Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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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

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This case arose from a dispute over which California government entity would be responsible for funding the education of K.G. pursuant to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), 20 U.S.C. 1400(d)(1)(A). The School District contended that the district court erred in granting K.G. relief from its original judgment denying attorneys' fees. The court concluded that the district court did not apply the incorrect legal rule in evaluating whether to grant relief pursuant to Rule 60(b)(1) where the district court's determination that K.G.'s delay in pursuing Rule 60(b) relief was understandable in light of the original attorney's poor mental and physical health; K.G. was the prevailing party entitled to attorney fees because K.G.'s prayer was answered in full when the ALJ designated the School District as the responsible agency and granted K.G.'s requested relief; K.G. qualified as a prevailing party under the IDEA, and this victory was not trivial or merely technical; but it was not clear from the district court's award that it took into account forgoing considerations in reducing the fees originally requested. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, vacated in part, and remanded. View "Irvine Unified School District v. K.G." on Justia Law

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After the district court denied attorney Larry Klayman's application to be admitted pro hac vice in the high-profile criminal trial of Cliven Bundy, Bundy sought a writ of mandamus to force the district court to admit Klayman. The court denied relief, concluding that the district court had more than ample cause to turn down Klayman’s application: he is involved in an ethics proceeding before the District of Columbia Bar, and he was not candid with the court about the status of those proceedings; he disclosed that he was twice barred in perpetuity from appearing pro hac vice before judges in the Central District of California and the Southern District of New York, but he failed to list numerous cases—all available on Westlaw or LEXIS—in which he has been reprimanded, denied pro hac vice status, or otherwise sanctioned for violating various local rules; and he has a record of going after judges personally, and shortly after Chief Judge Gloria Navarro denied his application, Bundy filed a frivolous Bivens action against her in her own court. View "Bundy v. US District Court for the District of Nevada, Las Vegas" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics

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A fifth-grade student and her mother filed suit against the school district and its employees because the student allegedly experienced retaliation after the mother complained to the school principal about the student's teacher. The district court dismissed the First Amendment retaliation claim without prejudice; plaintiffs failed to meet the filing deadline, and the school district filed a proposed judgment of dismissal; plaintiffs filed their Second Amended Complaint (SAC) the following day; the district court then entered a final judgment dismissing the First Amended Complaint, citing plaintiff's failure to file the SAC within the time allowed; and plaintiffs moved for relief from judgment under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 60(b)(1) based on excusable neglect. The district court found that counsel's neglect was not excusable and the district court, in the meantime, moved for attorney's fees under the California Public Records Act (CPRA), Cal. Gov't Code 6259(d). The district court denied the fees. Plaintiffs appeal both the district court’s judgment of dismissal and the order denying relief from judgment. Defendants cross-appeal a portion of the dismissal order and the order denying attorney’s fees. The court concluded that the district court’s decision cannot be supported by the record and thus it abused its discretion by denying plaintiffs relief from judgment under Rule 60(b)(1). The court also concluded that plaintiffs' CPRA claim was neither indisputably without merit nor prosecuted for an improper motive. Accordingly, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded. View "M.D. v. Newport-Mesa Unified School District" on Justia Law

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In 2012, the Wood plaintiffs, who were recipients of health coverage under Arizona's Medicaid demonstration project, filed suit against the Secretary challenging her approval of a new Arizona project that raised copayments for medical visits and medications and that permitted healthcare providers to refuse non-emergency services based on an inability to pay. At issue on appeal is whether the members of the class action were the prevailing parties for purposes of attorneys’ fees under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), 28 U.S.C. 2412. The court applied the factors in Buckhannon Bd. & Care Home, Inc. v. W. Va. Dep’t of Health & Human Res., holding that under the EAJA, the Wood plaintiffs are the prevailing party in their procedural Administrative Procedure Act (APA), 5 U.S.C. 706(2)(A), challenge against the Secretary. The court noted that the dispositive question is not whether the plaintiff ultimately obtained some form of substantive relief, but rather whether there is a lasting alteration in the legal relationship between the parties. The court concluded that there was a material alteration in the legal relationship of the parties, to the benefit of the Wood plaintiffs. Finally, the court concluded that the retention of jurisdiction for practical and equitable reasons did not undermine the reality that the Wood plaintiffs were a prevailing party. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded to the district court to consider whether the government’s position was “substantially justified” under the EAJA. View "Wood v. Burwell" on Justia Law

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MLTF substantially prevailed in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. 552, action filed against the Government. MLTF filed a motion for attorney fees pursuant to 5 U.S.C. 552(a)(4)(E), requesting that the court award it fees consistent with the current billing rates for its attorneys. The district court (Ware, C.J.) granted the motion in part, awarding MLTF attorney fees calculated at $200 an hour, which was well below the current billing rates for its attorneys. The district court (Rogers, J.), upon the Government’s motion to consider the issue de novo, determined that the first judge had not erred in awarding only $200 an hour. The court concluded that notwithstanding MLTF’s failure to designate for appeal Judge Ware’s underlying fee order, MLTF’s intent to appeal the underlying fee award is apparent from both the factual circumstances and MLTF’s extensive briefing on the issue; the Government also cannot demonstrate prejudice; and thus the court chose to exercise its discretion and consider the appeal on the merits of Judge Ware's underlying fee award. On the merits, the court concluded that, consistent with its burden, MLTF provided substantial evidence of the prevailing market rate for the applicable periods. Accordingly, the court vacated the district court's fee award and remanded for a recalculation of the appropriate rate. Finally, the court concluded that MLTF falls within the class of litigants entitled to attorney fees on appeal, and MLTF may request attorney fees on appeal in accordance with Ninth Circuit Rule 39-1.6. Accordingly, the court vacated and remanded. View "Hiken v. Dep't of Defense" on Justia Law

Posted in: Legal Ethics