Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
Furtado v. Oberg
The First Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court entering summary judgment against Plaintiff Jay Furtado and in favor of Defendants, attorney Amy Page Oberg and the law firm DarrowEverett LLP, and dismissing Plaintiff's claims of legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and misrepresentation, holding that summary judgment was properly granted.Plaintiff was one of three members of a limited liability company (LLC) for a gym. In 2008, Plaintiff engaged Oberg to help to establish the LLC. After the LLC stopped operations, Plaintiff brought this action. The district court entered summary judgment for Defendants. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that, even if there were any doubt that Plaintiff had waived on appeal an argument that a reasonable jury could find that a breach by Defendants proximately caused his harm, this Court would still conclude that summary judgment was proper in this case. View "Furtado v. Oberg" on Justia Law
Patton v. Johnson
The First Circuit affirmed the judgment of the district court determining that Appellant was barred from relitigating his argument that Plaintiffs should be compelled to arbitrate various tort claims, holding that the district court did not err in denying Appellant’s motion to compel arbitration.At issue in this procedurally complicated case was whether Appellant’s association with a certain law firm required that Plaintiffs’ various tort claims, including their claims of legal malpractice, be submitted to arbitration. After adopting a magistrate judge’s report and recommendation and applying principles of collateral estoppel derived from Rhode Island law, the district court denied Appellant’s motion to compel. The First Circuit affirmed, holding that Appellant waived any claim of error regarding the magistrate judge’s analysis under Rhode Island collateral estoppel law. View "Patton v. Johnson" on Justia Law
Bezio v. Draeger
When Plaintiff retained a Maine law firm to represent him in a legal action, he signed an attorney-client engagement letter that contained an arbitration provision. Plaintiff later sued the law firm and individual defendants (collectively, Defendants) for malpractice and violations of Maine's Unfair Trade Practices Act. Defendants moved to compel arbitration and dismiss the action. The district court granted the motion under the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA). Plaintiff appealed, arguing that the district court erred in enforcing the arbitration clause. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the district court did not err in granting the motion to compel arbitration and dismissed the action, as (1) Maine professional responsibility law for attorneys permits arbitration of legal malpractice claims so long as there is no prospective limitation on the law firm's liability; and (2) Maine law, like the FAA, is not hostile to the use of the arbitration forum, and Maine would enforce the arbitration of malpractice claims provision in this case. View "Bezio v. Draeger" on Justia Law
Portugues-Santana v. Rekomdiv Int’l, Inc.
Plaintiff sought to open a Victoria's Secret franchise and sought assistance from Richard Domingo, an employee of Rekomdiv International. At the recommendation of Domingo, Plaintiff retained the law firm of Venable, LLP to assist him in establishing a business relationship with Victoria's Secret. Plaintiff paid Venable a $400,000 retainer fee, and paid $225,000 to Rekomdiv. Plaintiff later discovered Victoria's Secret franchise was not available. Plaintiff sued Rekomdiv and Domingo for breach of contract and dolo. The jury found in favor of Plaintiff and assessed damages in the amount of $625,000. In the meantime, Plaintiff sued Venable, and the parties settled. The court later found that it could not offset the damages award in the Rekomdiv suit by the Venable settlement amount. While their appeal was pending in this matter, Rekomdiv and Domingo filed a legal malpractice suit against Lamboy, their trial counsel. The district court dismissed the complaint against Lamboy. The First Circuit Court of Appeals (1) affirmed the district court's denial of offset of the damages award, as offset was not required; and (2) affirmed the court's dismissal of the legal malpractice suit, holding that the allegations in the complaint failed to establish the causation element necessary to make out a plausible legal malpractice claim. View "Portugues-Santana v. Rekomdiv Int'l, Inc." on Justia Law
Estate of Berganzo-Colon v. Ambush
Defendant was an attorney who litigated a case against the nations believed to be behind a 1972 terrorist attack on Puerto Ricans at an Israeli airport. Defendant and the American Center for Civil Justice (the Center) originally had an agreement on how to handle the litigation. However, Defendant misrepresented to clients that the Center had paid him for his work and convinced clients to revoke the Center's attorney's power of attorney. Thereafter, the Center filed suit against Defendant. In the meantime, Plaintiffs, the heirs of two individuals killed in the terrorist attack who signed retainer agreements with Defendant, filed this action against Defendant, alleging that the retainer agreements were void because Defendant secured their consent by deceit. After a jury trial, judgment was entered against Defendant. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) the evidence was sufficient to support the conviction; (2) the non-testifying heirs proved deceit without testifying about their reliance on Defendant's misrepresentations; and (3) the district court did not err in its instructions to the jury. View "Estate of Berganzo-Colon v. Ambush" on Justia Law
Saint Consulting Group, Inc. v. Endurance Am. Specialty, Inc.
