Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Plaintiff filed suit against a sheriff's deputy for improperly accessing and viewing her private information on Florida driver's license databases. The district court granted plaintiff's motion for judgment as a matter of law and held the deputy liable under the Driver's Privacy Protection Act (DPPA) and 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Eleventh Circuit affirmed the liquidated damages award where the district court did not abuse its discretion in shaping a damages award appropriate for the facts of this case. The court held, however, that the district court failed to start with the lodestar and gave too much weight to the eighth Johnson factor (the amount involved and the results obtained). Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for the district court to recalculate an appropriate amount of attorneys' fees. View "Ela v. Destefano" on Justia Law

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Richard Culbertson was counsel for the four plaintiffs in these consolidated Social Security disability benefits cases. At issue in this appeal was the attorney's fees for Culbertson under 42 U.S.C. 406 and the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(d). The Eleventh Circuit held that the district court did not err in its interpretation and application of Dawson v. Finch, 425 F.2d 1192 (5th Cir. 1970) and by imposing a 24% cap on section 406 fees; it was necessary for the district court to add the requested section 406(b) fee together with his EAJA award; and the district court did not abuse its discretion and did not exceed its authority. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Wood v. Commissioner of Social Security" on Justia Law

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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