Justia U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics
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The Fifth Circuit held that a private settlement does not constitute a "successful action to enforce . . . liability" under the fee-shifting provision of the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA). The court affirmed the district court's denial of attorney's fees in this case, concluding that the district court did not commit reversible error in refusing plaintiff's fee application under the FDCPA. The court explained that a "successful action to enforce the foregoing liability" means a lawsuit that generates a favorable end result compelling accountability and legal compliance with a formal command or decree under the FDCPA. In this case, plaintiff settled before his lawsuit reached any end result, let alone a favorable one. Furthermore, by settling, Portfolio Recovery avoided a formal legal command or decree from plaintiff's lawsuit. The court stated that plaintiff's alternative interpretation requires rewriting the FDCPA's fee-shifting provision.The court also concluded that, at most, plaintiff's FDCPA suit was the catalyst that spurred Portfolio Recovery to settle. Therefore, the catalyst theory does not make plaintiff's action a successful one under 15 U.S.C. 1692k(a)(3) and thus plaintiff is not entitled to fees. View "Tejero v. Portfolio Recovery Associates, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed suit against Lexington Law and its vendor, Progrexion, for purportedly perpetrating a fraud in which the firm failed to disclose that it was sending letters to the companies in its clients' names and on their behalves. After a jury agreed that defendants violated Texas law in committing fraud and fraud by non-disclosure, the district court set aside the verdict and issued judgment in favor of defendants as a matter of law.The Fifth Circuit affirmed, concluding that plaintiffs have not shown that defendants committed fraud. In this case, the district court concluded that defendants did not make any false representations (material or otherwise) when signing and sending the dispute letters because Lexington Law had the legal right to sign its clients' names on the correspondence it sent on their behalf to data furnishers who reported inaccurate information about the clients' credit. Furthermore, Progrexion cannot be liable for fraud since it, like Lexington Law, did not make any material misrepresentations. The court also concluded that plaintiffs' fraud by non-disclosure claim must be dismissed because they did not justifiably rely on any failure of defendants to disclose material facts, and plaintiffs have not shown that defendants had a duty to disclose that they were the ones actually sending the dispute letters. Additionally, plaintiffs have not shown that Progrexion disclosed any facts—material or otherwise—and so cannot be liable for fraud by nondisclosure. The court explained that the fact that Lexington Law had the legal right to send dispute letters on their clients behalves and in their names suggests that the firm did not make any false representations, and thus the firm did not create any false impressions requiring disclosure. Finally, plaintiffs waived their conspiracy claim by failing to move for judgment as a matter of law on the claim before and after the case was submitted to the jury or for a new trial. View "The CBE Group, Inc. v. Lexington Law Firm" on Justia Law

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In this long-running contract dispute, at issue is whether the parties are entitled to fee awards. The Fifth Circuit concluded that IWS is entitled to some fees under the Texas Theft Liability Act (TTLA) and remanded for a determination of the proper amount. The court clarified that the mandate of Transverse II did not depart from Texas law governing fee segregation, and fees incurred defending the TTLA claim do not become unrecoverable simply because they may have furthered another nonrecoverable claim as well.The court also concluded that, because the Supply Contract itself does not authorize attorneys' fees, under Iowa law, the district court lacked a basis on which to award Transverse attorney's fees for IWS's breach of this agreement. In this case, IWS has made the showing necessary to prevail under plain-error review, and thus the court reversed the fee award to Transverse on the Supply-Contract claim. Finally, the court rejected Transverse's contention that the district court erred by failing to recognize it as the prevailing party on the Non-Disclosure Agreement claim and refusing to award Transverse the related fees. The court explained that Transverse did not prevail, substantially or otherwise, on this claim and thus there was no error on the district court's part. View "Transverse, LLC v. Iowa Wireless Services, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit granted panel rehearing; denied rehearing en banc; withdrew its prior opinion; and substituted the following opinion.Frank Williams, Jr. filed suit in Louisiana state court against his former employer, Lockheed Martin, seeking to recover damages for asbestos-related injuries. After Williams passed away, his children were substituted as plaintiffs. Lockheed Martin removed the case under federal officer removal jurisdiction and the district court granted summary judgment for Lockheed Martin, issuing sanctions against plaintiffs' counsel for improper ex parte communications.The court affirmed the district court's judgment, concluding that the district court properly considered the full state-court record as it existed at the time of removal and Lockheed Martin has met the requirements for federal officer removal jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. 1442(a)(2)(1). In this case, Lockheed Martin alleged the requisite nexus and has stated sufficient facts to make out a colorable Boyle defense. The court also concluded that the district court did not abuse its discretion with respect to any of the challenged discovery orders.The court applied Louisiana law and affirmed the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Lockheed Martin on plaintiffs' survival and wrongful death claims. Finally, the court concluded that the district court did not err by imposing sanctions on plaintiffs' attorney and that the district court did not abuse its discretion in awarding $10,000 in attorney's fees. View "Williams v. Lockheed Martin Corp." on Justia Law