This dispute between The Saint Consulting Group (Saint) and its liability insurer, Endurance American Specialty Insurance Company (Endurance), stemmed from Endurance's refusal to defend Saint in a lawsuit against Saint in the Northern District of Illinois. The district court dismissed Saint's lawsuit against Endurance based on an exclusion in the policy that stated explicitly that the policy does not apply to any claim based upon or arising out of any actual or alleged violations of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act or any similar provision of any state law. The First Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed, holding (1) because the second complaint alleged that Saint engaged in an anti-competitive scheme the exclusion was triggered; and (2) the policy did not cover the negligent spoliation claim in the first complaint. View "Saint Consulting Group, Inc. v. Endurance Am. Specialty, Inc." on Justia Law
Companion Health Servs, v. Majors Mobility, Inc.
Companion was authorized to license space in Wal-Mart stores to companies that sell durable medical equipment and entered into licensing agreements with defendants. In 2007, defendants shut down operations. Companion sued. Problems arose during discovery, including defense counsel motions to withdraw, allegations of inadequate responses to discovery requests, objections to the scope of discovery, refusal to attend depositions, motions to compel, multiple extensions, and claims of obstruction. After three years, the district judge imposed a default as to all counts, based on discovery violations by the defendants. The court eventually lifted the default except as to Companion's veil piercing claim, allowing the substantive claims to go to trial. A jury found for Companion and awarded more than $1 million in damages. Defendants, personally liable as a result of the default, appealed. The First Circuit vacated the default and remanded, "because the district court imposed such a severe sanction based on a very limited slice of the relevant facts." View "Companion Health Servs, v. Majors Mobility, Inc." on Justia Law
Mulero-Abreu v. PR Police Dep’t
Plaintiff, a police department employee, made claims of sexual harassment and emotional abuse. The district court issued a scheduling order, closing discovery as of November 18, 2010. When defense counsel encountered an emergency, the court reset the date to January 28, 2011. In November, defendants served plaintiffs with interrogatories and requests for production of documents. The court extended discovery closure date to February 28, 2011. On February 24, plaintiffs moved to extend this deadline by 30 days, claiming that their lawyer had no time to devote to their case. The court extended the discovery closure date to March 25, but stated that plaintiffs must provide answers to outstanding interrogatories and requests for production of documents no later than February 28 and that failure to answer by that date would result in dismissal, with prejudice. On March 1, defendants informed the court that plaintiffs had not complied. The court extended the deadline by 10 days. On March 16, defendants informed the court that the interrogatories remained unanswered and that the documents had not been produced. The next day the court dismissed the action with prejudice. The First Circuit affirmed. View "Mulero-Abreu v. PR Police Dep't" on Justia Law
Valley Forge Ins. Co. v. Field
An 11-year-old child suffered long-term horrific abuse and, in 2005, was beaten nearly to death by her adoptive mother and stepfather. The child's legal guardian, brought suit against Carson Center and one of its employees, a licensed social worker, alleging that they failed to detect or report signs of ongoing physical abuse. The state court suit led to insurance coverage litigation in federal court. Insurers sought a declaratory judgment that the allegations fell within exclusions to coverage. The First Circuit affirmed entry of declaratory judgment for the insurers. The language of the policy exclusions precludes coverage for abuse that occurs to anyone in the insureds' "care, custody or control." At the time of the abuse the victim was not in the physical custody of the insureds, but had been receiving bi-weekly outpatient therapeutic services from them for 14 months covered by the policies in question. The exclusions are unambiguous. View "Valley Forge Ins. Co. v. Field" on Justia Law
T-Peg, Inc. v. VT Timber Works, Inc.
The owner consulted with two architectural firms, T-Peg and VTW. T-Peg drew up a preliminary design then worked with the owner to refine the design. In 2001, T-Peg registered its design with the Copyright Office. Meanwhile, in 2000, the owner showed T-Peg's unregistered preliminary design to VTW, which began working on its own design. VTW completed its plan in 2002 with significant, minutely detailed input from the owner. Completed construction apparently reflected T-Peg's registered design. In a suit for copyright infringement, the court granted summary judgment for VTW and the owner, concluding that no reasonable jury could find that T-Peg's and VTW's designs were substantially similar. The First Circuit reversed and, following trial, the jury found in VTW's favor and rejected T-Peg's infringement claims. VTW sought fees of more than $200,000 under 17 U.S.C. 505. The district court granted VTW a fee award of $35,000. The First Circuit affirmed, finding that the district court adequately elaborated its reasoning.