Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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Former Maricopa County Sheriff Arpaio was referred for criminal contempt in August 2016. The government obtained a conviction on July 31, 2017. On August 25, 2017, the President pardoned Arpaio, noting that Arpaio’s sentencing was “set for October 5, 2017.” On August 28, 2017, Arpaio moved “to dismiss this matter with prejudice” and asked the district court “to vacate the verdict and all other orders” plus the sentencing. On October 4, the district court dismissed with prejudice the action for criminal contempt. No timely notice of appeal order was filed. The Ninth Circuit denied a late-filed request for the appointment of counsel to “cross-appeal” the dismissal. The district court denied Arpaio’s second request and refused to grant “relief beyond dismissal with prejudice.” Arpaio filed a timely notice of appeal. In response to a request for the appointment of counsel to defend the order denying Arpaio’s request for vacatur, the government stated that it “does not intend to defend the district court’s order” and intends to argue, as it did in the district court, that the motion to vacate should have been granted. The Ninth Circuit appointed a special prosecutor to file briefs and present oral argument on the merits. View "United States v. Arpaio" on Justia Law

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Appellant sought review of the district court’s post-judgment orders denying his various post-judgment motions, including motions for disqualification of the district judge, to void judgment, and for declaratory relief. The appeal of the district court’s orders was wholly without merit, and sought review of multiple district court orders over which the Ninth Circuit lacked jurisdiction. Moreover, the Ninth Circuit noted the underlying district court action and burdensome post-judgment motions were part of appellant’s ongoing efforts to alter or amend a bankruptcy court order entered on October 2, 1984, dismissing a Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceeding. The motions panel filed a per curiam opinion granting in part and denying in part appellees’ motion for an award of sanctions against appellant following the panel’s partial dismissal of the appeal for lack of jurisdiction and partial summary affirmance of the district court’s post-judgment orders in a bankruptcy case. The motions panel held that the motion for sanctions pursuant to Fed. R. App. P. 38 was timely because it was filed within the time limits for filing a request for attorneys’ fees under 9th Cir. R. 39-1.6(a). Granting the sanctions motion in part, the panel awarded appellees attorney’s fees under Rule 38 for defending the appeal, which it concluded was frivolous. The motions panel denied in part the sanctions motion with respect to appellees’ request for sanctions pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1927. The Ninth Circuit found appellees filed the motion for sanctions on October 26, 2017, within the time prescribed by Ninth Circuit Rule 39-1.6. See 9th Cir. R. 39-1.6(a). The Court exercised its discretion and granted in part appellees' sanctions motion under Rule 38 for defending this appeal; the motion remained denied pursuant to 28 U.S.C. 1927 (sanctions for filings which unreasonably and vexatiously multiply the proceedings). View "Westwood Plaza North v. Bodnar" on Justia Law

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Under Fed. R. Civ. P. 37's general discovery enforcement provisions, a court can order a party to produce its nonparty expert witness at a deposition, and if the party makes no effort to ensure that its witness attends the deposition, sanction the party's counsel when the witness fails to appear unless the failure to produce the expert "was substantially justified or other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust." The Ninth Circuit affirmed the district court's contempt judgment stemming from the failure of plaintiffs' counsel to pay sanctions when they did not produce their expert at a deposition as ordered. In this case, the panel held that Rule 37 sanctions were reasonable where there was no justification for plaintiffs' failure to attempt to comply with a court order. The court held that the award of defendants' deposition-related costs was not unjust, but was rather the mildest of the possible Rule 37 sanctions. View "Sali v. Corona Regional Medical Center" on Justia Law