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Automation Support filed suit against its former employees and one employee's new company, Humble Design, under the Texas Theft Liability Act (TTLA). After a year and a half of litigation in the district court, the parties agreed to voluntarily dismiss all claims with prejudice. In the joint stipulation, Defendants Humble Design and Warren Humble reserved the right to seek attorney's fees under the TTLA, which is a "loser pays" law. The magistrate judge awarded the fees.In 2018, the Fifth Circuit affirmed the magistrate judge's decision and remanded for the district court to award appellate attorney's fees. The court also dismissed for lack of jurisdiction Automation Support's appeal. The current appeal concerns Automation Support's most recent motion for relief from judgment under Rule 60(b), in which Automation Support again argued that the magistrate judge did not have jurisdiction to award attorney's fees. The magistrate judge denied the motion in March 2020, and this appeal is timely only as to the order denying that Rule 60 motion. Automation Support cannot appeal the underlying judgment that issued years ago.To the extent Automation Support argues that defendants were not prevailing parties, the court has already rejected that argument. The court rejected Automation Support's new contention that the Rule 41 joint dismissal deprived the district court of jurisdiction to later award fees. Because Automation Support has inundated the district court and this court with frivolous filings, and because of its bad-faith refusal to recognize what the court held three years ago, defendants may file a motion with this court for appellate attorney's fees under 28 U.S.C. 1927. The court once against affirmed the district court's judgment. View "Automation Support, Inc. v. Humble Design, LLC" on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit reversed the district court's decision affirming the bankruptcy court's denial of plaintiff's motion for leave to amend. In this case, plaintiff sought to amend his complaint to include allegations that the Brewer & Pritchard attorneys assured him during a brief recess during bankruptcy proceedings that they would treat the bankruptcy court's proposed fees as part of plaintiff's "Gross Recovery" under his written agreement with Brewer & Pritchard.The court held that had plaintiff been granted leave to amend his complaint, his proposed claims—whatever their merit—would not have been subject to dismissal under the doctrine of res judicata. The court explained that the "conduct" plaintiff seeks to challenge is the alleged breach of fiduciary duty—the failure to follow through on the new representations supposedly made to him during the November 2017 hearing. Furthermore, at the time of the hearing, plaintiff could not have even known that the attorneys' assurances were misrepresentations, let alone that he should challenge them as such. The court remanded with instructions that plaintiff's motion for leave to amend be granted. View "Rohi v. Brewer" on Justia Law

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In 2001-2013, Ridgeway worked for Stryker, which believed that Ridgeway intended to use its confidential business information at his next job. Stryker sued Ridgeway. A jury found that Ridgeway had breached his contractual obligations, breached his fiduciary duty, and violated Michigan’s Uniform Trade Secrets Act (MUTSA) and that the MUTSA violation was willful and malicious for purposes of an award of attorney’s fees. Ridgeway filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The automatic stay caused by the filing of the petition prevented Stryker from making an attorney’s fee request in the Michigan proceedings. Stryker filed a proof of claim for $2,272,369.54, supported by hundreds of pages of time entries; the amount claimed and the corresponding time entries do not just relate to the lawyers’ work on the MUTSA claim. Stryker argued that, under the “Common Core” doctrine, its win on the MUTSA claim entitles it to attorney’s fees for all of its claims. Ridgeway argued that fee recovery under the Common Core doctrine “is reserved for fee awards in civil rights cases.”The bankruptcy court allowed Stryker’s proof of claim, including fees claimed under the Common Core doctrine. The district court and Fifth Circuit affirmed. Ridgeway has not shown that Michigan law requires statutory attorney’s fees to be “proved at trial.” The court upheld the striking of Ridgeway's "Common Core" objection as a sanction. Ridgeway did not comply with a court order to specify to which charges his objection applied. View "Ridgeway v. Stryker Corp." on Justia Law

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The Fifth Circuit vacated the district court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the law firms in an action brought by the firms against a former client, seeking to enforce the terms of the parties' contingency fee agreement.After determining that it had jurisdiction over the appeal, the court held that the parties' contingency fee agreement violates Louisiana Rule of Professional Conduct 1.8(a). The court held that a contingency fee arrangement resulting in an attorney owning part of the client's business is a business transaction under Rule 1.8(a). The court explained that, because the terms of the contingency fee agreement in this case give the firms an ownership interest in the client's holding company, Rule 1.8(a) applies, and the firms were required to advise the client to seek the advice of independent counsel. Because the firms failed to do so, the contingency fee award is void. Accordingly, the court remanded for further proceedings. View "Wiener Weiss & Madison v. Fox" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics
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The Fifth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of plaintiff's request for attorneys' fees incurred at trial and during the first appeal to this court. This appeal arose from a bench trial where plaintiff, a former Austin city councilman, prevailed on some but not all of his First Amendment claims against the City of Austin.As a preliminary matter, the court held that the district court's ancillary enforcement jurisdiction covered the "collateral issue" of plaintiff's attorney fee request. On the merits, the court held that the district court did not err in denying plaintiff's fee request because plaintiff waived his right to request fees incurred at trial. Even if the district court had discretion to excuse the delay in filing, no error occurred by failing to exercise the discretion. Furthermore, the district court did not err when it denied plaintiff's request for fees incurred on appeal where he made no request within the 14-day time period after the district court entered its initial judgment, and there also was no new judgment entered following a reversal or remand from this court. View "Zimmerman v. City of Austin" on Justia Law

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In 2014, plaintiffs, African-American voters and the Terrebonne Parish NAACP, filed suit to challenge the electoral method for Louisiana's 32nd Judicial District Court (JDC), alleging that at-large elections for the judges produce discriminatory results, violating Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, and have been maintained for a discriminatory purpose in violation of that statute and the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments. The district court upheld both claims and ordered a remedial plan breaking the 32nd JDC into five single-member electoral subdistricts.The Fifth Circuit reversed, holding that the district court clearly erred in its finding of minority vote dilution in the election of judges for Terrebonne Parish's 32nd JDC. The court held that the district court erred in holding that weak evidence of vote dilution could overcome the state's substantial interest in linking judicial positions to the judges' parish-wide jurisdiction. Furthermore, the district court erroneously equated failed legislative attempts to create subdistricts for the 32nd JDC with a racially discriminatory intent. View "Fusilier v. Landry" on Justia Law