Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Plaintiff filed suit against defendant after it attempted to collect debt from plaintiff, alleging that the company violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA), the District of Columbia Consumer Protections Procedures Act (CPPA), and the District of Columbia Debt Collection Law (DCDCL). Plaintiff eventually accepted defendant's offer of judgment regarding the FDCPA claim and the district court determined the attorney's fees to which she was entitled for this success. The DC Circuit held that Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 54(d)(2)(D) and 72(b)(3) foreclose the district court from using a "clearly erroneous or contrary to law" standard when evaluating a magistrate judge's proposed disposition of an attorney's fee request. The correct standard of review is de novo. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded to allow the trial judge to reconsider this matter in the first instance applying de novo review. The court affirmed as to the remaining orders challenged on appeal. View "Baylor v. Mitchell Rubenstein & Assoc." on Justia Law

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Washtech, a labor union that represents American workers, appealed from a fee award it received under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412, for proceedings in which it partially succeeded in challenging a DHS practice allowing student visa holders to remain in the United States after completion of their formal education. The DC Circuit held that the district court did not abuse its discretion by denying fees generally for Washtech's unsuccessful efforts. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Washington Alliance of Technology Workers v. DHS" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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Wilfred I. Aka appealed the Tax Court's decision to disbar him and, alternatively, its failure to include in its disbarment order instructions for his reinstatement. The court held that it has jurisdiction to review Tax Court disbarment orders and that the court will review the Tax Court's factual findings for clear error. Nonetheless, the court considered de novo Aka's argument. On the merits, the court concluded that Aka offered no legal authority for his contention that the Tax Court violated his due-process rights, and neither procedural nor substantive due process provided a basis for reversing the Tax Court's order. Accordingly, the court affirmed the disbarment order and declined to order the Tax Court to propose additional steps for reinstatement. View "Aka v. United States Tax Court" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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NAAMJP and two of its members filed suit alleging that bar admission conditions for the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, established in the identical text of Local Civil Rule 83.8 and Local Criminal Rule 57.21 (collectively, the "Local Rule"), violate statutory and constitutional legal standards. The district court granted defendants' motion to dismiss. On appeal, NAAMJP argued that the Local Rule (1) violates the Rules Enabling Act, 28 U.S.C. 2071 and 2072; (2) runs afoul of the Supreme Court's decision in Frazier v. Heebe; (3) improperly applies rational basis review; and (4) violates 28 U.S.C. 1738, admission requirements of other federal courts and administrative agencies, and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The court concluded that the district court properly concluded that it lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate all claims brought by Patent Lawyer Doe and all claims asserted against the Attorney General; NAAMJP has failed to identify any substantive right that has been infringed by the Local Rule; the Supreme Court in Frazier exercised its own unique supervisory authority to overturn a local rule regarding bar admission in the Eastern District of Louisiana and, in so doing, made no constitutional ruling; and the Principal Office Provision embodies a reasonable assumption: local licensing control is better positioned to facilitate training sessions, conduct monitoring programs, and field complaints from the public—all rational bases for the Local Rule. The court rejected NAAMJP's remaining claims and affirmed the judgment. View "National Association for the Advancement of Multijurisdiction Practice v. Howell" on Justia Law

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Federally-registered lobbyists sued the Secretary of Commerce and U.S. Trade Representative, alleging that federal policy barring registered lobbyists from serving on the Industry Trade Advisory Committees “attaches an unconstitutional condition on the exercise of the First Amendment right to petition [the government],” and “draws an unconstitutional distinction between those who exercise their right to petition the government and those who do not.” The D.C. Circuit remanded after dismissal. Before the district court ruled on remand, the Office of Management and Budget revised the ban to apply only to lobbyists who serve on advisory committees in an individual capacity and the Department of Commerce issued an amended “Request for Nominations for the Industry Trade Advisory Committees.” The parties stipulated to dismissal, with lobbyists stating their intention to seek attorneys’ fees. The court denied that application under the Equal Access to Justice Act, 28 U.S.C. 2412, reasoning that the remand did not ensure the lobbyists would enjoy a substantive victory, so they were not “prevailing parties.” The D.C. Circuit affirmed, noting that its earlier remand specified that dismissal might still be appropriate depending on the court’s analysis of whether the government’s interest in imposing the lobbyist ban “outweighs any impingement on Appellants’ constitutional rights.” View "Autor v. Pritzker" on Justia Law

