Justia U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
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The Seventh Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court concluding that the terms of a settlement resulted in a de facto assignment of a corporation's theoretical legal malpractice claim to Amit Shah by using the corporation as his alter ego, holding that there was no error.In 2013, Shah and another minority shareholder of Duro, Inc. brought this action against Duro and its third shareholder, alleging money laundering and racketeering. In 2015, Plaintiffs added a shareholder derivative claim of legal malpractice, nominally on behalf of Duro, against a law firm and its attorneys (May Oberfell), who had represented Defendants in the case. In 2017, Plaintiffs settled their claims, preserving any claims Duro might have against May Oberfell. Shah subsequently took effective control of Duro and transferred all of Duro's assets except the legal malpractice claim. Thereafter, Shah, through Duro, filed a complaint against May Oberfell. The district court granted summary judgment for May Oberfell, concluding that the legal malpractice claim had undergone a "de facto" assignment, and therefore, the claim was barred under Indiana law. The Seventh Circuit affirmed, holding that May Oberfell was entitled to summary judgment. View "Duro, Inc. v. Walton" on Justia Law

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Jennings, who was not a medical professional, ran Results Weight Loss Clinic in Lombard, Illinois. Jennings paid Mikaitis, who was working full‐time for a hospital in Lockport, Illinois cash to secure a Drug Enforcement Agency registration number for the clinic and to review patient charts. Over the next two years, Jennings ordered over 530,000 diet pills (controlled substances) for over $84,000 using Mikaitis’s credit card and DEA number. Mikaitis appeared at Results weekly to get $1,750 cash and review four to eight charts. Results also gave drugs—in person and by mail— to many patients whose charts he never reviewed. A nurse practitioner who worked at the clinic later testified she noticed almost immediately that Jennings was unlawfully distributing drugs. Jennings paid Mikaitis about $98,000 cash, in addition to reimbursement for drug costs.Mikaitis was tried on 17 counts. He denied knowing about illegal activity. The district judge issued a deliberate avoidance (ostrich) instruction. Convicted, Mikaitis was sentenced to 30 months. The Seventh Circuit affirmed. Ample evidence demonstrated that Mikaitis subjectively believed that there was a high probability he was participating in criminal activity and that he took specific, deliberate actions to avoid learning that fact. Mikaitis was a medical professional with corresponding duties. The jury was free to conclude the red flags were obvious to him. View "United States v. Mikaitis" on Justia Law

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Dr. Dubnow, a board-certified physician with more than 40 years of experience, was Chief of the Emergency Department at Lovell Federal Health Care Center (FHCC). In 2017, he diverted an ambulance transporting an infant to Lake Forest Hospital, located a few minutes away from the FHCC. Lake Forest has a Level-II trauma center and is staffed with pediatric specialists. The child was pronounced dead upon arriving at Lake Forest. The FHCC, a VA hospital, investigated Dubnow’s diversion decision. This investigation eventually resulted in his removal. A review board concluded that none of the grounds for his removal were supported but the final reviewing authority reversed the review board’s decision. The district court affirmed the VA’s removal decision.The Seventh Circuit vacated the removal. The VA failed to properly apply the deferential “clearly contrary to the evidence” standard when reviewing the board’s decision to overturn Dubnow’s removal; the decision was arbitrary. The relevant question was whether the diversion was appropriate; if so, Dubnow’s removal could not be sustained. To conclude that treating the patient at the FHCC was possible, or even appropriate, is not to conclude that diverting the ambulance to a better-equipped hospital was inappropriate. A “conclusion that there was ‘no need’ to divert the patient is two steps removed from the analysis” under 38 U.S.C. 7462(d). View "Dubnow v. McDonough" on Justia Law

