Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Ramos, filed a charge with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) regarding her severance agreement's broad release of claims and covenant not to sue, with exceptions for “rights that Employee cannot lawfully waive” and for participation “in a proceeding with any appropriate federal, state or local government agency enforcing discrimination laws.” The EEOC abandoned Ramos’s charge by issuing her a right-to-sue letter and, eight months later, filed suit under section 707(a), which it believed granted independent litigation authority for suits against “any person or group of persons … engaged in a pattern or practice ....” 42 U.S.C. 2000e-6(a). While section 707(e)’s incorporation of section 706’s procedural requirements generally requires the EEOC to follow the same pre-suit procedures whether the suit is an individual one or a pattern-or-practice action, the EEOC believed that a distinction between section 707’s subsections excused it from doing so. Section 707(a), unlike section 707(e), gives the EEOC a right to litigate without an underlying charge or unlawful employment practice, and (EEOC thought) by extension, without first conciliating. The EEOC distinguished between section 707(a)’s reach to “any person or group of persons” and section 707(e)’s limitation to employers. In 2015, the Seventh Circuit held that conciliation is necessary under both sections. The district court subsequently awarded $307,902.30 in attorneys’ fees, finding that EEOC had taken a position contrary to its own regulations. The Seventh Circuit reversed, holding that the Sevdecision impermissibly rested on hindsight. View "Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. CVS Pharmacy, Inc." on Justia Law

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Fryer and the Alliance for Water Efficiency collaborated on a study about drought. The Alliance worked on funding. Fryer circulated a draft of the report. The Alliance expressed concern with the methodology and sued Fryer under the Copyright Act, 17 U.S.C. 101. Under a settlement Fryer agreed to turn over his data from public utilities in exchange for $25,000. If any utility had disclosed data with a confidentiality agreement, the Alliance was required to secure a release. Each party could publish a report, but could not acknowledge the other’s involvement. The parties have litigated ever since. The district court concluded that the Alliance was entitled to specific data and that Fryer was bound by the settlement to refrain from acknowledging disputed organizations unless they contacted him first and asked to be recognized. The judge required the Alliance to provide those organizations with Fryer’s contact information. The Seventh Circuit reversed solely on the acknowledgment issue. Fryer returned to the district court, seeking restitution for injuries caused by the court’s erroneous injunction and attorney’s fees under section 505 of the Copyright Act for having prevailed in the first appeal. The Seventh Circuit affirmed denial of both motions. Fryer does not present genuine claims for restitution; he seeks to relitigate unrelated claims for breach of the settlement. He did not prevail on the Alliance’s copyright claim. View "Alliance for Water Efficiency v. Fryer" on Justia Law

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JCI is a manufacturing company with its principal place of business in Illinois. The Shein Law Center is a law firm based in Pennsylvania. Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett is a law firm based in Texas, with offices in Texas and California; its partners and shareholders are residents of those states. The two firms sued JCI on behalf of their clients in Pennsylvania, California, and Texas state courts. JCI alleges these suits were part of a conspiracy to defraud JCI because the firms concealed information during discovery regarding their clients’ exposure to asbestos from other manufacturers’ products so that they could extract larger recoveries. The other manufacturers are bankrupt. After winning verdicts against JCI, the defendants allegedly filed claims against the bankrupt manufacturers’ trusts. JCI filed lawsuits against the law firms in the Northern District of Illinois alleging fraud, conspiracy, and violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, 18 U.S.C. 1961, The district court dismissed the cases for lack of personal jurisdiction. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The law firms sent allegedly fraudulent communications to JCI through JCI’s local counsel in Texas, Pennsylvania, and California. Those communications were incidental to the litigation, which is the basis of JCI’s claims, so the communications were not enough to establish specific personal jurisdiction in Illinois. View "John Crane, Inc. v. Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett" on Justia Law

