Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics

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Holly and Robert Labair filed a legal malpractice claim for Steve Carey and Carey Law Firm (collectively, Carey) related to Carey’s representation of them in a medical malpractice action. The district court granted summary judgment to Carey. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded to the district court for a trial to establish two required components of the damages element of the Labairs’ claim: (1) that it was more probable than not that they would have recovered a settlement or judgment but for Carey’s negligence, and (2) the value of the lost settlement and/or judgment. After a trial, the jury indicated that the Labairs would not have settled the underlying medical malpractice claim. The district court formally entered judgment in favor of Carey. The Supreme Court vacated the judgment, holding that the district court erred in instructing the jury to decide whether Plaintiffs would have settled the underlying medical malpractice suit. Remanded for a new trial on the question of the value of the lost opportunity to settle. View "Labair v. Carey" on Justia Law

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Tina McColl filed a complaint against Michael Lang, N.D., a licensed naturopathic physician, after Lang used black salve to remove a blemish on Lang’s nose, which resulted in an infected third degree burn on McColl’s nose. The jury found Lang departed from the standard of care in his treatment of McColl, which resulted in damages. The jury, however, unanimously denied punitive damages. McColl appealed, seeking a new trial on the issue of punitive damages. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not abuse its discretion when it (1) granted Lang’s motion to exclude evidence of the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act prohibition against selling, marketing, or manufacturing drugs not FDA approved and the FDA warning letters regarding the use of black salve as a cure for cancer; and (2) denied McColl’s motion to exclude the testimony of Lang’s expert on the standard of care for a naturopathic physician. View "McColl v. Lang" on Justia Law

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Roger and Carrie Peters and Daggin’ Y Cattle Company (collectively, Peters) filed a complaint against Junkermier, Clark, Campanella, Stevens, P.C. and Larry Addink (collectively, Junkermeir) alleging multiple counts stemming from tax services Junkermier performed for Peters. New York Marine, which insured Junkermier under a professional liability policy, defended Junkermeir subject to a reservation of rights. Peters and Junkermeir eventually entered into a settlement agreement and stipulation for entry of judgment without New York Marine’s participation, and the district court scheduled a hearing on the stipulated settlement’s reasonableness. The district court allowed New York Marine to intervene. After a hearing, the district court found that the stipulated settlement amount was reasonable, entered judgment in Peters’s favor, and ordered that Junkermier was not liable for the stipulated settlement. New York Marine appealed, asserting for the first time that the district court judge erred by not disclosing an apparent conflict of interest. The Supreme Court dismissed the appeal without prejudice pending referral to a district judge for hearing on New York Martine’s request for disqualification for cause, holding (1) New York Marine did not waive its disqualification claim; and (2) the presiding judge should have disclosed circumstances that could potentially cause the judge’s impartiality reasonably to be questioned. View "Draggin’ Y Cattle Co. v. Addink" on Justia Law

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John Stokes appealed the judgment against him in a defamation case and retained attorney Greg Duncan to advise him on how to maintain his appeal while discharging his obligation in bankruptcy. After Duncan filed a bankruptcy petition on Stokes’ behalf, the bankruptcy court granted Duncan’s motion to withdraw. While the bankruptcy action was pending, Stokes filed the present action in state court against Duncan and his paralegal (collectively, Duncan) seeking damages for legal malpractice. The bankruptcy trustee intervened in the malpractice action, arguing that the action was an asset of the bankruptcy estate. The district court stayed all proceedings in the malpractice action. The bankruptcy court concluded that the malpractice action was an asset of the bankruptcy estate and subsequently sold the action to Duncan. After Stokes’ bankruptcy proceeding was discharged, the bankruptcy court entered an order concluding that Stokes’ claims against Duncan were property of the bankruptcy estate that had been purchased by Duncan. The state district court subsequently lifted the stay and granted Duncan’s motion for summary judgment, concluding that Stokes’ malpractice claims were property of the bankruptcy estate and had been purchased by Duncan. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Stokes’ claims were part of the bankruptcy estate. View "Stokes v. Duncan" on Justia Law

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In 2007, Plaintiff was convicted of several sex-related crimes. In 2008, Plaintiff was sentenced to thirty-five years imprisonment. In 2013, Plaintiff filed a pro se claim against Defendant, the attorney who defended him during his criminal trial, claiming that Defendant failed to meet the appropriate standard of care for legal representation by failing to secure certain testimony at trial. The district court dismissed the lawsuit, concluding that Plaintiff’s claim was time-barred under the three-year statute of limitations for legal malpractice. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in granting summary judgment to Defendant on the grounds that Plaintiff’s claim was time barred by Mont. Code Ann. 27-2-206. View "Passmore v. Watson" on Justia Law

