he proffered evidence that Camp had a difficult time adjudicating African-American men's cases and specifically disliked petitioner based on the fact that petitioner was a black man who pimped white women. Petitioner also alleged that Camp wanted to give all black offenders who pimped white women the maximum possible penalty, and Camp gave petitioner the maximum penalty. The government concedes that denial of an impartial judge is structural error that demands reversal. The court concluded that the district court must allow petitioner on remand an evidentiary hearing to prove that Camp was actually biased against him. The court concluded, however, that the district court correctly denied petitioner's claim that Camp was mentally incompetent without an evidentiary hearing. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "Norris v. United States" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit alleging that the Florida Supreme Court unlawfully denied her application to become a member of the Florida Bar in violation of federal bankruptcy law and her right to due process. The district court dismissed the complaint. The Florida Supreme Court denied plaintiff admission to the Bar based on her lack of candor and refusal to repay her financial obligations. The court concluded that the district court lacks subject matter jurisdiction over plaintiff's 11 U.S.C. 525(a) claim; sovereign immunity bars plaintiff's due process claim because the Florida Supreme Court is a department of the State of Florida; and the Ex Parte Young exception is not applicable in this case. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Uberoi v. Supreme Court of Florida" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against the State Bar, alleging a due process claim under 42 U.S.C. 1983. Specifically, plaintiff alleged that the State Bar’s rules applied the same standards and procedures for reinstatement for disbarred attorneys to attorneys suspended for more than 90 days, amounted to “defacto disbarment,” and violated his Fourteenth Amendment due process rights. The district court dismissed the complaint as barred by the Eleventh Amendment and then denied plaintiff's motion to alter or amend the judgment. Determining that the court has jurisdiction to hear plaintiff's appeal, the court agreed with the district court's conclusion that the Alabama State Bar is an arm of the state of Alabama and thus enjoys Eleventh Amendment immunity from plaintiff's section 1983 claim. Further, the court concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying plaintiff's FRCP 59(e) motion where, to the extent plaintiff contends his due process claim was a “direct action” under the Fourteenth Amendment, his amended complaint did not allege such a claim, and he could not use his Rule 59(e) motion to do so. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Nichols v. Alabama State Bar" on Justia Law

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Over 25 years ago, a representative of a class of homeless persons, filed a lawsuit against the City of Miami under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The parties subsequently entered into a settlement agreement. In this appeal, plaintiff, on behalf of a class, seeks attorney fees for opposing modifications proposed by the City of Miami to such an agreement. The court affirmed the district court's denial of fees given that modification proceedings do not trigger an award of attorneys’ fees under the agreement. In this case, the parties’ agreement limited future attorneys’ fees to enforcement proceedings. View "Peery v. City of Miami" on Justia Law

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This appeal stems from an intellectual property dispute between two religious organizations. Plaintiff filed suit alleging that defendant is infringing its registered service marks in violation of the Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C. 1114, and Florida law. The district court granted judgment for defendant. In the first appeal, the court reversed in part and remanded for reconsideration of whether the parties' marks are likely to be confused. The court was also critical of disparaging comments that the district judge made about the parties. On remand, the court concluded that the district court misapplied several factors in its analysis of likely confusion, incorrectly assessed the Florida Priory’s defense of prior use, relied on historical testimony that the court previously deemed inadmissible, and misinterpreted the court's instructions about consulting facts outside the record. The court declined to order reassignment after balancing the three factors in United States v. Torkington. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded. View "Sovereign Military Hospitaller v. The Florida Priory of the Knights Hospitallers" on Justia Law

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The court certified a question to the Alabama Supreme Court and the Alabama Supreme Court subsequently declined to answer the certified question. After reconsideration of the facts and law in this case, the court found that it is unnecessary at this juncture to answer the certified question because there exists a genuine dispute of material fact regarding a preliminary (and dispositive) issue: the nature of the parties’ relationship. The court concluded that the record is presently insufficient to determine whether the parties entered into an attorney-client relationship or a principal-agent relationship when Mississippi Valley hired defendant as an attorney agent. The court will not pass on the certified question regarding whether defendant’s conduct does or does not constitute the provision of legal services, because if the parties never entered into an attorney-client relationship, then defendant’s conduct is irrelevant. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Mississippi Valley Title Ins. Co. v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a motion asking the court to approve the contingency fee arrangement he agreed to with his lawyer, following a successful claim for social security benefits. The magistrate judge determined that a fee in the amount of $11,876.65 was reasonable under 42 U.S.C. 406(b)(1). Plaintiff appealed. The court concluded that the magistrate judge correctly started with the fee agreement, and after determining that the early retirement benefits were not past-due benefits "owed," went on to conclude an independent review of the resulting fee for reasonableness. Accordingly, the court affirmed the fee award because the court agreed with the magistrate judge's interpretation of the contract and found no error in his review of the fee.View "Keller v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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The court concluded that this appeal presented an issue of first impression that the Alabama Supreme Court is best-suited to resolve. Accordingly, the court certified the following question to the Alabama Supreme Court: Is an attorney whom an insurance company hires as an attorney agent providing a "legal service" within the meaning of Ala. Code 6-5-574 when he performs a title search, forms an unwritten opinion about the status of title, and then acts on that unwritten opinion by issuing a commitment to insure or an insurance policy?View "Mississippi Valley Title Ins., et al. v. Thompson" on Justia Law

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After defendant Elem suffered injuries in a car accident, she and her attorney conspired to hide and disburse settlement funds from an employee welfare benefit plan she received after the accident. The parties filed cross motions for summary judgment and the district court granted summary judgment for the employer, as well as awarded attorney's fees and costs to the employer. The court affirmed, concluding that the district court had the authority to sanction defendants for their bad faith. The court also concluded that defendant's claim that the district court misapplied Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 70 was moot and dismissed the appeal. View "AirTran Airways, Inc. v. Elem, et al." on Justia Law

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These consolidated appeals concern the ongoing tobacco litigation that began as a class action in Florida courts more than two decades ago. At issue is the fate of 588 personal injury cases filed on behalf of purportedly living cigarette smokers who, as it turns out, were dead at the time of filing (predeceased plaintiffs), 160 loss of consortium cases filed on behalf of spouses and children of these predeceased plaintiffs, and two wrongful death cases filed more than two years after the decedent-smoker's death. Plaintiffs' counsel sought leave to amend the complaints, but the district court denied those requests and dismissed the cases. The root of the problem occurred back in 2008 when these cases were originally filed where the law firm that brought the cases did not have the time or resources required to fully investigate all the complaints. Consequently, problem after problem cropped up once the district court started going through the inventory of cases. The defects that led to these consolidated appeals stemmed from counsel's failure to obtain accurate information regarding whether or when certain smokers died. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of these cases where, among other reasons, the problems could have been avoided if counsel had properly investigated the claims, and even if that lack of diligence were somehow excusable, counsel failed to inform the court that so many complaints were defective. View "4432 Ind. Tobacco Plaintiffs v. Various Tobacco Companies, et al." on Justia Law