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Burkhart, the CEO of ASC, a private company that operates Indiana nursing homes and long-term care facilities, orchestrated an extensive conspiracy exploiting the company’s operations and business relationships for personal gain. Most of the funds involved in the scheme came from Medicare and Medicaid. After other defendants pled guilty and Burkhart’s brother agreed to testify against him, Burkhart pled guilty to conspiracy to commit mail, wire, and healthcare fraud (18 U.S.C. 1349); conspiracy to violate the AntiKickback Statute (18 U.S.C. 371); and money laundering (18 U.S.C. 1956(a)(1)(B)(i)). With a Guidelines range of 121-151 months, Burkhart was sentenced to 114 months’ imprisonment.Burkhart later filed a habeas action, contending that his defense counsel, Barnes & Thornburg provided constitutionally deficient representation because the firm also represented Health and Hospital Corporation of Marion County, a victim of the fraudulent scheme. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the denial of relief. While the firm labored under an actual conflict of interest, that conflict did not adversely affect Burkhart’s representation. Nothing in the record shows that the firm improperly shaded its advice to induce Burkhart to plead guilty; the advice reflected a reasonable response to the “dire circumstances” facing Burkhart. The evidence of Burkhart’s guilt was overwhelming. View "Burkhart v. United States" on Justia Law

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Farnolo helped his clients file short‐form complaints in the multidistrict “Cook” litigation, involving product liability claims alleging injuries caused by Cook’s medical device—a filter designed to prevent pulmonary embolism. The case management order instructed all plaintiffs to complete a profile form with general personal and medical background information and details about their device and alleged injuries. In May 2019, the defendants notified attorney Farnolo that they did not have forms from his four clients. By late June, the forms still had not been filed. Farnolo never responded to the defendants' motion to dismiss.The district court dismissed the cases on July 19, 2019. Farnolo learned about the dismissal not by monitoring the docket, but from his client more than a year later. On August 18, 2020, he moved for reconsideration and reinstatement of the cases, claiming that he did not receive an electronic docket notification of the motion to dismiss; he attributed his delay in asking for reconsideration to his email inbox sending the dismissal order to his junk folder. The district court denied Farnolo’s motion as both untimely and meritless. The Seventh Circuit affirmed; all Rule 60(b) motions must be made within a “reasonable time” and Rule 60(c)(1) specifically requires requests for reconsideration predicated on excusable neglect to be brought within one year of entry of judgment. Inexcusable attorney negligence is not an exceptional circumstance justifying relief. View "Sides v. Cook Medical Inc." on Justia Law

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In 2017, Freydin, a Chicago lawyer, posed a question on Facebook: “Did Trump put Ukraine on the travel ban list?! We just cannot find a cleaning lady!” After receiving online criticism for the comment, Freydin doubled down. People angered by Freydin’s comments went to his law firm’s Facebook, Yelp, and Google pages and left reviews that expressed their negative views of Freydin. Various defendants made comments including: An “embarrassment and a disgrace to the US judicial system,” “unethical and derogatory,” “hypocrite,” “chauvinist,” “racist,” “no right to practice law,” “not professional,” “discriminates [against] other nationalities,” do not “waste your money.,” “Freydin is biased and unprofessional attorney,” “terrible experience,” “awful customer service,” “disrespect[],” and “unprofessional[ism].” None of the defendants had previously used Freydin’s legal services.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of Freydin’s suit, which alleged libel per se, “false light,” tortious interference with contractual relationships, tortious interference with prospective business relationships, and civil conspiracy. None of the reviews contained statements that are actionable as libel per se under Illinois law; each was an expression of opinion that could not support a libel claim. Freyding did not link the civil conspiracy claims to an independently viable tort claim. View "Law Offices of David Freyd v. Chamara" on Justia Law

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Vargas received extensive medical care from the Veterans Administration. In his suit under the Federal Tort Claims Act, 28 U.S.C. 2671–80, he argued that a VA nurse was negligent in failing to order additional tests after receiving the results of urinalysis in October 2015. More testing, Vargas contended, would have revealed that he suffered from a urinary tract infection; failure to diagnose that infection led to a heart attack, which led to extended hospitalization, which led to pain and inflammation.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the rejection of his claims, upholding the district judge’s decision to allow testimony from a board-certified urologist. Federal Rule of Evidence 702 governs the admissibility of expert evidence in suits under the FTCA. The district judge was entitled to consider the urologist’s view that the applicable standard of care did not require follow-up testing to look for a urinary tract infection. If even a board-certified urologist would not have seen anything in the test result calling for further lab work, then a nurse practitioner’s identical decision cannot be negligent. Illinois does not hold nurses to the higher standard of specialists. View "Love v. United States" on Justia Law

