Justia Idaho Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics

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The Idaho Board of Licensure of Professional Engineers and Professional Land Surveyors (the Board), through its executive director, Keith Simila, brought disciplinary proceedings against Chad Erickson for allegedly violating certain statutes and rules governing the surveying profession. Following an administrative hearing, the Board found that Erickson violated a number of the statutes and rules alleged and revoked his license as a professional land surveyor. Erickson appealed the revocation of his license to the district court. The district court upheld the Board’s finding that Erickson had committed certain violations; however, the district court reversed the portion of the Board’s Order revoking Erickson’s license and remanded the matter for further consideration of the appropriate sanction. Erickson appealed the district court’s decision, arguing that the evidence did not support the Board’s finding of any violations. In addition, Erickson argued numerous procedural errors made by the Board mandated reversal. The Idaho Supreme Court reversed, finding the Board's October 28, 2015 complaint against Erickson was time barred by IDAPA 10.01.02.011.01 and Idaho Code section 54-1220(2); the Board was aware of the allegations against him beginning in 2011, more than four years prior to the submission of the Executive Director’s complaint against him. "The failure to comply with a statute of limitations is jurisdictional and, therefore, this issue is dispositive." Accordingly, the district court’s Substituted Judicial Review Opinion was reversed and the Board’s Order was vacated because it was made upon unlawful procedure. View "Erickson v. Idaho Board of Licensure of Professional Engineers & Professional Land Surveyors" on Justia Law

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David Kosmann appealed a district court judgment relating to a dispute that arose from the sale of real property. He claimed the district court erred in enforcing an oral settlement agreement reached in mediation between Kosmann, Kevin Dinius, and Dinius & Associates, PLLC (collectively “Dinius”). Kosmann also argued the trial court erred in: (1) awarding attorney fees to Dinius as a sanction against Kosmann and his attorney; (2) declining to impose sanctions against Dinius and his attorney; and (3) striking an untimely memorandum and declaration in support of his motion to reconsider. After review of the trial court record, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part. The Supreme Court determined the district court did not err in enforcing the settlement agreement; the court also did not err in declining to impose sanctions against Dinius on ethics violations. However, the Supreme Court determined the district court abused its discretion in imposing I.R.C.P. 11 sanctions against Kossman and his counsel: the district court did not act consistently with the applicable legal standard for imposing sanctions pursuant to I.R.C.P. 11(b). The Supreme Court declined to address all other issues Kossman raised, and determined he was not entitled to attorney fees on appeal. "The record in this case is so tarnished with questionable conduct that it has presented this Court with a vexing ethical and legal dilemma. While we are gravely concerned over the potential ethical lapses which allegedly occurred during the mediation of this matter, there are no findings in the record concerning these matters. Therefore, as the trial court determined, we will leave to the Idaho State Bar, if properly called upon, the responsibility to investigate this matter further and make the necessary findings and conclusions as to the ethical issues presented." View "Kosmann v. Dinius" on Justia Law

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At the summary judgment stage, the district court found that an employee of Greenwald Neurosurgical, P.C. caused over $100,000 in losses to the P.C., while he was acting in the ordinary course of the P.C.’s business. The district court then issued a judgment to the P.C. for the policy amount of $100,000 pursuant to a Dishonesty Bond issued by Western Surety Company. Western appealed the district court’s determinations that the employee caused the loss while acting in the ordinary course of business and that the P.C. actually suffered the loss. The P.C. cross-appealed the district court’s findings that it was the only entity insured under the bond and argued it was awarded too little by way of attorney’s fees. The Idaho Supreme Court determined: (1) the district court correctly concluded that only the P.C. was an insured and the only entity that could recover under the bond; (2) whether the employee was acting the “ordinary course of [the P.C.’s] business” was a jury question; (3) a genuine issue of fact existed regarding the amount of losses the P.C. sustained; and (4) the district court erred in awarding attorney’s fees to the P.C. The Supreme Court therefore vacated summary judgment, and remanded for further proceedings. View "Greenwald v. Western Surety" on Justia Law

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Thomas Lanham appealed the dismissal of his legal malpractice action against his former attorney, Douglas Fleenor. Fleenor represented Thomas in a will contest regarding Thomas’s father. After the magistrate court ruled against Lanham at the summary judgment stage, Fleenor filed an untimely appeal, which was rejected on that basis. Because the appeal brought by Fleenor was untimely, Lanham brought a legal malpractice action against Fleenor in district court, alleging that the failure to timely appeal the magistrate’s ruling proximately caused him financial loss because he had a meritorious appeal that he never got to pursue due to Fleenor’s negligence. The district court dismissed Lanham’s legal malpractice claim, reasoning that a timely appeal by Fleenor would have been unsuccessful on the merits; hence, Lanham did not suffer any injury as a result of Fleenor’s alleged malpractice. Lanham argued on appeal to the Idaho Supreme Court that the interpretation of the will, in which the deceased attempted to disinherit Lanham, did not properly dispose of all of the estate because it did not contain a residuary clause. Lanham argued these failures should have resulted in various assets passing to him through intestate succession. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed the district court’s dismissal of Lanham’s malpractice case. View "Lanham v. Fleenor" on Justia Law