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Rober Spoja represented Duste White regarding White’s probation revocation. The sentencing court sentenced White but did not mention whether the sentence was to be served concurrently with other sentences. White petitioned to correct his sentence. The court entered an amended re-sentencing order allowing him to serve his term concurrently with other sentences, resulting in an earlier discharge date. Believing he was incarcerated for fourteen months longer than his actual sentence, White retained Bryan Tipp to represent him in a civil action against Spoja and Spoja’s law firm. After Tipp discovered the sentencing court had not ordered concurrent sentences, Tipp moved successfully to dismiss the case without informing Spoja. Spoja subsequently filed a civil action against White, Tipp, and Tipp’s law firm. The district court dismissed Spoja’s claims. The Supreme Court (1) reversed the entry of summary judgment against Spoja’s attorney deceit claim, and the award of costs, as a trier of fact could find Tipp acted deceitfully and intended to do so; and (2) affirmed the dismissal of Spoja’s malicious prosecution claim and the award of summary judgment against his abuse of process claim. View "Spoja v. White" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed a complaint against a law firm and its attorneys (Defendants), alleging that Defendants committed legal malpractice when they advised Plaintiff, their former client, to sign a release with an insurer regarding his underlying suit arising from a vehicle accident. Defendants served discovery requests on Plaintiff, but Plaintiff’s responses to the requests for admission were not timely. Defendants moved for summary judgment based in large part on the fact that the requests for admission had not been timely answered and deemed admitted. Plaintiff filed a motion to withdraw or amend his admissions. The district court denied Plaintiff's motion, concluding that while granting Plaintiff’s motion would subserve the presentation of the merits of his case, it would prejudice Defendants. The court then granted summary judgment for Defendants. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that the district court abused its discretion by refusing to allow Plaintiff to withdraw or amend his admissions, as nothing in the record showed Defendants suffered prejudice sufficient to bar amendment of Plaintiff’s admissions. Remanded. View "Bates v. Anderson" on Justia Law

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Defendants, an attorney and a law firm, structured a tax-deferred exchange for Plaintiffs, a husband and wife and the cattle ranch they owned. It was later determined that the exchange did not qualify for deferred tax treatment under 26 U.S.C. 1031, resulting in significant tax liability for Plaintiffs. Defendants filed an action against Defendants for professional negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and misrepresentation. The district court granted summary judgment to Defendants on all claims on grounds that Plaintiffs' claims were time barred. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) Plaintiffs' tort claims were timely filed, and the issue of whether Plaintiffs' timely filed their misrepresentation claim was a question of material fact to be resolved by a jury; (2) Plaintiffs properly stated a claim for breach of contract and the claim was not time barred; and (3) the district court erred in granting Defendants a protection order to prevent discovery of alleged work product and attorney-client communications, as further analysis and fact finding were necessary to determine which documents were discoverable and which qualified for work product or attorney-client protection. Remanded. View "Draggin' Y Cattle Co., Inc. v. Addink" on Justia Law

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Petitioner served two terms as a Public Service Commissioner (PSC). While serving his first term at the PSC, Respondent, campaign manager for Petitioner's opponent in the upcoming election, filed four complaints against Petitioner with the Commissioner of Political Practices (Commissioner), alleging that Petitioner had violated the statutory Code of Ethics by accepting gifts of substantial value from two corporations with which the PSC regularly dealt and by using state resources to aid his reelection campaign and for personal business. Following a three-day hearing on Respondent's complaints, a hearing examiner determined that Petitioner violated Mont. Code Ann. 2-2-104 two times by receiving "gifts of substantial value" and violated Mont. Code Ann. 2-2-121 five times by using state facilities and equipment for election purposes. The Commissioner affirmed, ordering Petitioner to pay $5,750 in fines and $14,945 for the costs of the hearing. The district court affirmed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court did not err by concluding (1) Respondent had legal standing to file ethics complaints against Petitioner; (2) Petitioner received unlawful gifts; (3) Petitioner improperly used State facilities for political purposes; and (4) the penalty statute for ethics violations was not unconstitutionally vague. View "Molnar v. Fox" on Justia Law

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Tamara Lucas and her husband James brought a legal malpractice claim against attorney Mat Stevenson after they hired Stevenson to defend James against criminal charges and to represent them in a civil suit against the city police department, the city, and individual police officers that arrested James for disturbing the peace and felony assault on a peace officer. However, Stevenson later learned that the Lucases had previously filed for bankruptcy. The civil suit was determined to an asset of the bankruptcy estate, and Stevenson was reassigned to pursue the case on behalf of the bankruptcy estate. After a settlement agreement was reached, the Lucases brought this action against Stevenson. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Stevenson. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court correctly determined (1) the Lucases' civil claims were properly determined to be an asset of the bankruptcy estate; and (2) Stevenson did not represent the Lucases at the time the claims were settled, and therefore, the Lucases had no standing to bring a legal malpractice claim against him. View "Lucas v. Stevenson" on Justia Law