Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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NOV purchased industrial-strength "desert-proof" air conditioners from Technicool for use on specialty oil-and-gas rigs, for more than $3 million. After multiple units failed, NOV, represented by SBPC, sued Technicool in Texas state court. Technicool filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. NOV sought relief from the automatic stay and was allowed to join Technicool’s owner, Furlough, to its state suit. NOV, again represented by SBPC, filed a claim in the bankruptcy case, representing 93 percent of the total claims. After learning that Furlough had formed other companies, the Trustee sought to consolidate the businesses and pierce the corporate veil and to employ SBPC as special counsel under 11 U.S.C. 327(a). Furlough objected, arguing that SBPC’s representation of NOV was a disqualifying “interest adverse to the estate.” In an engagement letter, signed by SBPC, NOV agreed to transfer to the bankruptcy estate funds it recovered from Furlough in state court. The bankruptcy court, district court, and Fifth Circuit held that Furlough lacked standing to object. Furlough cannot show that he was “directly and adversely affected pecuniarily by the order of the bankruptcy court.” SBPC’s appointment does not directly affect whether the bankruptcy court approves NOV’s claim. Under section 327(c), “a person is not disqualified for employment . . . solely because of such person’s employment by or representation of a creditor, unless there is objection by another creditor or the United States trustee, [and] an actual conflict of interest.” View "Furlough v. Cage" on Justia Law

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Itron alleged that misrepresentations by three of SmartSynch's corporate officers (defendants) caused it unknowingly to assume an unwanted $60 million contractual obligation to a third party, Consert. Itron eventually settled Consert's claims and then filed suit against defendants for negligent misrepresentation. The magistrate judge ordered Itron to produce, without qualification, materials that were shielded from disclosure by the attorney-client privilege. The Fifth Circuit granted Itron's petition for mandamus and vacated the magistrate judge's order, holding that the mere act of filing the lawsuit effected no waiver of any attorney-client privilege. The court remanded with instructions to reevaluate defendants' motion. View "In Re: Itron, Inc." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit withdrew its prior opinion and substituted the following opinion. The court vacated the district court's holding that production of a privilege log pursuant to an employment discrimination investigation was sufficient to establish that the attorney-client privilege protected BDO's withheld documents. The court held that by adopting the magistrate judge's recommendation, the district court erred when inverting the burden of proof, requiring that the EEOC prove that BDO improperly asserted the attorney-client privilege as to its withheld documents, and concluding that all communications between a corporation's employees and its counsel were per se privileged. The court remanded for a determination applying the correct attorney-client privilege principles and legal standards. In regard to the protective order, because the magistrate judge's incorrect application of the legal standard may have affected both her analysis of the allegedly disclosed communications and the breadth of the protections she imposed in her order, the court remanded so that BDO's request for protection may be considered under the proper legal standard for determining privilege. View "EEOC v. BDO USA, LLP" on Justia Law

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Defendants sought to vacate the district court's judgment stemming from defendants' breach of an agreement with plaintiffs to purchase, renovate, and sell Katrina-damaged properties. Plaintiffs contend that the district court should have required both defendants to pay the full $94,000 in damages. Defendants argued that the jurisdictional defects warrant vacating the judgment. The Fifth Circuit affirmed the judgment and posttrial order awarding attorneys' fees and costs as to Defendant Karry Causey. In regard to Defendant Garry Causey, the court remanded for the district court to engage in additional findings concerning the attempts to serve Garry. View "Norris v. Causey" on Justia Law

