Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics

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Plaintiff brought claims against her former attorney for legal malpractice. The district court submitted to the jury four claims (1) legal malpractice in Defendant’s representation of Plaintiff in her divorce, (2) legal malpractice in Defendant’s representation of Plaintiff in her potential claim for assault and battery against her ex-husband, (3) assault and battery by Defendant, and (4) punitive damages. The jury returned verdicts for Defendant on the legal malpractice claims and verdicts for Plaintiff on the assault and battery and punitive damages claims. Both parties appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) there was no error in the district court rulings granting motions for directed verdict on certain claims; (2) the evidentiary rulings of the district court were not in error; and (3) while Defendant’s cross-appeal was untimely, on the merits, the award of actual damages and punitive damages did not exceed the range permitted by the evidence. View "Stender v. Blessum" on Justia Law

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This legal malpractice case arose from work performed by the Dunakey & Klatt law firm for Michael Cox II. Cox later died. Thereafter, Michael Cox’s parents (Plaintiffs) filed this action for legal malpractice against Dunakey & Klatt and two of the attorneys in the firm. The parties agreed to mediate their dispute. Following mediation, the parties agreed on what would be paid to settle the case. The parties exchanged versions of a confidentiality provision to be included in the settlement agreement, although they never settled on the same version at the same time. The district court nevertheless enforced the settlement agreement and dismissed the underlying malpractice case. Plaintiffs appealed, arguing, inter alia, that there was no “meeting of the minds” on settlement. The Supreme Court reversed the order of the district court enforcing a settlement agreement between Plaintiffs and the law firm, holding that there was no binding settlement agreement because the parties never mutually assented to the same settlement agreement. View "Estate of Michael G. Cox II v. Dunakey & Klatt, P.C." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs’ attorney filed two board claim forms with a state appeals board on behalf of Plaintiffs, signing their names and his own. The attorney did not attach any document showing he had power of attorney. The board rejected Plaintiffs’ claims. Plaintiffs then filed their claim in district court. The district court dismissed Plaintiffs’ claims on the ground that their attorney signed the forms on their behalf. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) a claimant presents a claim when the board receives a writing that discloses the amount of damages claimed and generally describes the legal theories asserted against the State; and (2) the district court had jurisdiction to hear Plaintiffs’ claims. View "Segura v. State" on Justia Law

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The Iowa Commission on Judicial Qualifications filed an application for discipline of a judicial officer recommending the Supreme Court publicly reprimand district court judge Mary E. Howes, Seventh Judicial District. Judge Howes petitioned for dissolution of her marriage to her husband, Jack Henderkott, in June 2011. In 2013, Henderkott sent Judge Howes an email indicating the Internal Revenue Service had deducted $3192 from his 2012 income tax return because she did not claim income she received from liquidating an individual retirement account on the couple’s 2010 joint income tax return. Henderkott claimed he was entitled to reimbursement in the full amount of the deduction per the terms of the settlement agreement. Judge Howes retained a "Ms. Pauly" to assist with her dissolution of marriage, but different counsel for the lingering tax dispute with her ex-husband. Ms. Pauly represented a different client before Judge Howes on a family law matter. Ms. Pauly's client became "distraught" upon hearing that the lawyer representing the client's husband was representing the very judge who had signed an order granting a temporary injunction in the client's case. A complaint against Judge Howes was subsequently filed. Because the Supreme Court concluded the judge violated the Iowa Code of Judicial Conduct, it granted the application for judicial discipline. Rather than publicly reprimand the judge, however, the Court publicly admonished the judge. View "In the matter of Honorable Mary E. Howes" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sued his former criminal defense attorneys for legal malpractice, alleging that they allowed him to plead guilty to a crime that lacked a factual basis. The district court granted summary judgment in favor of the attorneys on the basis that Plaintiff could not show he was actually innocent of any offense that formed the basis for the underlying criminal case. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that a criminal defendant’s showing of actual innocence is not a prerequisite to bringing a legal malpractice against his or her former criminal defense attorney. Instead, innocence or guilt should be taken into account when determining whether the traditional elements of a legal malpractice claim have been established. Remanded. View "Barker v. Capotosto" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs filed an amended petition against two attorneys who prepared documents in connection with the sale of real and personal property, alleging that Defendants negligently performed legal services in negotiating, drafting, and providing legal advice in connection with the documents. The district court granted Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on statute of limitations grounds. The Supreme Court reversed, holding that summary judgment should not have been granted in favor of either attorney because (1) with regard to the first attorney, the district court identified the incorrect date at which Plaintiffs suffered actual damage; and (2) with regard to the second attorney, a fact question remained for trial. View "Vossoughi v. Polaschek" on Justia Law