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In March 2016, Eric Clark and Clark and Associates, PLLC (collectively, Clark) sued the law firm of Jones Gledhill Fuhrman Gourley, P.A., and two individuals associated with that firm, William Fuhrman and Christopher Graham (collectively, Jones Gledhill). The genesis of this appeal started with Forbush v. Sagecrest Multi Family Property Owners’ Association, Inc., 396 P.3d 1199 (2017), a tort case in which a water heater emitted hazardous levels of carbon monoxide, killing one and seriously injuring another. In "Forbush," Clark initially represented the plaintiffs (Forbush), and Jones Gledhill represented two of the defendants, Anfinson Plumbing and Daniel Bakken. As his co-counsel, Clark enlisted the Spence Law Firm (Spence), but after approximately three years, irreconcilable differences plagued Clark and Spence’s relationship, and Clark withdrew. After withdrawing, in September 2015, Clark sent a letter to Jones Gledhill, which stated that he was “asserting an attorney lien according to I.C. 3-205, which attaches to any settlement or verdict. Please include [Clark’s] name on any settlement checks payable to the [Forbush] plaintiffs or any other payments related to a verdict or judgment.” A settlement between the Forbush defendants and plaintiffs was reached in January 2016, at which time the Forbush defendants wrote a settlement check to the Forbush plaintiffs. Without informing Clark of the settlement, Jones Gledhill forwarded the settlement check to Spence. When Clark learned of the settlement and contacted Jones Gledhill, the enforceability of Clark’s claimed lien became disputed. Clark alleged that Jones Gledhill was liable for failing to protect his attorney lien. Jones Gledhill moved to dismiss Clark’s amended complaint under Idaho Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), and the district court granted the motion. In addition to dismissing Clark’s complaint, the district court sealed several documents containing correspondence with and information about Clark’s former clients, denied Clark’s motion to amend, and awarded attorney fees under Idaho Code section 12-121 to Jones Gledhill. Clark appealed. But finding no reversible error, the Idaho Supreme Court affirmed. View "Clark v. Jones Gledhill Fuhrman Gourley" on Justia Law

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This was a legal malpractice case that addressed the statute of limitations applicable to professional malpractice claims, how a statute of limitations is calculated when the last day for filing a complaint falls on a Sunday, and whether expert testimony is necessary to establish the prima facie elements of legal malpractice. Plaintiff-appellant Christina Greenfield hired defendant-respondent Ian Smith to represent her in a civil suit against her neighbors. While the suit was pending, Greenfield was charged criminally with malicious injury to the Wurmlingers’ property. Greenfield retained Smith to represent her in the criminal matter. Greenfield was acquitted of the criminal charges. In the civil case, Smith successfully moved to withdraw from representing Greenfield because the attorney-client relationship had broken down to the point where he was no longer able to represent her. Greenfield represented herself at trial, and the jury returned a verdict in favor of the neighbors. Greenfield sued Smith for malpractice, alleging, among other things, that he failed to complete discovery, failed to file a motion for summary judgment on the Wurmlingers’ counterclaim for intentional infliction of emotional distress, failed to amend the complaint to include additional causes of action for abuse of process, slander and libel, failed to file a timely motion for protective order to safeguard the privacy of her medical records, missed several important deadlines, and made no attempt to get the criminal charges dismissed for lack of evidence. Smith filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that Greenfield’s claims were time barred and that she could not prove the prima facie elements of legal malpractice because she failed to designate any expert witnesses. Greenfield opposed the motion by filing a responsive brief and her own affidavit setting forth the allegations she claimed supported her malpractice claim, but did not file any expert affidavits. Greenfield argued that her complaint was timely and that no expert witness was required to prove her case. The district court granted Smith’s motion. Greenfield appealed. Though the Idaho Supreme Court found that the district court miscalculated the filing deadline for Greenfield’s civil matter claims (for determining whether her claims were time barred), Greenfield was unable to meet her burdens of proof to support her claims. Accordingly, the Court affirmed judgment in favor of Smith. View "Greenfield v. Smith" on Justia Law