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Heryford, Trinity County, California's District Attorney, sued American Bankers and others, on behalf of the people under California’s Unfair Competition Law (UCL), alleging they had “engaged in deceptive marketing and sales practices.” Private parties may seek injunctive relief and restitution under the UCL; only a public prosecutor may pursue civil penalties. The complaint listed private law firms as “Special Assistant District Attorneys.” An agreement required the Firms to “provide all legal services that are reasonably necessary,” and to “conduct negotiations and provide representations at all hearings, depositions, trials, appeals, and other appearances” with authority to control the performance of their work “under the direction of the District Attorney,” stating that Heryford’s office did “not relinquish its constitutional or statutory authority or responsibility” and retained “sole and final authority to initiate and settle.” Heryford retained the Firms on a contingency-fee basis. American Bankers challenged the contingency-fee agreement as a violation of its federal due process rights that gave the Firms “a direct and substantial financial stake in the imposition of civil penalties and restitution,” which “compromise[d] the integrity and fairness of the prosecutorial motive and the public’s faith in the judicial process.” The Ninth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the suit. Heryford’s retention of private counsel to pursue civil penalties cannot be meaningfully distinguished from a private relator’s pursuit of civil penalties under the qui tam provisions of the False Claim Act, an arrangement that does not violate due process. View "American Bankers Management Co. v. Heryford" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order denying an award of attorney's fees to plaintiff in a 42 U.S.C. 1983 action. After plaintiff filed suit against Portland, it made a Rule 68 Offer of Judgment for $1,000, plus reasonable attorney's fees to be determined by the district court. Plaintiff accepted the offer, but when she moved for fees, the district court denied the motion on the ground that the award was a de minimis judgment under 42 U.S.C. 1988. The panel held that Portland's offer – and plaintiff's acceptance – which the panel interpreted as a contract, provided that plaintiff would receive her reasonable attorney's fees, without referencing section 1988 or otherwise reserving to the district court the antecedent question of whether plaintiff was entitled to a fee award. Accordingly, the panel remanded for a determination and award of a reasonable fee. View "Miller v. Portland" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit filed an amended opinion affirming the denial of defendant's motion for summary judgment. The panel held that Infinity's attorney, who sued for violation of a bankruptcy automatic stay, was not entitled to quasi-judicial immunity for acts other than drafting the order at the judge's request—an issue the court need not reach because the order was never filed. View "Burton v. Infinity Capital Management" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court's opinion in CRST Van Expedited Inc. v. E.E.O.C., 136 S. Ct. 1642, 1646 (2016), effectively overruled Branson v Nott's holding that when a defendant wins because the action is dismissed for lack of subject matter jurisdiction he is never a prevailing party. In this case, Amphastar filed a qui tam action against Aventis under the False Claims Act (FCA), 31 U.S.C 3730, alleging that Aventis obtained an illegal monopoly over the drug enoxaparin and then knowingly overcharged the United States. The district court dismissed the suit based on lack of subject matter jurisdiction. The Ninth Circuit held that Amphastar's allegations were based on publicly disclosed information, and it lacked the direct and independent knowledge needed to be an original source. Therefore, the panel upheld the district court's judgment on the merits. However, the panel held that the district court erroneously concluded that it could not award attorneys' fees, because the FCA's fee-shifting provision contained an independent grant of subject matter jurisdiction and because a party who wins a lawsuit on a non-merits issue is a "prevailing party." The panel remanded for resolution of the attorneys' fees issue. View "Amphastar Pharmaceuticals v. Aventis Pharma" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of plaintiff's application for attorney fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A), holding that the Commissioner's litigation position was substantially justified. Plaintiff had successfully challenged the Commissioner's denial of her application for disability benefits and obtained a remand of her claim to the agency for further consideration. In this case, the district court did not abuse its discretion in determining that the Commissioner's position was substantially justified because the Commissioner's opposition to remand the claim on the merits was reasonable, even though it turned out to be unsuccessful. Finally, plaintiff's new evidence, though sufficient in the end to persuade the district court to remand the case, did not make that the only reasonable result. View "Decker v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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The Ninth Circuit affirmed the denial of plaintiff's application for attorney's fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412(d)(1)(A). Plaintiff presented new evidence to the Appeals Council after she lost her claim for social security disability benefits before the ALJ. The district court remanded for further consideration and the Commissioner did not appeal. The district court denied plaintiff's request for attorney's fees, concluding that the Commissioner was substantially justified in arguing that the new evidence did not undermine the ALJ's denial of benefits. The issue that was before the district court on the original merits appeal of the ALJ's denial of benefits was not whether there was other evidence that could support a denial of benefits to plaintiff, or whether the Commissioner's denial of benefits might ultimately be sustained. The Ninth Circuit explained that it was whether the actual decision that was made by the ALJ could be affirmed at that time by the district court in light of the new evidence in the record. In this case, it should have been plain that it could not have been affirmed, because the ALJ's decision failed to provide a reason that was still viable for giving the opinion of the treating doctor little weight. The doctor's final report, if credited, would have undermined the ALJ's original finding that plaintiff was not disabled. Even if the Commissioner might have had a legitimate basis for opposing plaintiff's claim, she did not have a basis to oppose remand and to argue that the district court should affirm the existing ALJ opinion. View "Gardner v. Berryhill" on Justia Law

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The court filed an order denying Appellant Blixseth's counsel's motion and amended motion for reconsideration of the Commissioner's orders awarding attorneys' fees and non-taxable costs; denying requests for recusal, appointment of a new panel, conversion of the matter to a criminal proceeding, transfer of the matter to the U.S. Attorney, and holding of the awards in abeyance; and denying counsel's suggestion for reconsideration. The court concluded that the Commissioner correctly declined to award attorneys' fees and non-taxable costs under Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 38 against Blixseth and his attorney Michael J.Flynn for preparing appellees' statements regarding Blixseth's pro se response and Flynn's response to the court's order to show cause against Blixseth and Flynn ("fees-on-fees"), and correctly awarded fees and costs under 28 U.S.C. 1927 against Flynn for preparing the statements regarding Flynn's response. The court also concluded that Rule 38 is a damage provision authorizing award of "just damages;" the award of fees and costs under Rule 38 thus must be limited to appellees' direct fees and costs for defending against the frivolous appeal, and may not include the fees and costs incurred regarding the imposition of sanctions; and section 1927 is a fee-shifting provision allowing an award of fees-on-fees. View "Blixseth v. Yellowstone Mountain Club" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics