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

Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
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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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The DC Circuit denied a petition for review of the FAA's decision to revoke petitioner's pilot certification for knowingly operating an aircraft with narcotics on board. After petitioner's plane crash-landed due to an engine malfunction, a trooper doing a routine inventory of the aircraft's contents discovered three chocolate bars infused with tetrahydrocannabinol (THC, the psychoactive agent in marijuana) in petitioner's briefcase.The court held that the sanction of revocation of petitioner's pilot certificate was not imposed arbitrarily, capriciously, nor in conflict with the law. The court held that the Board explicitly considered petitioner's mitigating factors and simply determined that they did not warrant a lighter sanction. The Board reasoned that knowingly transporting illegal narcotics on an aircraft, regardless of quantity or purpose, fell within the scope of 14 C.F.R. 91.19 and was grounds for a certificate revocation. Likewise, the fact that the marijuana was purchased in Colorado did not change the fact that marijuana was illegal under federal law and in federal airspace. Finally, the passage of 49 U.S.C. 44710 did not limit the FAA's authority to revoke certificates under 49 U.S.C. 44709. View "Siegel v. Administrator of the FAA" on Justia Law

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In 2004 the law firm was engaged to bring a medical malpractice action on behalf of a 14-year-old girl who had become paralyzed after surgery. The firm filed two complaints in Virginia state court. Each was dismissed: the first without prejudice for failure to correctly caption a pleading; the second with prejudice for filing outside the statute of limitations. Shortly thereafter, the firm applied for and obtained a new professional liability insurance policy. Asked whether there were “any circumstances which may result in a claim being made,” the firm responded “no.” The firm informed the insurer of the incident in 2009, but represented that it had occurred in 2008. In 2011, the insurance company noticed that the firm had made the caption error in 2006, before the policy period. In 2012, it notified the firm that it reserved its rights to deny coverage under the known risk exclusion. The girl filed a legal malpractice action in 2012, and was awarded $1,750,000 in 2013. The court found, as a matter of law and without expert testimony, that the firm was on notice of the potential malpractice claim and rejected arguments that the insurer had forfeited or waived its right to deny coverage. The D.C. Circuit affirmed. View "Chicago Ins. Co. v. Paulson & Nace, PLLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, APA members, filed a class action suit seeking recovery of all special assessment fees paid after they learned that there was no requirement to pay the special assessment to maintain APA membership. Plaintiffs alleged that the APA intentionally misled members into believing that payment of the special assessment fee was a condition of membership, and that they would not have paid the fee had they known it was optional. The district court dismissed the claims, principally concluding that plaintiff could not have reasonably believed that the assessment fee was mandatory rather than optional. The court reversed the district court's dismissal of the unjust enrichment claim where their claim is not precluded by an express contract; the court rejected defendant's argument that their retention of the assessment fees was not "unjust"; and there is no reason to conclude that D.C. courts would impose a would-be member any heightened duty to investigate before relying on facially straightforward billing language. The court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiffs' California statutory claims where the District of Columbia - not California - law governed the dispute. The court denied plaintiffs' request to add a fraudulent inducement claim; affirmed the denial of plaintiffs' request to add claims for rescission and negligent misrepresentation; and, in regards to the negligent misrepresentation claim, reversed to the extent that the dismissal was with prejudice. The court remanded for further proceedings. View "In re: APA Assessment Fee Litigation" on Justia Law

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The Federal Election Commission opened an investigation into alleged discrepancies in ARMPAC's financial reporting. ARMPAC conceded that it had violated federal election laws and agreed to pay a civil penalty and terminate operations. Appellant, former treasurer of ARMPAC, was named in the Conciliation Agreement in his official capacity as treasurer. Appellant then filed suit against the law firm that represented ARMPAC and three lawyers, alleging that defendants failed to keep him informed about the Commission's investigation of ARMPAC, signed documents on his behalf without permission, and defamed him in the Agreement. The district court dismissed or granted summary judgment to defendants on each of appellant's claims. The district court concluded that appellant's defamation claim based on the signing of the Agreement was barred by the judicial privilege. The district court also concluded that appellant's remaining negligence claim was barred under D.C. law. The court concluded that appellant's defamation claim was based on statements contained within the Agreement reached between the Commission and ARMPAC, and therefore was encompassed within the judicial privilege. The court also concluded that no D.C. case holds that a plaintiff may maintain a negligence action based on the allegedly defamatory communication. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court. View "Teltschik v. Williams & Jensen, PLLC, et al." on Justia Law

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The Comptroller of the Currency found that petitioner, as the CEO and a director of the Bank, had engaged in a pattern of willfully misrepresenting the Bank's capital reserves to the OTS and the Bank's board of directors, and he issued orders prohibiting petitioner from participation in the affairs of any federally insured financial institution and assessing a civil penalty of one million dollars. Petitioner sought dismissal of the Comptroller's decision and orders, inter alia, on the grounds of legal error in relying on later-developed standards in the OTS New Directions Bulletin of 2009 when there were no clear standards at the relevant times, and in applying a "should have known" scienter standard in findings that required a more demanding level of scienter. The court concluded that petitioner failed to show that the stringent statutory requirements of 12 U.S.C. 1818 for an order of prohibition were not met. Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review. View "Dodge v. Comptroller of the Currency" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff filed suit against her former law firm alleging that decisions made by the firms' directors who administered the retirement plan breached their fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. The court concluded that ERISA's adoption of the common law's standard of fiduciary care in section 1104(a)(1)(B) permitted prudent fiduciaries making important decisions to rely on the advice of counsel in appropriate circumstances. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's conclusion that the directors rightfully relied upon the advice of the plan's lawyer. View "Clark v. Feder Semo and Bard, P.C., et al." on Justia Law

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Petitioner, an energy trader, challenged FERC's order to pay a $50,000 civil penalty because petitioner had made false statements and material omissions in forms he filed with the Commission and a market operator the Commission regulates. The court agreed with FERC that petitioner's admissions supported summary disposition without a hearing; because petitioner's actions were worse than careless, FERC reasonably concluded that he violated Market Behavior Rule 3; petitioner's arguments under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 500 et seq., were without merit; and petitioner failed to show that FERC increased his penalty to promote general deterrence. Accordingly, the court denied the petition for review. View "Kourouma v. FERC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff, an attorney, filed suit against the Judge Advocate General (JAG) of the Navy and others, alleging violation of his constitutional rights in an administrative decision which suspended him from practice before naval courts. The disciplinary proceedings stemmed from plaintiff's filing of an appellate brief containing statements he knew were false and misleading. The court concluded that the district court did not err in holding that the Navy JAG had authority to discipline plaintiff; plaintiff received ample due process and his Fifth Amendment rights were not violated during the proceedings against him; and the record did not support plaintiff's Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 551, 701, and 706, claim. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of plaintiff's claims and denied his request for mandamus review. View "Partington v. Houck, et al." on Justia Law

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FINRA filed a complaint against petitioner, charging that he violated FINRA rules by submitting false expense reports for reimbursement of nonexistent business travel and for a fraudulently purchased cellular telephone. In his petition for review, petitioner argued that the SEC abused its discretion in upholding a lifetime bar based on his violation of the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD) Conduct Rule 2110. The court remanded to the SEC for further consideration, agreeing with petitioner that the SEC abused its discretion in failing to adequately address all of the potentially mitigating factors that the agency should have considered when it determined the appropriate sanction. View "Saad v. SEC" on Justia Law