Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics

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The Alabama Peace Officers' Standards and Training Commission ("the Commission") petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for mandamus relief to direct the circuit court to dismiss a complaint against it filed by Bryan Grimmett. The Commission revoked Grimmett's law-enforcement certification. The Court of Civil Appeals reversed that portion of the trial court's judgment fully reinstating Grimmett's law-enforcement certification because Grimmett had conceded in the record that he had not satisfied the 80-hour refresher-training course required for reinstatement of his certification. At the time the Court of Civil Appeals issued its May 2017 opinion, the Commission had in place a rule requiring a previously certified law-enforcement officer absent from employment as a law-enforcement officer for two years or more to successfully complete an approved 80-hour academy recertification course. In October 2017, the Commission amended its rule on certification to include, among other things, a provision that, if the Commission approves an application for admission to certification training of a law-enforcement officer absent from law enforcement for more than 10 years, that applicant must satisfactorily complete the regular basic-training academy, which is a 520-hour course. It was undisputed that Grimmett had been not employed as a law-enforcement officer since 2000. Grimmett filed his complaint with the circuit court seeking declaratory and injunctive relief against the Commission, asserting that he was provisionally offered a job in law enforcement in December 2017; that he attempted to enroll in the 80-hour refresher- training program; and that the Commission refused to allow him to enroll in the refresher-training program, instead requiring him to complete the full 520-hour basic-academy training course. The Commission moved the circuit court to dismiss the complaint on the ground that the Commission, as an agency of the State of Alabama, is entitled to sovereign immunity. Finding that the Commission established a clear legal right to mandamus relief, the Alabama Supreme Court granted its petition and directed the circuit court to dismiss Grimmett's complaint. View "Ex parte Ex parte Alabama Peace Officers' Standards and Training Commission." on Justia Law

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Sue Shadrick, as personal representative of the estate of William Harold Shadrick ("William"), appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Wilfredo Grana, M.D. In 2010, William presented to the emergency room reporting that he had been experiencing shortness of breath and chest pain. An emergency-room physician, Dr. Gary Moore, concluded that William had suffered a heart attack. Dr. Moore placed separate telephone calls to Osita Onyekwere, M.D., who was the cardiologist on call at the time, and to Dr. Grana, who is a board-certified internist and a hospitalist for the hospital. Dr. Moore discussed William's condition with Dr. Onyekwere and Dr. Grana. Thereafter, Dr. Grana admitted William to the hospital. Dr. Grana testified that, based on the echocardiogram, he believed that William was in cardiogenic shock, which means that his heart was unable to pump enough blood to meet his body's needs. Dr. Grana testified that he believed an emergency heart catheterization was necessary, which would have revealed the reason for the cardiogenic shock, such as a blocked blood vessel. As an internist, however, Dr. Grana could not perform that invasive procedure. After his telephone conversation with Dr. Grana, Dr. Onyekwere went home for the night without personally seeing William. The next morning, Dr. Grana learned that William's condition had worsened and that Dr. Onyekwere had not yet seen William. Dr. Onyekwere's nurse extender told Dr. Grana that William was being transferred to the hospital's intensive-care unit and that Dr. Onyekwere was en route to the hospital. William suffered cardiac arrest, later dying from insufficient oxygen to his brain. A heart catheterization performed after William had suffered cardiac arrest indicated that he had heart blockages that might have been bypassed through surgery had they been discovered earlier. Shadrick sued Dr. Onyekwere and Dr. Grana. She settled her claims against Dr. Onyekwere, and Dr. Grana filed a motion for a summary judgment. The Alabama Supreme Court determined Shadrick was required to support her claims against Dr. Grana with the expert testimony of a similarly situated health-care provider. The trial court did not err in determining that her expert did not qualify as such. Accordingly, the trial court did not err in entering a summary judgment in favor of Dr. Grana. View "Shadrick v. Grana" on Justia Law

