Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Seventh Circuit Rules 3(c)(1) and 28(a) require the same jurisdictional information for docketing and briefing. With an exception for pro se submissions, the court screens all filed briefs to ensure that they include all required information about the jurisdiction of both the district court (or agency) and the court of appeals. FRAP 28(b) allows the appellee to omit the jurisdictional statement “unless the appellee is dissatisfied with the appellant’s statement.” In consolidated appeals, the Seventh Circuit found the jurisdictional statements inadequate and stated that the appellee cannot simply assume that the appellant has provided a jurisdictional statement that complies with the rules. The appellee must review the appellant’s jurisdictional statement to see if it is both complete and correct. If the appellant’s statement is not complete, or not correct, the appellee must file a “complete jurisdictional summary.” It is not enough simply to correct the misstatement or omission and “accept” the balance of the appellant’s statement. In one case, the Attorney General stated: “Mr. Baez‐Sanchez’s jurisdictional statement is correct,” saying nothing about completeness, so the brief must be returned to the Department of Justice. The other jurisdictional statement states “Appellants’ jurisdictional statement provides a complete jurisdictional summary.” The court stated: Fine, but what about correctness? View "Bishop v. Air Line Pilots Association, International" on Justia Law

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Hunt worked as a truck driver. In 2010, he signed an Independent Contractor Operating Agreement with Moore Brothers, a small Norfolk, Nebraska company. Three years later, Hunt and Moore renewed the Agreement. Before the second term expired, however, relations between the parties soured. Hunt hired Attorney Rine. Rine filed suit in federal court, although the Agreements contained arbitration clauses. Rine resisted arbitration, arguing that the clause was unenforceable as a matter of Nebraska law. Tired of what it regarded as a flood of frivolous arguments and motions, the district court granted Moore’s motion for sanctions under 28 U.S.C. 1927 and ordered Rine to pay Moore about $7,500. The court later dismissed the action without prejudice. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. It was within the district court’s broad discretion, in light of all the circumstances, to impose a calibrated sanction on Rine for her conduct of the litigation, culminating in the objectively baseless motion she filed in opposition to arbitration. View "James Hunt v. Moore Brothers, Inc." on Justia Law

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General Motors (GM), represented by the Mayer Brown law firm, entered into secured transactions in which JP Morgan acted as agent for two different groups of lenders. The first loan (structured as a secured lease) was made in 2001 and the second in 2006. In 2008, the 2001 secured lease was paid off, which required the lenders to release their security interests in the collateral securing the transaction. The closing papers for that payoff accidentally also terminated the lenders’ security interests in the collateral securing the 2006 loan. No one noticed—not Mayer Brown and not JP Morgan’s counsel. When GM filed for bankruptcy protection in 2009, GM and JP Morgan noticed the error. Plaintiffs, members of the consortium of lenders on the 2006 loan, were not informed until years later. Plaintiffs sued GM’s law firm, Mayer Brown. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal, holding that Mayer Brown did not owe plaintiffs a duty. The court rejected arguments that JP Morgan was a client of Mayer Brown in unrelated matters and thus not a third‐party non‐client; even if JP Morgan was a third‐party non‐client, Mayer Brown assumed a duty to JP Morgan by drafting the closing documents; and the primary purpose of the GM‐Mayer Brown relationship was to influence JP Morgan. View "Oakland Police & Fire Retirement System v. Mayer Brown, LLP" on Justia Law