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Brock-Miller pled guilty, with a plea agreement, to conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute heroin. She received a sentence of 10 years’ imprisonment. She then challenged her conviction under 28 U.S.C. 2255, asserting ineffective assistance of counsel during plea negotiations. The court declined to hold a hearing and denied the motion. The Seventh Circuit reversed and remanded for a hearing. The district court erred when it concluded that her prior conviction under Indiana Code 16- 42-19-18 was a felony drug offense under 21 U.S.C. 802(44) and that Brock-Miller was eligible for a recidivist enhancement. The court analyzed the wrong version of the state law; there is little to no overlap between the controlled substances listed in the federal definition of “felony drug offense” and the prescription “legend drugs” regulated by the Indiana law. Counsel’s apparent error in identifying the applicable Indiana statute and failure to file a plainly meritorious objection could constitute deficient performance if proved. View "Brock v. United States" on Justia Law

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In 2012, Dobbs hired McLaughlin to represent him in a products liability suit against DePuy for a 35% contingency fee agreement. The attorney filed Dobbs’s complaint in the DePuy Hip Implant Multidistrict Litigation in the Northern District of Ohio. In 2013, DePuy proposed a settlement, offering parties represented by counsel on a certain date $250,000 and parties not represented $177,500. Dobbs stated that he did not want to settle. McLaughlin advised Dobbs to accept the settlement due to the costs of going to trial. Dobbs moved to remove McLaughlin as his counsel. The motion was granted in January 2015, leaving Dobbs unrepresented. In February 2015, Dobbs decided to accept the settlement offer. Though he was then unrepresented, he was considered a represented party under the settlement terms, entitling him to a base award of $250,000. McLaughlin asserted a lien on Dobbs’s award and sought attorneys’ fees under quantum meruit. The fee dispute was transferred to the Northern District of Illinois, which awarded McLaughlin 35% of Dobbs’s base settlement award, $87,500. Following a remand, the court considered evidence, addressed each quantum meruit factor, and again awarded $87,500. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. The district court considered all of the relevant evidence and engaged in a thoughtful analysis of the factors required by Illinois law, given that it was not the court that presided over the underlying litigation. View "Dobbs v. DePuy Orthopaedics, Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2002 a Greyhound bus struck and killed Claudia. Her daughter, Cristina, age seven, witnessed the accident. In 2016 Cristina settled claims against Greyhound and other potentially responsible persons for $5 million. Klein, Cristina’s stepfather, believes that Cristina allocated too much of the settlement to herself as damages for emotional distress and not enough to him. His suit under 42 U.S.C. 1983 alleged that Cristina conspired with state judges, law firms, Greyhound, and others, to exclude him from financial benefits. Klein sued as the purported administrator of Claudia’s estate although he had not been appointed as administrator. Klein and Cristina became co-administrators, but Klein was soon removed by a state judge. Defendants asked the federal judge to dismiss the suit as barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine, under which only the U.S. Supreme Court may review the civil state court judgments. The Seventh Circuit affirmed dismissal on the merits. Collateral litigation in federal court is blocked by principles of preclusion and by Rooker's holding that errors committed in state litigation cannot be treated as federal constitutional torts. The court noted that the “long and tangled history" of the case was caused by Klein’s (or his lawyer’s) "inability or unwillingness to litigate as statutes and rules require.” They had neither briefed the proper issue on appeal nor attached the judgment, as required. “They are not entitled to divert the time of federal judges” and will be penalized for any further attempts. View "Xydakis v. O'Brien" on Justia Law

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Jansen pleaded guilty to wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, and tax evasion, 26 U.S.C. 7201. Before sentencing, Jansen’s third attorney (Steinback) withdrew. His new attorney, Beaumont, requested Rule 16 discovery and obtained 42,700 documents. Jansen filed a pro se motion to continue his sentencing proceedings because none of his prior attorneys had requested or reviewed those documents. Weeks later, Beaumont withdrew, citing irreconcilable differences; he was replaced by Richards. Jansen indicated to the court that he wished to withdraw his guilty plea as not “knowing and voluntary” because of ineffective assistance of counsel. Richards also withdrew. The court permitted Jansen to proceed pro se but denied his motion to withdraw his plea and sentenced Jansen to 70 months’ imprisonment with a restitution payment of $269,978 to the IRS. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, remanding the issue of restitution to allow the district court to clarify that its imposition of restitution is a condition of supervised release rather than a criminal penalty. The district court made the sound factual finding that Jansen hired Steinback “to negotiate the best possible plea agreement,” not to go to trial. Steinback formulated a “four-fold” “tactical strategy” that included forgoing investigation and discovery so that such a strategy was objectively reasonable. View "United States v. Jansen" on Justia Law