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The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), intended “to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education,” 20 U.S.C. 1400(d)(1)(A), permits parents and legal guardians to recover reasonable attorneys’ fees and costs if they prevail in certain statutorily prescribed proceedings. In calculating a fee award, courts consider the “number of hours reasonably expended in litigation” and the “reasonable hourly rate,” determined in part by reference to the prevailing market rate for attorneys’ services. The plaintiffs, having prevailed in IDEA proceedings, sought attorneys’ fees and costs related to those proceedings and an award of “fees-on-fees” for work done in connection with their pursuit of fees for the IDEA proceedings. The district court granted both requests, but did not award the full amounts requested. The D.C. Circuit reversed in part, agreeing that the district court erred in excluding certain hours spent at “settlement conferences.” The court upheld determinations that the IDEA matters were not “complex federal litigation” to which the Laffey Matrix should apply and to apply the same rate to the initial fee and fees-on-fees awards. Plaintiffs forfeited claims raised for the first time on appeal: that their affidavits independently demonstrated a prevailing IDEA market rate that aligns with the Laffey Matrix and that the rates awarded were insufficient to attract competent counsel. View "Reed v. District of Columbia" on Justia Law

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Seed Company Limited, a Japanese company, is led by Shigeru Tamai. Tamai invented a dispenser of correctional tape enabling users to correct printed documents by rolling white tape over errors. Seed and Tamai applied for patents but the application was denied because of legal counsel’s noncompliance with Patent Office regulations when filing a motion related to the application. As a result of the error, another inventor obtained the patent for the same invention. Seed and Tamai filed a legal malpractice suit against counsel. The district court subsequently granted summary judgment for defendants. The court concluded that the statute of limitations had elapsed with respect to the malpractice claims against one group of defendants - those who ceased working on behalf of Seed and Tamai when the law firm engaged in the representation split into two firms. With regard to the remaining defendants - those who continued to represent Seed and Tamai after the breakup of the firm - the court found that the statute of limitations poses no bar to the malpractice action. On the merits of the claims against those defendants, the court concluded that there is a genuine dispute of material fact about whether the alleged error is one of professional judgment, and whether defendants exercised reasonable care in making the judgment. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded as to this issue. View "Seed Co. Ltd. v. Westerman" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics, Patents

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Petitioner moved for one of the three judges of the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review, Judge William B. Pollard III, to disqualify himself. Judge Pollard is a civilian who serves as a part-time judge on the court. He also maintains a private law practice. Petitioner contends that this arrangement is unlawful and requires Judge Pollard’s disqualification. Petitioner seeks a writ of mandamus ordering Judge Pollard's disqualification. Petitioner argued that Judge Pollard’s disqualification is compelled by the Rules of Practice of the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review; petitioner raises another related argument under the appearance of impartiality standard incorporated into the Rules of Practice; Judge Pollard must disqualify himself because the Judge’s part-time private practice of law violates 18 U.S.C. 203(a), a criminal statute; and Judge Pollard has violated 28 U.S.C. 454, which states that any justice or judge appointed under the authority of the United States who engages in the practice of law is guilty of a high misdemeanor. Although the court concluded that petitioner's arguments carry some force, he has not shown a "clear and indisputable" right to relief at this time. Therefore, the court denied the petition. The court noted that if the U.S. Court of Military Commission Review decides against petitioner in his pending appeal, he may renew his arguments about Judge Pollard on direct appeal to this court. View "In re: Omar Khadr" on Justia Law

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Appellants received less than $6,000 in damages from their employers for unpaid overtime wages after eight years of litigation. In this appeal, appellants challenge the district court's fee award as too low, while the employers challenge it as too high. The court concluded that, while appellants’ fee petition originally was untimely, the court’s entry of an amended judgment created “[a] new period for filing” and cured that untimeliness, notwithstanding the fact that the petition was filed before entry of the new judgment. Therefore, appellants satisfied Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d)(2)(B)’s dictates, leaving no ground on which to deny appellants’ fee petition in its entirety for lack of timeliness. On the merits, the court concluded that there is no support in the record for the district court’s finding that appellants failed to promptly provide a damages calculation that could have facilitated early settlement. This clear factual error requires remand. Additionally, because the court cannot ascertain whether or how significantly this mistaken factual finding impacted other aspects of the district court’s fee reasonability assessment, the court vacated the entire decision and remanded. View "Radtke v. Caschetta" on Justia Law

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The district court held that NSC, a small nonprofit corporation registered in Virginia, is ineligible for attorney's fees under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 5524(a)(4)(E)(i). In keeping with Kay v. Ehrler, Baker & Hostetler LLP v. U.S. Dep’t of Commerce, and the decisions of its sister circuits, the court held that a corporation with a legal identity distinct from the attorney who represents it in litigation is eligible to recover attorney’s fees under FOIA. Because NSC is such a corporation, it is not barred by the pro se litigant exception. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "National Security Counselors v. CIA" on Justia Law