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Leonard was appointed to defend Ogoke, who was charged with wire fraud. Ogoke’s codefendant, Okusanya entered into a cooperation plea agreement. Based on the government's motion in limine, Judge Guzmán entered an order that “unless there is a showing that the missing witness is peculiarly within the government’s control, either physically or in a pragmatic sense, Defendant is precluded from commenting on the government’s failure to call any witness.” It was the government’s theory that Ogoke and Okusanya were coconspirators in the fraud. Okusanya appeared on the government’s witness list, but the government did not call him during trial. During his closing argument, Leonard made several references to Okusanya’s failure to testify. Judge Guzmán sustained an objection and struck that portion of the argument. Before the jury returned a verdict, Judge Guzmán issued an order to show cause as to why Leonard should not be held in contempt. The jury found Ogoke not guilty. The government declined to participate in the contempt proceeding, Leonard was represented by counsel, but no prosecutor was appointed. Leonard stated that he had not realized he violated the ruling, but later acknowledged his “huge mistake.” Judge Guzmán issued an order holding Leonard in contempt, 18 U.S.C. 401, and ordering him to pay a fine, finding Leonard’s explanation “incredible” given his extensive experience as a defense attorney. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the conviction as supported by sufficient evidence, rejecting procedural and due process arguments. View "United States v. Ogoke" on Justia Law

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Davis sued, asserting malpractice and breach of contract claims, and federal Fair Housing Act (FHA) and Civil Rights Act claims, arising out of Fenton’s legal representation of Davis in a mortgage foreclosure action in which Davis lost her home. Davis alleged that Fenton’s representation of her was deficient and that he had targeted her for deficient representation because of her race. Because Fenton’s contract with Davis required the parties to arbitrate any disputes, the district judge ordered the suit “stayed pending arbitration.: Arbitrators awarded Davis $82,528.10 in damages for malpractice but denied her other claims. Fenton sued in Illinois state court to have the award vacated. Davis moved the federal court to reinstate her suit, to confirm the award under 9 U.S.C. 9, and to permit her to file a new FHA claim, accusing Fenton of retaliating against her for having filed her original claim. Fenton failed to appear; the judge entered a default judgment granting the motion. The court refused to vacate the default and remand to state court but dismissed the retaliation claim. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The federal judge had jurisdiction over the case when it was filed; the order staying the case, subject to reinstatement, retained jurisdiction to confirm or vacate an arbitral award. The court affirmed the dismissal; filing a lawsuit cannot be considered retaliation, except in extraordinary circumstances. View "Davis v. Fenton" on Justia Law

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Seventh Circuit upholds award of attorneys’ fees to some plaintiffs and of costs to some defendants in civil rights case. Ghidotti, an employee of Reliable Recovery, attempted to repossess a car from Baker’s step‐daughter. Ghidotti called 911, falsely stating that Baker had threatened him. Police arrived, arrested Baker, and charged him with possession of shotgun with an expired registration. Baker attended nine court hearings before the charges were dropped. Baker and family members sued Chicago, eight named police officers, unknown officers, two private citizens, and Reliable Recovery, alleging civil rights violations and state law tort claims. Baker won a modest recovery from several City defendants on one civil rights claim, and from the City defendants and a private defendant on one state law tort claim, but the defendants prevailed on the remaining claims. The district court granted attorneys’ fees to Baker, but denied him costs as prevailing party, awarding costs to the City for prevailing against two other plaintiffs. The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, finding no abuse of discretion under 42 U.S.C. 1988 in either the court’s refusal to award costs to plaintiffs or its decision to award costs to the City for the claims raised by family members. The court remanded for recalculation of fees. View "Baker v. Lindgren" on Justia Law

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In the 1990s, Terzakis met Berenice Ventrella, the trustee for a family trust with extensive real‐estate holdings. Terzakis managed and developed real estate and eventually managed some of Berenice’s property. In 2007, they created an LLC to hold one of Berenice’s properties. Berenice appointed her son Nick, who had Asperger syndrome, as the Ventrella Trust’s successor trustee. After Berenice's 2008 death, Terzakis opened an account for the “Estate of Berenice Ventrella,” took Nick to banks and had him transfer funds from Berenice’s accounts into this new account, transferred $4.2 million from the estate account to the LLC account, which he controlled, then transferred $3.9 million from the LLC account to his personal accounts. Nick was the only witness with personal knowledge of Terzakis’s statements about the transfers. Prosecutors interviewed Nick. The government informed the grand jury that Nick had cognitive problems; Nick did not testify. Days before the limitations period expired, the grand jury returned a five‐count indictment for transmitting stolen money, 18 U.S.C. 2314. Before trial, the government learned that Nick had been diagnosed with brain cancer, with a prognosis of six months. The government informed Terzakis of the diagnosis. The parties resumed plea negotiations. Terzakis rejected the government’s plea offer. The government dismissed the case, citing Nick’s unavailability. The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial of Terzakis’s motion to recover attorney fees under 18 U.S.C. 3006A. View "United States v. Terzakis" on Justia Law