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D.A.R. appealed a circuit court judgment dismissing his complaint against R.E.L., D.H., and R.H. D.A.R., a licensed attorney practicing in Alabama, filed a complaint against R.E.L., D.H., and R.H. R.E.L. was also a licensed attorney, and was employed as an assistant general counsel for the Alabama State Bar ("the ASB"). D.H. and R.H. were brothers; they were not attorneys. According to the complaint, at some point before December 2007, R.E.L. and D.H. began "a personal, professional and/or sexual relationship," and R.E.L. and R.H. began "a personal and/or professional relationship." D.A.R. alleged that in December 2007, at R.E.L.'s recommendation and with his assistance, D.H. and R.H. "filed a baseless complaint against [D.A.R.] with the ASB." D.A.R. alleged that the motivation for the complaint was to use it "as a means to protect [D.H. and R.H.] from liability for a debt owed by [them] to a client represented by [D.A.R.] and/or as retaliation for his role in representing that client." According to D.A.R., R.E.L. knew when it was filed that the complaint against D.A.R. was baseless in fact and in law. R.E.L. asserted the defense of absolute immunity, but presented arguments to the trial court establishing why quasi-judicial immunity should apply to the facts presented in D.A.R.'s complaint. The Alabama Supreme Court found D.A.R. failed to demonstrate the trial court erred by dismissing his complaint on the grounds he presented to it, and as such, affirmed the trial court's judgment. View "D. A. R. v. R.E.L., D.H., and R.H." on Justia Law

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Dr. Eyston Hunte and his medical practice petitioned for mandamus relief. A former patient, Lisa Johnson, filed suit against Hunte, alleging Hunte sexually abused her during a health examination. Johnson served discovery requests on Hunte and his practice, which included a request to produce "each and every claim or complaint that has been made against [Hunte] by a patient for assault or inappropriate touching." Hunte objected to this request on the ground that this information was protected from discovery. Johnson filed a motion to compel Hunte to produce the requested documents. Hunte and EAH, in turn, filed a motion for a protective order. The trial court denied Hunte's motion for a protective order and ordered Hunte to respond to the discovery requests within 21 days. It was evident to the Alabama Supreme Court that a the 2001 complaint submitted to the Alabama Board of Medical Examiners by former patient and provided to Hunte as a part of the proceedings before the Board was the type of document declared privileged and confidential under section 34-24-60, Ala Code 1975. Furthermore, the Court noted that Johnson had not filed an answer and had not presented any facts or argument to the Supreme Court indicating that the 2001 complaint was not privileged or that it was otherwise subject to discovery. Thus, the Court concluded that Hunte has shown a clear right to an order protecting the 2001 complaint in Hunte and EAH's possession from discovery. The Court granted Hunte’s petition and issued the writ. View "Ex parte Dr. Eyston Hunte" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs Mary Hall, as personal representative of the estate of Adolphus Hall, Sr., and Anaya McKinnon, as personal representative of the estate of Wanzy Lee Bowman appealed the dismissal of their class-action claims against Environmental Litigation Group, P.C. ("ELG"). Plaintiffs alleged ELG agreed to represent hundreds of clients who had been exposed to asbestos, including their respective decedents. Plaintiffs alleged ELG charged its clients an excessive fee above and beyond the amount listed in their respective contracts. The trial court dismissed their case with prejudice. The Alabama Supreme Court disagreed with the trial court’s judgment, reversed and remanded. On remand, the trial court appointed a special master, who again recommended dismissal of plaintiffs’ claims. The trial court held that the attorney-employment agreement was ambiguous and that this ambiguity was fatal to the plaintiffs' class-allegation claims. Thus, the trial court dismissed the class claims before the class-certification process began. At this point in the proceedings and under the standard of review, the Supreme Court saw no ambiguity in the attorney-employment agreements, negating the trial court's contrary conclusion as to the individualized inquiry necessary with regard to the plaintiffs' contract claims. The Court therefore reversed the trial court's order dismissing the plaintiffs' claims for class-based relief and remanded the matter for further proceedings. View "Hall v. Environmental Litigation Group, P.C." on Justia Law

