Justia U.S. D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics
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Congress enacted an appropriations rider in 2009 prohibiting the District of Columbia from paying more than $4,000 in attorneys' fees for any past proceeding under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). At issue in these 11 consolidated cases was whether the District must pay interest on amounts that exceed the payment cap.After determining that the District did not forfeit the interest issue, the court held that the District cannot be compelled to pay interest on the portion of fee awards that it has been legally prohibited from paying off. The court explained that this case implicates a well-established common-law principle: If the law makes a debt unpayable, then interest on the debt is also unpayable. Furthermore, the court had no basis to conclude that 28 U.S.C. 1961(a) abrogated this background rule. The court reversed the district court's judgment requiring payment of interest on above-cap fees, affirmed the district court's judgment in all other respects, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Allen v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed a legal malpractice case arising out of the failure of two sets of lawyers associated with two different law firms, Westerman, Hattori, Daniels & Adrian, LLP (Westerman) and Kratz, Quintos & Hanson, LLP (Kratz), to file necessary documents in plaintiffs' patent case, allegedly resulting in plaintiffs' loss of that case. The complaint alleged four counts against defendants: Count I against both defendants for the original malpractice, Count II alleging that Westerman negligently gave legal advice after the original decision in the patent case issued and Counts III and IV alleging that advice Kratz gave regarding the malpractice case against Westerman led to the loss of the Count I claim against both defendants through the operation of the statute of limitations.The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's dismissal of Count II of the Second Amended Complaint where the district court did not abuse its discretion by finding that plaintiffs waived any claim for damages arising from the Count II allegations. The court also affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment on Counts III and IV of the Second Amended complaint where plaintiffs failed to establish that Armstrong's advice was the proximate cause of its injuries. View "Seed Company Limited v. Westerman, Hattori, Daniels & Adrian, LLP" on Justia Law

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After plaintiffs prevailed in a long-running Individuals with Disabilities Education Act class action, the district court relied on the USAO's new matrix in awarding attorney fees. The DC Circuit vacated the award and held that the new matrix departs from the statutory requirement in 20 U.S.C. 1415(i)(3)(C) that reasonable fees be tethered to "rates prevailing in the community" for the "kind and quality of services furnished." Accordingly, the court remanded for the district court to recalculate the hourly rate based on evidence that focuses on fees for attorneys practicing complex federal litigation in the District of Columbia. View "DL v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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These petitions concern the conduct of a military judge, Colonel Vance Spath, who presided over a current Guantanamo Bay detainee, Abd Al-Rahim Hussein Muhammed Al-Nashiri, who faces capital charges before a military commission. After receiving a job offer but before retiring from the military, Spath found himself locked in a dispute with Al-Nashiri's defense lawyers, three of whom sought to leave the case.The DC Circuit granted Al-Nashiri's petition for a writ of mandamus and held that Spath's job application to the Justice Department created a disqualifying appearance of partiality. In this case, the average, informed observer would consider Spath to have presided over a case in which his potential employer (the Attorney General) appeared. The court vacated all orders issued by Spath after he applied for the job, and dismissed counsels' petition as moot. View "In re: Abd Al-Rahim Hussein Muhammed Al-Nashiri" on Justia Law

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Matthew LeFande appealed a criminal contempt order for refusing a magistrate judge's orders to take the witness stand and be sworn for in-court questioning on the record in lieu of an ordinary, out-of-court deposition in a civil action. LeFande served as counsel for defendants in an underlying civil case.The DC Circuit affirmed the criminal contempt order, holding that a fair-minded and reasonable trier of fact could accept the evidence as probative of a defendant's guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. In this case, LeFande did not dispute that he willfully violated the magistrate judge's orders. Furthermore, the district court indisputably had jurisdiction over the underlying action; the district court had personal jurisdiction over LeFande based on his nexus with the forum and the case; LeFande's objection that the order to testify violated the attorney-client privilege was contrary to circuit law, and to the magistrate judge's and district judge's prior orders applying that precedent to LeFande; the validity of the contempt order was unaffected by LeFande's assertion that District Title sought to depose him for an improper purpose; and LeFande's discovery argument lacked merit. View "In re: Deposition of Matthew Lefande" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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This litigation over attorney's fees stemmed from a Freedom of Information Act case. At issue was whether plaintiff was entitled to attorney's fees under the Freedom of Information Act attorney's fee statute. Applying a deferential standard, the DC Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion in its analysis of four factors: (i) the public benefit from the case; (ii) the commercial benefit to the plaintiff; (iii) the nature of the plaintiff's interest in the records; and (iv) the reasonableness of the agency's withholding of the requested documents. Furthermore, the district court acted within its discretion when it concluded that the fourth factor outweighed the other three. View "Morley v. CIA" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment that certain documents subpoenaed by the FTC were covered by the attorney-client privilege. The court held that obtaining or providing legal advice was one of the significant purposes of the communications at issue. In this case, the relevant communications consisted primarily of the transmission of factual information from Boehringer's employees to the general counsel, at the general counsel's request, for the purpose of assisting the general counsel in formulating her legal advice regarding a possible settlement. Other communications were between the general counsel and the corporation's executives regarding the settlement. Therefore, all of the communications were protected by the attorney-client privilege. View "FTC v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals, Inc." on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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The DC Circuit held that two Federal Trade Commission attorneys were immune from suit for their conduct during an enforcement action against a medical-records company after the company's CEO publicly criticized the FTC about their investigation, where the company's data-security practices made patient records available over public file-sharing. The court held that qualified immunity protected all but the plainly incompetent or those who knowingly violate the law and, even if the attorneys sought to retaliate for the public criticism, their actions did not violate any clearly established right absent plausible allegations that their motive was the but-for cause of the Commission's enforcement action. Therefore, the court reversed the district court's denial of qualified immunity to the attorneys. View "Daugherty v. Sheer" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' motion to compel payment of attorneys' fees that they say should have been but were not paid as a result of PBGC doing too little to identify and make payments to class members. The court's de novo interpretation of the wrap-up agreement gave it no reason to question the district court's conclusion that PBGC fully performed notwithstanding class counsel's unsupported assertions to the contrary. The court also held that PBGC did not prevent class counsel's performance of the wrap-up agreement. In this case, the parties intended that the wrap-up would be complete within ten years. This ten year period was unambiguous and has expired. View "Collins v. PBGC" on Justia Law

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The DC Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiffs' motion to compel payment of attorneys' fees that they say should have been but were not paid as a result of PBGC doing too little to identify and make payments to class members. The court's de novo interpretation of the wrap-up agreement gave it no reason to question the district court's conclusion that PBGC fully performed notwithstanding class counsel's unsupported assertions to the contrary. The court also held that PBGC did not prevent class counsel's performance of the wrap-up agreement. In this case, the parties intended that the wrap-up would be complete within ten years. This ten year period was unambiguous and has expired. View "Collins v. PBGC" on Justia Law