Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics

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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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Plaintiff (the customer) filed suit against State Street (the custodian bank), alleging in essence that it had a duty to notify him that the securities in his account were worthless. The district court granted State Street's motion to dismiss the contract claims on the ground that State Street had a merely administrative role in managing plaintiff's accounts and thus owed him no duty to guard against his investment advisor's misconduct. The district court concluded that plaintiff's negligence claims were barred by Florida's economic loss rule and plaintiff had not sufficiently alleged knowledge on the part of State Street in regards to the aiding and abetting claims. The court affirmed, holding that, under these facts, the custodian bank breached no duty, contractual or otherwise, by accepting on behalf of its customer securities that later turn out to be fraudulent and listing those securities on monthly account statements issued to the customer. Plaintiff's allegations failed to state claims for breach of contract; plaintiff failed to establish that State Street owed him an independent duty to monitor the investments in his account, verify their market value, or ensure they were in valid form; therefore, he failed to state valid negligence claims; plaintiff's allegations were insufficient to state a claim for aiding and abetting; and plaintiff's claims for breach of fiduciary duty and negligent misrepresentation also failed. View "Lamm v. State Street Bank and Trust" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs claimed that the fiduciaries of their retirement plan violated the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., in ways that damaged their efforts to stockpile savings for their winter years. The court held that because plaintiffs have not pleaded facts establishing that defendants abused their discretion by following the Plan's directions, they have not stated a valid claim for breach of the duty of prudence. The court also held that plaintiffs have failed to state a viable breach of loyalty claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' third and last amended complaint. View "Lanfear, et al. v. Home Depot, Inc., et al." on Justia Law

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In this securities fraud class action, the investor plaintiffs sued the defendant company and three of its principal officers, alleging that they had made a series of eleven false or misleading statements to the public, in violation of section 10(b) of the Securities and Exchange Act of 1934 and Rule 10b-5 promulgated thereunder, 15 U.S.C. 78a et seq. Plaintiffs claimed that the false statements had the effect of artificially inflating the price of defendant's stock until the truth belatedly came out, at which time the stock price dropped and plaintiffs suffered substantial financial losses. The court held that the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs' claims arising from the alleged misstatements made on March 5, 2004 and July 26, 2004, because plaintiffs have inadequately pled scienter and falsity. However, as for plaintiffs' claims arising out of defendant's February 23, 2005 and March 16, 2005 statements, the court vacated the district court's entry of summary judgment. The court held that the securities laws prohibited corporate representatives from knowingly peddling material misrepresentations to the public, regardless of whether the statements introduced a new falsehood to the market or merely confirmed misinformation already in the marketplace. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded for further proceedings.

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The United States appealed an award of attorney's fees and costs under the Hyde Amendment, Pub. L. No. 105-119, section 617, 111 Stat. 2440, 2519, and two attorneys, Sean Cronin and Andrea Hoffman, appeal public reprimands entered against them based on their work as Assistant United States Attorneys in an underlying criminal action marked by hard adversarial tactics. The court held that the district court abused its discretion when it imposed sanctions against the United States for a prosecution that was objectively reasonable, and the district court violated the constitutional right to due process of the two lead prosecutors, when it denied them notice of any charges of misconduct and an opportunity to be heard. Therefore, the court vacated the award of attorney's fees and costs against the United States and the public reprimand of Cronin and Hoffman, but the court denied the request of Cronin and Hoffman that the court reassign the case to a different district judge at this stage.

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Plaintiff filed a declaratory judgment action against its insurer to determine whether its professional liability policy issued to plaintiff provided coverage for plaintiff's erroneous disbursement of client funds from its trust account. At issue was whether the district court properly granted the insurer's motion for summary judgment denying coverage where the district found no coverage under the policy. The court held that plaintiff's erroneous transfer of its clients' trust funds to a third party was an act or omission in the conduct of its professional fiduciary duties to its clients that would give rise to a claim of negligence against it by those clients and for which it would have been liable for damages. Such a claim for a negligent act or omission was covered by the plain terms of the policy issued by the insurer to plaintiff. Accordingly, the entry of summary judgment for insurer was reversed and the case remanded for entry of summary judgment for plaintiff. The district court's award of costs against plaintiff was also reversed.