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In the underlying action, Plaintiff filed a personal injury action against Defendants, the State, and a volunteer driver for the Iowa Department of Human Services. The Supreme Court held that Defendants were entitled to summary judgment under the statute of limitations and the volunteer-immunity provisions of the Iowa Tort Claims Act. Plaintiff subsequently filed this malpractice action against her attorney (Attorney) in the underlying case. The jury returned a verdict finding Attorney was negligent and that his negligence caused damage to Plaintiff. The Supreme Court affirmed on appeal and reversed on cross-appeal, holding (1) the driver's volunteer immunity did not preclude the State's respondeat superior liability for Attorney's negligence, and therefore, Plaintiff's legal malpractice claim against Attorney did not fail because she could have recovered in the underlying case had the claim been timely filed; (2) Attorney could not reduce the malpractice-damage award by the contingent fee he would have taken if the underlying action had been successful because he did not earn the fee and because Plaintiff must pay new counsel who prosecuted the malpractice action; and (3) Plaintiff was entitled to interest running from the date by which her underlying action should have been tried, absent Attorney's negligence.View "Hook v. Trevino" on Justia Law

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Larysa and Alan Asher filed an action individually and as parents and next friends of their minor child, asserting that Dr. Anthony Onuigbo was negligent in delivering their baby. The jury found in favor of Asher and awarded damages. Onuigbo appealed. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the district court erred by providing the jury with a causation instruction based upon the Restatement (Second) of Torts rather than an instruction based upon the Restatement (Third) of Torts, as adopted by the Court in Thompson v. Kaszinski, but the error was harmless under the facts and circumstances of this case; and (2) substantial evidence supported submission of two challenged specifications of negligence to the jury. View "Asher v. OB-GYN Specialists, P.C." on Justia Law

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Elmer Gaede, who owned a 120-acre farm together with his wife, died testate on February 2005. Elmer’s daughter, Diean, was named executor under the will. Diean designated Ivan Ackerman to render legal services in the administration of the estate. During the pendency of the probate proceedings, Elmer’s son James and his wife, who were leasing the farm, exercised the option under the lease agreement to purchase the farm. Diean later filed this legal malpractice lawsuit against Ackerman, alleging that Ackerman failed to adequately protect her personal interests relating to the enforceability of the option. The district court granted summary judgment for Ackerman, determining that Ackerman did not have a duty to protect Diean’s personal interests. The court of appeals reversed, holding that a factual dispute existed over the question of whether Diean had a reasonable expectation that Ackerman was representing her personal interests. The Supreme Court vacated the decision of the court of appeals and affirmed the judgment of the district court, holding that insufficient facts supported Diean’s claim that Ackerman reasonably understood that Diean expected him to protect her personal interests in challenging the option. View "Sabin v. Ackerman" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs, Klever Miranda and Nancy Campoverde, entered the U.S. without documentation. Klever received a notice of removal order and was represented by attorney Michael Said. Said advised Klever and Nancy to leave the country and then file a document called a Form I-601 waiver, which permits an applicant who is otherwise ineligible to be admitted into the U.S. based on extreme hardship to a qualifying relative. Said told Plaintiffs that once their son Cesar obtained citizenship, he would be a qualifying relative. However, once Plaintiffs left the country and filed the Form I-601, the applications were denied. Plaintiffs later learned that Cesar was not a qualifying relative. Plaintiffs and Cesar brought a legal malpractice action against Said, including a claim for emotional distress damages and punitive damages. The district court allowed only the claim for economic damages to be considered by the jury and found Said negligent. The court of appeals reversed, finding the claims for emotional distress and punitive damages should have been submitted to the jury. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the district court erred in concluding that emotional distress and punitive damages were not available to Plaintiffs. Remanded for a new trial.View "Miranda v. Said" on Justia Law