Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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The Ninth Circuit reversed the district court's order denying plaintiff's motion for attorney's fees in a copyright infringement action brought by a film production company, alleging that a single user illegally downloaded and distributed repeatedly American Heist, a Hollywood action movie. In Fogerty v. Fantasy, Inc., 510 U.S. 517 (1994), the Supreme Court laid out factors to guide discretion in whether to award fees. The panel held that the district court did not faithfully apply the Fogerty factors in this meritorious BitTorrent action. The panel noted that the district court's analysis of whether fees are warranted should be based on Glacier's case against defendant, and not on the district court's view of BitTorrent litigation in general or on the conduct of Glacier's counsel in other suits. Therefore, remand was necessary because the district court denied fees under the present circumstances based on a one-size-fits-all disapproval of other BitTorrent suits. View "Glacier Films (USA), Inc. v. Turchin" on Justia Law

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Vogel, a paraplegic who uses a wheelchair, visited Harbor Plaza Shopping Center and, in the parking lot, encountered barriers that prevented him from fully enjoying the shopping center. Vogel sued under the Americans with Disabilities Act, seeking declaratory and injunctive relief, statutory damages, and attorney’s fees. Defendant filed an answer. The court scheduled trial for October 2015. In September 2014, the court approved Defendant’s request to substitute counsel, The request was signed by Defendant’s new lawyer and Defendant’s vice-president. Defendant and Defendant’s lawyer thereafter stopped appearing. Plaintiff prepared for trial. At the scheduled pretrial conference, Defendant and its lawyer failed to appear. The court noted that, in 2005, Defendant’s lawyer had been convicted of a federal corruption charge, continued the pretrial conference and ordered Plaintiff to provide notice. Plaintiff provided notice but they failed to appear at the continued conference. The court struck Defendant’s answer. Plaintiff filed an ex parte application for default, which the court entered. Plaintiff eventually moved for default judgment, seeking $36,671.25 in attorney’s fees and submitting a seven-page itemized list of his firm's work. The court granted Plaintiff default judgment; entered an injunction ordering Defendant to make specific structural changes; awarded Plaintiff statutory damages of $4,000 and costs, $3,590.83.1; and applying the local court rule’s formula, calculated fees of $600. The Ninth Circuit vacated the award. By eschewing the ordinary considerations that apply when calculating fees in ADA cases, the district court abused its discretion. View "Vogel v. Harbor Plaza Center, LLC" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff bought a Gilbert, Arizona home in 2004. She was required to pay the Community Association an annual assessment in monthly installments. Defendants notified Plaintiff in 2009 of her failure to pay a debt arising out of the assessment. Defendants represented the Association in suing Plaintiff. After Plaintiff defaulted on a payment agreement, Defendants revived the lawsuit and obtained a default judgment. The parties agreed to a new payment plan and to execute a stipulated judgment against Plaintiff that recognized the Association’s right to collect the debt by selling Plaintiff’s home. Plaintiff failed to make the required payments. The Maricopa Superior Court granted a writ of special execution for foreclosure on Plaintiff’s house. The property was sold for $75,000 at a foreclosure sale, and Defendants received $11,600.13 in satisfaction of the debt, including attorneys’ fees and costs. The district court rejected Plaintiff’s claim that Defendants violated the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act by misrepresenting the amount of Plaintiff’s debt and seeking attorneys’ fees to which they were not entitled. The Ninth Circuit reversed. Defendants’ effort to collect homeowner association fees through judicial foreclosure constitutes “debt collection” under the Act, 15 U.S.C. 1692a(5). In Arizona, requests for post-judgment attorneys’ fees must be made in a motion to the court. No court had yet approved the quantification of the “accruing” attorneys’ fees claimed by Defendants; Defendants falsely represented the legal status of this debt. View "McNair v. Maxwell & Morgan PC" on Justia Law

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In May 2014, Defendants distributed the film Walk of Shame. Weeks earlier, SOYP sent letters to Defendants alleging that the film included elements copied from a screenplay, "Darci’s Walk of Shame," written by SOYP’s president, Rosen; that Rosen’s screenplay was sent to Banks, the star of Walk of Shame, in 2007; that Rosen met with Banks to discuss the project; and that Rosen wanted Banks to star in his movie, but Banks never replied after the meeting. SOYP sued, alleging copyright infringement. Several discovery disputes arose; SOYP filed eight motions to compel production of documents. The Ninth Circuit affirmed the rejection of the suit on the pleadings, finding no substantial similarity between the works. Defendants then moved for attorney’s fees and costs. Judge Morrow, who had adjudicated the merits, held a hearing, Before the hearing, she issued an unsigned tentative order awarding Defendants $314,669.75 in fees and $3,825.15 in costs. After the hearing, she issued a minute order stating that Defendants’ motion was granted in part and denied in part and that a final order would issue. Judge Morrow retired without issuing a final order. Judge Phillips issued a final order, awarding Defendants the amount stated in the tentative order. The Ninth Circuit affirmed, noting the court’s discretion under 17 U.S.C. 505, that SOYP’s subjective beliefs regarding its outcome were irrelevant, and that other factors did not outweigh the objective unreasonableness of SOYP’s litigating position. View "Shame on You Productions, Inc. v. Banks" on Justia Law

Posted in: Copyright, Legal Ethics

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This appeal stemmed from an action alleging wrongful conduct by Nike against Havensight (the tortious interference action). The tortious interference action was filed after Havensight's prior action against Nike, alleging infringement upon a soccer brand owned by Havensight (the infringement action), was dismissed with prejudice. The Ninth Circuit dismissed Havensight's appeal as to the sanctions imposed under 28 U.S.C. 1927, the vexatious litigant order, the denial of plaintiff's motion to strike, and the denial of plaintiff's application for default because those matters were not included in the notice of appeal. The panel dismissed the amended complaint because the notice of appeal was untimely where plaintiff's premature filing of a post-judgment motion did not extend the otherwise applicable appeal period. Finally, the panel deferred to the district court's factual findings as to whether plaintiff's filings were sufficiently frivolous or abusive such that Rule 11 sanctions were appropriate, and affirmed the sanctions order because the findings were amply supported by the record. View "Havensight Capital LLC v. Nike, Inc." on Justia Law

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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