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Prather, age 31, tore his Achilles tendon. His surgery to repair the injury was uneventful. He returned to work. Four days later he collapsed, went into cardiopulmonary arrest, and died as a result of a blood clot in the injured leg that had traveled to a lung. Prather’s widow applied for benefits under his Sun Life group insurance policy (29 U.S.C. 1132(a)(1)), which limited coverage to “bodily injuries ... that result directly from an accident and independently of all other causes.” Sun Life refused to pay. The Seventh Circuit ruled in favor of Prather’s widow, noting that deep vein thrombosis and pulmonary embolism are risks of surgery, but that even with conservative treatment, such as immobilization of the affected limb, the insured had an enhanced risk of a blood clot. The forensic pathologist who conducted a post-mortem examination of Prather did not attribute his death to the surgery. Prather’s widow then sought attorneys’ fees of $37,170 under ERISA, 29 U.S.C. 1132(g)(1). The Seventh Circuit awarded $30,380, stating that there is no doubt of Sun Life’s culpability or of its ability to pay without jeopardizing its existence; the award of attorneys’ fees is likely to give other insurance companies in comparable cases pause; and a comparison of the relative merits of the contending parties clearly favors the plaintiff. View "Prather v. Sun Life Financial Insurance Co." on Justia Law

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Turnoy sold insurance to Shiner’s in‐laws for decades. After Shiner, a Chicago lawyer, demanded that Turnoy split commissions on their new policies, Turnoy sent him a check for $149,000. Rejecting $149,000 as too little, Shiner sued for breach of contract, then brought another suit, alleging tax fraud, 26 U.S.C. 7434, by reporting to the IRS the $149,000 as income to Shiner; Shiner had not cashed the check. The judge ordered Turnoy to pay Shiner damages of $16,000 for fraud. The Seventh Circuit reversed, noting that the state court rejected Shiner’s breach of contract claim before the district court’s decision. Turnoy had placed a restrictive endorsement on the back of the check, stating that by cashing the check Shiner accepted $149,000 as full payment. U.S. Treasury regulations provide that a check received but not cashed counts as income for tax purposes only if “credited or set apart to a person without any substantial limitation or restriction as to the time or manner of payment or condition upon which payment is to be made,” but Shiner neither asked for a new check nor otherwise communicated rejection of the check. Shiner’s inaction gave Turnoy a solid basis for believing that Shiner had accepted the check, so Turnoy’s filing of Form 1099 was not “willfully … fraudulent.” View "Shiner v. Turnoy" on Justia Law

Posted in: Contracts, Legal Ethics

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After the IRS assessed tax deficiencies and penalties, the taxpayers filed a pro se petition for review. Acting on advice from Niehus, a lawyer who was not authorized to practice in Illinois, the couple stipulated that only half of the tax relief they sought was appropriate. Upon discovering that Niehus was not a member of the Illinois bar, they asked the court to set aside the stipulation. The Tax Court refused and entered judgment against the couple. On remand, with the couple represented by a CPA, Drobny, who was authorized to practice before the Tax Court, the court held that the couple had not been prejudiced by Niehus’s ineligibility to practice and that the advice he had given them had been valid. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, agreeing that Niehus provided “competent, valuable, diligent, and effective” assistance, and noting that there is no right to counsel in a Tax Court proceeding. View "Shamrock v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics, Tax Law