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On January 23, 2015, Judge Callie Granade of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Alabama, issued an order declaring unconstitutional both the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment, and the Alabama Marriage Protection Act, as violating the Due Process Clause and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. Thereafter, the federal court entered an injunction prohibiting the Alabama Attorney General from enforcing any Alabama law that prohibited same-sex marriage. The injunction was to allow time for an appeal of that decision to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals. On January 27, 2015, Roy Moore, Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, sent a letter, on Supreme Court of Alabama letterhead, to then Governor Robert Bentley regarding Judge Granade’s orders, expressing "legitimate concerns about the propriety of federal court jurisdiction over the Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment." In his three-page letter, Chief Justice Moore laid out his arguments as to why Judge Granade’s federal-court orders were not binding upon the State of Alabama, and ultimately directed Alabama’s probate judges not to recognize marriage licenses for same-sex couples. Months later, the Alabama Supreme Court released a per curiam opinion ordering the probate judges named as respondents to discontinue issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in compliance with Alabama law. Chief Justice Moore’s name did not appear in the vote line of this opinion, nor did he author or join any of the special writings. On June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court issued its opinion in “Obergefell,” holding that "same-sex couples may exercise the fundamental right to marry in all States" and that "there is no lawful basis for a State to refuse to recognize a lawful same-sex marriage performed in another State on the ground of its same-sex character." The Court of the Judiciary ultimately suspended Chief Justice Moore for his defiance of the laws. He appealed, and the Alabama Supreme Court determined it was “obligated to follow prior precedent” that it had no authority to disturb the sanction imposed by the Court of the Judiciary: “[b]ecause we have previously determined that the charges were proven by clear and convincing evidence and there is no indication that the sanction imposed was plainly and palpably wrong, manifestly unjust, or without supporting evidence, we shall not disturb the sanction imposed.” View "Moore v. Alabama Judicial Inquiry Commission" on Justia Law

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In 2008, Kimberly Bond sued her former attorney, James McLaughlin, alleging legal malpractice. The trial court entered a summary judgment in favor of McLaughlin. In February 2006, Bond hired McLaughlin to provide legal services involving the estate of her husband, Kenneth Pylant II, who was killed in a motorcycle accident in 2005. McLaughlin allegedly failed to properly contest a copy of Pylant's will that was admitted to probate on November 29, 2005, and, as a proximate result of McLaughlin's breach of duty, Bond was injured and suffered damage. The Supreme Court found that Bond did not contest the will before probate, and, because of McLaughlin's negligence, she did not properly contest the will within six months after probate by filing a complaint with the circuit court. The Supreme Court determined that Bond presented evidence sufficient to overcome summary judgment, and accordingly reversed the circuit court’s order. The case was remanded for further proceedings. View "Bond v. McLaughlin" on Justia Law

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Juakeishia Pruitt filed a legal-malpractice claim against Bobby Cockrell, Jr., and Cockrell & Cockrell ("the Cockrell law firm"). Cockrell appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Pruitt. The claims in this case arose from Byron House's representation of Pruitt from late 2000 until January 2012. House worked as an associate with the Cockrell law firm from September 1995 until January 2012. This case involved House's handling of Pruitt's claims with regard to four separate causes of action: Pruitt's discrimination and breach-of-contract claims against Stillman College; Pruitt's sexual-discrimination claims against her employer Averitt/i3; Pruitt's claims against Gwendolyn Oyler arising from an automobile accident; and Pruitt's breach-of-contract claims against A+ Photography. After the statute of limitations had run on Pruitt's underlying claims against Stillman College, Averitt/i3, and Oyler, House made intentional misrepresentations to Pruitt regarding the status of those cases. House also made intentional representations regarding the status of Pruitt's case against A+ Photography. Additionally, House continued to make such representations regarding the status of Pruitt's cases against Stillman College and Averitt/i3 until well after the time any legal-malpractice case against him would have been barred by the applicable statute of repose. "A fraud committed by an attorney that defrauds the attorney's client as to the status of the client's underlying claim is actionable under the ALSLA separate and apart from the attorney's failure to timely file a complaint on the underlying claim." Therefore, Alabama Supreme Court concluded the trial court properly denied the Cockrell defendants' motion for a summary judgment as to the malpractice claims alleging that the Cockrell defendants were vicariously liable for fraudulent misrepresentations House made to Pruitt to conceal the existence of an underlying legal-malpractice claim. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court's order. View "Cockrell v. Pruitt" on Justia Law

