Justia U.S. 1st Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
United States v. Arce-Ayala
In this case, defendant Samuel Arce-Ayala, a leader of a drug trafficking organization, pled guilty to federal charges related to drug trafficking and firearm possession. He believed, based on his plea agreement and statements made by his lawyer and the district court, that his federal sentence would reflect "credit" for the prison time he served for related non-federal criminal convictions. However, after entering his guilty plea, Arce-Ayala discovered that such credit could not reduce his sentence below the applicable mandatory minimum terms of imprisonment. He moved to withdraw his plea before sentencing, arguing that he didn't understand the consequences of his guilty plea, but the district court denied the motion.The United States Court of Appeals For the First Circuit vacated Arce-Ayala's criminal judgment of conviction. The court held that Arce-Ayala did not have sufficient "knowledge of the consequences of the guilty plea" because he was told by his defense counsel and the district court that the time he spent in Commonwealth custody would be credited toward his federal sentence. He did not know that the mandatory minimum prison sentence set an inviolable floor as to the amount of credit he could receive for time served on the Commonwealth sentences. As such, his plea violated a "core concern" of Rule 11, which requires a defendant to understand the consequences of a guilty plea, and must be set aside. The case was remanded back to the district court for further proceedings. View "United States v. Arce-Ayala" on Justia Law
ST Engineering Marine, Ltd. v. Thompson, MacColl & Bass, LLC, P.A.
In this case, a law firm, Thompson, MacColl & Bass, LLC, P.A. (TM&B), was sued by its former client, ST Engineering Marine, Ltd. (STEM), for professional negligence. STEM owned a vessel that was arrested due to several entities, including Sprague Operating Resources, LLC (Sprague), asserting maritime liens for unpaid services. STEM had sought advice from TM&B to analyze these lien claims. TM&B advised STEM that Sprague's lien was valid and should be paid. Acting on this advice, STEM paid Sprague and subsequently sued TM&B, alleging that TM&B's advice was negligent as it failed to consider the unsettled state of relevant maritime lien law.The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the decision of the United States District Court for the District of Maine, which had found in favor of STEM. The Court of Appeals held that TM&B breached its duty of care to STEM by failing to conduct adequate legal research and by not appropriately counseling STEM about the uncertainty of Sprague's lien claim. The court also found that TM&B's negligence was the actual and proximate cause of STEM's loss, concluding that STEM would have prevailed in contesting Sprague's lien claim but for TM&B's erroneous advice. The court ordered TM&B to pay STEM $261,839.04 in damages. View "ST Engineering Marine, Ltd. v. Thompson, MacColl & Bass, LLC, P.A." on Justia Law
Kenyon v. Gonzalez-Del Rio
The First Circuit affirmed the decisions of the district court granting partial summary judgment to defendant-physicians and denying Plaintiffs' motion for reconsideration in light of the decision in Oquendo-Lorenzo v. Hospital San Antonio, Inc., 256 F. Supp. 3d 103 (D.P.R. 2017), holding that the district court did not err or abuse its discretion.Plaintiffs filed this suit on behalf of themselves, their conjugal partnership, and their minor daughter, C.A.K., alleging that Defendants breached their duty of care and departed from medical standards when treating C.A.K. in the emergency room of San Antonio Hospital. The district court granted partial summary judgment for Defendants, concluding that they were absolutely immune from liability for negligence under recent amendments to Article 41.050 of the Puerto Rico Insurance Code. After Oquendo-Lorenzo was subsequently decided, Plaintiffs moved for reconsideration. The district court denied the motion. The First Circuit affirmed the district court's judgment and order denying the motion to reconsider, holding that there was no error or abuse of discretion. View "Kenyon v. Gonzalez-Del Rio" on Justia Law
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