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Linda and her husband Milton set up an estate plan with the help of attorney Roth. Milton created a trust and designated himself as sole trustee. Upon his death, Linda and his accountant, Sanders, would become cotrustees. Milton’s assets included a $1.5 million Vanguard account. Milton later changed the Vanguard account and other accounts to transfer on death directly to Linda as the sole primary beneficiary. Milton died in 2016. Linda believed that Roth was still her attorney. Roth and Sanders convinced Linda to waive her rights as co-trustee and to disclaim her interest in the Vanguard account; they suggested that she had acquired these interests through wrongdoing. Roth then transferred the disclaimed Vanguard account directly to Milton’s son, David, instead of to the trust. David sued Linda and obtained an Indiana state court judgment that she exerted undue influence on Milton and that the trust was the proper owner of certain assets Milton had transferred to Linda.Linda sued in federal court, asserting fraud, conspiracy, and malpractice against Roth and Sanders, claiming the two “duped” her into disclaiming certain assets and that Roth committed malpractice by transferring the account to David rather than the trust. The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit; issue preclusion based on the Indiana judgment foreclosed Linda’s claims because the Indiana jury’s finding of undue influence showed that Roth and Sanders’s advice to disclaim her illegally-obtained interests was neither negligent nor fraudulent. View "Bergal v. Roth" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, a start‐up company and its founder (Marlowe), sued the company’s former chief legal officer, Fisher, to recover losses from an arbitration award that held them liable for years of unpaid wages owed to Fisher himself. The award comprised unpaid wages and statutory penalties totaling $864,976 and an additional $366,460 because Fisher did not receive written notice of his contract nonrenewal. Plaintiffs alleged that Fisher advised them to enter into what they now say was an illegal agreement to defer Fisher’s compensation until the company was able to secure more funding.The Seventh Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Even if Marlowe was Fisher’s client regarding her own compensation agreement and a decision not to purchase directors and officers insurance, the plaintiffs failed to plead any plausible malpractice claims arising from those matters. Plaintiffs did not allege that they would have opted against using the compensation agreements had Fisher fully advised them. The company violated the Illinois Wage Act by failing to pay Fisher as agreed. The agreement did not aggravate or add to those violations; it made sense as an interim measure to forestall litigation by acknowledging the obligation and committing the company to one way to satisfy it. View "UFT Commercial Finance, LLC v. Fisher" on Justia Law

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Woodson received prenatal treatment from Dr. Ramsey at NorthShore Health Centers. Ramsey informed Woodson that she would likely need to deliver her baby by C-section. Ramsey delivered P.W. vaginally at Anonymous Hospital. Woodson noticed immediately that something was wrong with P.W.’s left arm. P.W.’s arm did not improve.NorthShore is a Federally-qualified health center (FQHC) that receives federal money (42 U.S.C. 1396d(l)(2)(B)); its employees are deemed Public Health Service employees, covered against malpractice claims under the Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), 42 U.S.C. 233(g). NorthShore appears in the federal government's online public database of federal funding recipients whose employees may be deemed Public Health Service employees. Woodson’s attorney, Sandoval, failed to recognize NorthShore’s status as an FQHC. Sandoval reviewed the Indiana Department of Insurance (IDOI) and Indiana Patient’s Compensation Fund online databases and learned that Ramsey and Anonymous Hospital were “qualified” providers under the Indiana Medical Malpractice Act. The IDOI forwarded Woodson’s complaint to Ramsey and his insurance carrier. Those claims remain pending.On December 16, 2015, NorthShore informed Sandoval that NorthShore was a federally funded health center. Woodson filed administrative tort claims, which were denied. Nearly three years after P.W.’s birth, Woodson filed suit against the government and Anonymous Hospital. The Seventh Circuit affirmed that the claims accrued on December 7, 2013, the day P.W. was born, and were untimely under the FTCA’s two-year statute of limitations. Woodson had enough information shortly after P.W.'s birth to prompt her to inquire whether the manner of delivery caused P.W.’s injury. The FTCA savings provision does not apply because the IDOI never dismissed the claims. Neither Ramsey nor NorthShore had a duty to inform Woodson of their federal status. View "P.W. v. United States" on Justia Law