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Richard Watters petitioned the Alabama Supreme Court for a writ of mandamus to direct the Mobile Circuit Court to vacate its order denying his motion for a summary judgment as to count one of an amended complaint filed by Michael Gamble, in Gamble's capacity as administrator of the Estate of Barbara Ruth Findley Long ("Long"), deceased. Count one asserted a legal-malpractice claim against Watters under the Alabama Legal Services Liability Act ("the ALSLA"), alleging breach of a fiduciary duty. This proceeding involved title to real property located in Conecuh County, which was owned by Robert Findley at the time of his death. Long retained Watters & Associates, of which Watters was a partner, to represent her "in obtaining estate assets" of Findley, her deceased father. Watters filed suit seeking a declaration of Long's ownership in family property located in Conecuh County. The Circuit Court declaring that Long owned a one-sixth interest (approximately 30 acres) in the Conecuh County property Shortly thereafter, Long discharged Watters from any further representation in the declaratory-judgment action. Watters filed an attorney's lien against the Conecuh property to secure the payment of his attorney fees. Family members eventually quitclaimed their interests to Long. Taxes for 2006 weren't paid on the property, and Long's cousin Larry Findley purchased the property at a tax sale. According to Watters, Long asked him for a loan to redeem the property from the tax sale. Watters told Long that Langley would not record the quitclaim deed if Long repaid the loan within 30 days of redeeming the property; that, in the event the deed was recorded, any claim Watters might have against Long for services rendered regarding her deceased father's estate would be satisfied; and that Watters and Long agreed to terms concerning the loan arrangement. This arrangement was never reduced to writing. Long executed a quitclaim deed prepared by Watters, conveying title to the Conecuh property to "Langley & Watters, LLP." In 2010, Watters submitted to the Conecuh Probate Court a letter, enclosing "his client's" application for redemption of the Conecuh property. Long died on April 2, 2013, and a few months later, the Conecuh Probate Court appointed Gamble as administrator of Long's estate. Gamble filed a complaint against Watters, asserting claims of legal malpractice among other things. After review of this case, the Alabama Supreme Court concluded that Watters had another adequate remedy (i.e., an appeal) other than a writ of mandamus. Therefore, the Court denied relief. View "Ex parte Richard L. Watters." on Justia Law

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Chad Bostick petitioned for a writ of certiorari seeking review of the Court of Civil Appeals' opinion reversing a circuit court judgment that reversed the administrative order issued by the Alabama Board of Examiners of Landscape Architects ("the Board") suspending Bostick's license for one year and imposing a $250 fine against him. Bostick had been employed by GRC Design Group, Inc. (GRC), a landscaping business owned and operated by Greg Curl. A dispute between Bostick and GRC arose, and Bostick resigned from GRC in 2010. Bostick started his own landscaping firm. In February 2010, Curl filed a written complaint with the Board alleging that Bostick had, while employed with GRC, "misrepresented himself to clients as part owner in [GRC] and as a result had clients write checks payable to him which he cashed for his own personal use." Curl claimed that Bostick "admitted to stealing these design fees and eventually to several more acts of fraud." Bostick denied these accusations. Bostick argued on appeal of the circuit court's adoption of the Board's findings, among other things, that the Board's decision was not supported by evidence presented and that the Board acted beyond its jurisdiction and authority in suspending his license to practice landscape architecture and in imposing a fine. After review of the record, the Supreme Court agreed and reversed the circuit court's judgment. View "Ex parte Chad Bostick." on Justia Law