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Counsel for appellant Martin Frantz hired attorney Merlyn Clark as an expert witness in an unrelated matter in 2009. Clark was a partner with respondent law firm Hawley Troxell Ennis & Hawley LLP (“Hawley Troxell”). In 2010, Frantz’ creditor, Idaho Independent Bank, hired Hawley Troxell to represent it in a contract action against Frantz. In 2011, while that matter was pending, Frantz filed for bankruptcy. Hawley Troxell continued to represent the Bank as a creditor in the bankruptcy, including in an adversary proceeding the Bank filed against Frantz in 2013. Frantz alleged in the adversary proceeding that Clark’s interactions with Frantz in the 2009 matter created an attorney-client relationship and that it was therefore a conflict of interest for Clark’s firm to represent the Bank against Frantz. Frantz also alleged that Hawley Troxell improperly used confidential information Clark acquired in the 2009 matter. The bankruptcy court concluded that there was no attorney-client relationship between Clark (or Hawley Troxell) and Frantz. The adversary proceeding was later dismissed as moot. Frantz subsequently sued Hawley Troxell in Idaho district court, alleging legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty. The district court denied pro hac vice admission to attorney Jeffrey Katz, Frantz’ chosen counsel. The district court also dismissed the complaint on the grounds of judicial estoppel, lack of standing, and abatement. Finally, it awarded Hawley Troxell attorney fees under Idaho Code sections 12-120(3) and 12-121. Frantz appealed the denial of pro hac vice admission, the dismissal of his complaint, and the award of attorney fees. Finding no reversible error after review of the trial court record, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Frantz v. Troxell" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff-appellant Patricia McKay appealed the grant of summary judgment in favor of Thomas Walker and Cosho Humphrey, LLP, in a legal malpractice action. McKay contended that Walker negligently drafted a property settlement agreement by failing to include provisions that would have resulted in a judgment lien against payments owed to her husband which were secured by a mortgage. The district court concluded that because a mortgage was personal property and not real property, the failure to include a description of the real property subject to the mortgage and the mortgage’s instrument number would not have resulted in the creation of a security interest. Based upon this legal conclusion, the district court held that Walker had not breached a duty to McKay and the alleged breach was not the proximate cause of any damages. McKay argued the district court erred in its conclusion. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "McKay v. Walker" on Justia Law

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Robert Mena was licensed to practice medicine and surgery in Idaho in 2003. In 2007, staff members at the hospital in Jerome where he had privileges reported behaviors that suggested to them that Dr. Mena might have been abusing drugs or alcohol. Dr. Mena was evaluated and tested negative for chemical dependency. But staff, still concerned about Dr. Mena's psychological status, opined that he was not then currently fit to practice medicine. After further evaluation, it was recommended that Dr. Mena curtail his work-weeks to 40 to 50 hours. The Idaho State Board of Medicine ("Board") also had begun an investigation regarding Dr. Mena's training and ability to perform certain medical procedures. The Board and Dr. Mena entered into a Stipulation and Order in 2009, in which he admitted that he had violated the Medical Practice Act by failing to provide health care that met the required standard and in which he agreed to specific conditions of probation and restrictions on his license to practice medicine. On September 26, 2011, the Board issued an order terminating the Stipulation and Order. That same day, the hospital in Jerome gave Dr. Mena written notification that it had granted him limited medical privileges on the condition that he obtain additional training, that he had failed to do so, and that his privileges were forfeited. A month later, the Board sent Dr. Mena a letter asking him to respond to the hospital's action. He eventually submitted a thirteen-page written response that was rambling with many obscure references, grammatical and syntax errors, and vague sentences. More evaluations were ordered. The Board issued its Final Order in early 2014, finding that Dr. Mena suffered from "some level of impairment," and it stated that "sanctions were necessary upon [Dr. Mena's] license." Dr. Mena filed a petition for judicial review to the district court, arguing: (1) the Board initiated proceedings pursuant to the Disabled Physician Act and then imposed sanctions that were not permitted by that Act; (2) the Board's order was not supported by substantial evidence; and (3) the hearing officer erred in holding that certain evidence was inadmissible. The district court upheld the Board's action, and Dr. Mena then appealed to the Idaho Supreme Court. The Supreme Court reversed and remanded, finding that Board's own evaluation of the evidence showed that there was insufficient evidence to support the Board's order. View "Mena v. Idaho Bd. of Medicine" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a failed development project undertaken by BRN Development, Inc. in Coeur d’Alene. The project was for the development of a high-end 325-unit residential and golf course community on the west side of Lake Coeur d'Alene known as "Black Rock North." American Bank was the lender for this project. The Bank ultimately brought a foreclosure action against BRN. BRN brought a cross-claim against Taylor Engineering, Inc., alleging negligence for its role in the development. Taylor recorded a lien against the development. BRN defaulted on the loan, and the Bank named BRN, Taylor, and any other entity claiming an interest in the development. Taylor made a demand on BRN for payment for services rendered. The demand stated that Taylor would "complete the necessary documents" and request the necessary signatures from the local government entities involved in the final PUD approval. Taylor advised BRN that "if the final subdivision approval is not completed and recorded by May 29, 2009, the PUD and preliminary plat approval will expire, the PUD and plat will not vest in the recorded ownership to the real property involved, and the property will revert to its prior zoning and density." This statement was erroneous; it was undisputed that the final plat did not need to be recorded by May 29 in order to vest the PUD. In BRN's cross-claim against Taylor, it alleged professional negligence, negligent and intentional misrepresentation, and failure to disclose based on the erroneous statement Taylor made in its demand letter. The district court separated the claims between Taylor and BRN from the remainder of the American Bank litigation and ultimately held that Taylor was not liable to BRN. BRN appealed. The Supreme Court found no reversible error with the district court's judgment that BRN failed to meet its burden of proving its claims against Taylor, and affirmed that court's judgment. View "American Bank v. BRN Dev." on Justia Law