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Doe sought lawful permanent residence in the U.S. under the EB-5 visa program, which requires applicants to invest in a new U.S. commercial enterprise, 8 U.S.C. 1153(b)(5)(A). Doe invested $500,000 in Elgin Assisted Living EB-5 Fund, to build and operate a memory care facility. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services denied Doe’s petition because the facility had not been built since it was proposed in 2011. Doe filed suit. The court granted the government summary judgment. Doe is represented by the three-attorney Kameli Law Group. Floss, an associate, is Doe’s counsel of record. Kameli is the firm’s principal. While briefing was underway, the Securities and Exchange Commission filed suit, accusing Kameli of defrauding 226 immigrants who invested over $88 million. Kameli allegedly misappropriated the memory care center's funds. The Seventh Circuit disqualified the firm from Doe’s appeal. The Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct prohibit representation if “there is a significant risk that the representation of one or more clients will be materially limited by the lawyer’s responsibilities to another client, a former client or a third person or by a personal interest.” Neither of Kameli's conflicts can be waived by informed client consent. It “strains credulity to think that Kameli would be diligent.” Kameli would not advise Doe to allege fraud and seek reconsideration of the USCIS decision. Kameli also has divided obligations to his investor-clients, which create an unacceptably high risk of materially limiting Doe’s representation by Floss. View "Doe v. Nielsen" on Justia Law

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Jaworski provided construction services to Master Hand, an Illinois general contractor, over several years. Some of these services went unpaid. Jaworski alleged violations of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act, the Illinois Minimum Wage Law, the Illinois Wage Payment and Collection Act, and the Employee Classification Act, which makes it unlawful for construction firms to misclassify an employee as an independent contractor. The Classification Act presumes that the complainant is an employee unless the contractor proves otherwise; a misclassified employee is entitled to double “the amount of any wages, salary, employment benefits, or other compensation denied or lost to the person by reason of the violation.” The judge held that Master Hand had misclassified Jaworski and was entitled to the compensation guaranteed by the Minimum Wage Law and Wage Payment and Collection Act without having to prove that he is an employee. Those statutes do not include the presumption that plaintiffs are employees. The judge rejected Master Hand’s insolvency defense and ordered Master Hand to pay $200,000 in damages, plus $150,000 in attorneys’ fees. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, adding attorneys’ fees for the frivolous appeal. The court declined to review the rulings challenged by Master Hand, as a sanction for failure to follow court rules. View "Jaworski v. Master Hand Contractors, Inc." on Justia Law

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The district court ordered Jackson to pay Cooke the death benefit on her husband’s life insurance policy and to reimburse Cooke’s legal expenses. The court concluded that her husband died before the end of a grace period allowed for late premium payments and that Jackson should have expedited the litigation by attaching documents to its answer and by making some arguments sooner. The court’s order granted Cooke summary judgment but stated: This case is hereby dismissed with prejudice. The Seventh Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction under the final-decision rule, 28 U.S.C. 1291. The order is contradictory and does not provide relief. It states that a motion has been granted and an award made, but it does not say who is entitled to what; it “transgresses almost every rule applicable to judgments.” A second document avoided the internal contradiction but lacked vital details and the judge’s signature. The court later entered an order specifying that Jackson must pay $191,362.06 on the insurance policy, plus 10% per annum simple interest, which Jackson paid, but did not specify the amount of attorneys’ fees. A declaration of liability, including an award of attorneys' fees, lacking an amount due is not final and cannot be appealed. View "Cooke v. Jackson National Life Insurance Co." on Justia Law