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Defendant filed an interlocutory appeal challenging the district court's denial of defendant's motion to dismiss based on his assertion of Texas's attorney immunity. Plaintiff alleged that defendant conspired with two others to defraud her into purchasing a Texas company owned by one of the defendants, Paul Rembach. The district court concluded that Texas's attorney immunity was inapplicable because defendant's representation of Rembach occurred during a business transaction (a stock transfer) and was unrelated to litigation or an otherwise adversarial context. The Fifth Circuit held, however, that defendant took actions that constituted fraud independent of his duties as an attorney and would not qualify as "acts taken and communications made to facilitate the rendition of legal services" to the client. Defendant could not shield his own willful and premeditated fraudulent actions from liability simply on the ground that he was an agent of his client. The court explained that independently fraudulent conduct was foreign to the duties of an attorney and fell outside the scope of client representation. Because defendant failed to establish the scope of his representation of Rembach and that his alleged conduct fell within that scope, the court affirmed the district court's judgment on those alternative grounds. View "Kelly v. Nichamoff" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's determination that plaintiffs were not prevailing parties and denial of recovery of attorneys' fees. Plaintiffs filed suit under 42 U.S.C. 1988, seeking both declaratory relief that defendant's actions violated their rights and injunctions staying defendant from terminating their Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The Fifth Circuit held that plaintiffs were the prevailing party before the district court because plaintiffs obtained judicially-sanctioned relief in the form of the Settlement Order, and the Settlement Order materially altered the legal relationship of the parties by making defendant subject to additional requirements not included under the SNAP program. The Fifth Circuit remanded to the district court to assess whether special circumstances apply and, if they do not, to determine the amount of reasonable and necessary attorneys' fees. View "Romain v. Walters" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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The court-appointed receiver of the Stanford entities filed suit alleging that six transfers from SCB to Dillon Gage were fraudulent transfers under the Texas Uniform Fraudulent Transfer Act (TUFTA), Tex Bus. & Com. Code 24.005(a)(1), and should be returned to receivership. The jury found that the transfers were not fraudulent. The district court subsequently denied Dillon Gage attorney's fees. Both parties appealed. The Fifth Circuit concluded that the jury reasonably could have found that SCB could have raised sufficient capital to pay Dillon Gage to complete the Gallery Deal without using new customers' money; the jury was not required to find that SCB was insolvent at the time of the transfers; and, viewing both the direct and circumstantial evidence of fraud as a whole, a rational jury could have found that SCB did not act with fraudulent intent. The Fifth Circuit rejected the receiver's four challenges to the jury instructions and concluded that they were without merit, and held that the district court did not apply the wrong standard in assessing Dillon Gage's fee request. Accordingly, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the jury verdict and order denying attorney's fees. View "Janvey v. Dillon Gage Inc. of Dallas" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of BDO's request for a protective order, holding that BDO did not prove its prima facie case of attorney-client privilege as to all of the log entries at issue, and that a protective order was unwarranted. The EEOC brought a subpoena enforcement action against BDO, seeking production of information relating to an employment discrimination investigation and asserting that BDO's privilege log failed to establish that the attorney-client privilege protected the company's withheld documents. The Fifth Circuit concluded that the log had three types of deficiencies that prevent the court from determining the applicability of the privilege: (a) entries that are vague and/or incomplete, (b) entries that fail to distinguish between legal advice and business advice, and (c) entries that fail to establish that the communications were made in confidence and that confidentiality was not breached. Because the magistrate judge's incorrect application of the legal standard may have affected both her analysis of the allegedly disclosed communications and the breadth of the protections she imposed in her order, the Fifth Circuit remanded so that BDO's request for protection may be considered under the proper legal standard for determining privilege. View "EEOC v. BDO USA" on Justia Law

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Wise Regional, a Texas municipal hospital authority, filed suit against Aetna, an insurance plan administrator, in state court over a dispute regarding medical insurance claims Wise Regional submitted on behalf of its patients. Aetna removed to federal court under 28 U.S.C. 1442, but the district court remanded to state court, awarding attorneys' fees. The court concluded that it had appellate jurisdiction over the remand order because Aetna relied upon the federal officer removal statute in its notice of removal; remand was proper because Aetna's notice of removal was untimely; and the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding attorneys' fees where Aetna lacked an objectively reasonable basis for seeking removal of this action almost five months after expiration of the thirty-day deadline for removal. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "Decatur Hospital Authority v. Aetna Health, Inc." on Justia Law

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The district court granted summary judgment to Darwin, concluding that plaintiff was judicially estopped from claiming defense costs in excess of $668,068.38. The district court further found that Darwin was entitled to recover "overpayments" on an equitable "money had and received" theory. Both parties appealed. The court concluded, after thorough review, that plaintiff never took the position that her defense costs in the underlying suit were limited to $668,068.31 and that the prior court never accepted such a position. Therefore, the district court's contrary determination represented an abuse of discretion and the application of judicial estoppel was inappropriate. The court further concluded that summary judgment should not have been granted against plaintiff on the breach of contract claim where the district court relied in part on the judicial estoppel ruling; the proper measure of covered defense costs remains an unsettled question of fact and plaintiff was not entitled to a declaratory judgment; and the court rejected plaintiff's remaining claims. In light of the court's judicial estoppel ruling, the court concluded that the district court's grant of summary judgment on Darwin's claim for money had and received cannot stand. Finally, the court rejected Darwin's breach of contract claim. Accordingly, the court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "Aldous v. Darwin National Assurance Co." on Justia Law