Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics

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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

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Mark Colafranceschi brought this action for defamation and professional malpractice against Shawn Briley and Ashley Robinson after a magistrate court appointed Robinson to perform child custody evaluations in two separate cases in which Colafranceschi was a party. Colafranceschi was the plaintiff in two actions against the mothers of his children. Robinson was a licensed masters social worker. Briley was a licensed clinical social worker and was Robinson’s supervisor. In both reports in the two cases, Robinson's evaluations (as Colafranceschi's claim suggested) "did not cast him in a positive light." The district court dismissed the action, finding that quasi-judicial immunity barred Colafranceschi’s claims. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Colafranceschi v. Briley" on Justia Law

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Richard Pines, D.O. appealed the district court’s decision on a disciplinary order of the Idaho Board of Medicine. The Board brought disciplinary proceedings against Pines following reports that he had induced young men into sexual contact by saying he was required to give full-body massages to naked practice patients in order to be relicensed as a doctor of osteopathy. Following a hearing, the Board found Pines committed four counts of professional misconduct. It revoked Pines’ license and ordered that he pay costs and attorney fees. The district court affirmed the four counts of misconduct but vacated the award of costs and attorney fees. Pines appealed and the Board cross-appealed. Before the Supreme Court, Pines argued: (1) that he was disciplined for uncharged conduct, resulting in a violation of his due process rights; (2) that evidence in the record was insufficient to support certain alleged violations made against him; (3) that as applied, his due process rights were violated by the Board's conclusion that four individuals were Pines' patients. The Board argued that the district court erred in vacating the Board's order on attorney fees and costs. Upon review of the record, the Supreme Court found that two of the "patients" were not, indeed, Pines' patients, and that Pines' due process rights were not violated. The Court affirmed the Board's decision on Counts I and II, but vacated the district court's decision on Counts III and V (which pertained to the two "patients"). The case was remanded for further proceedings, including additional consideration of the issue of costs and fees. View "Pines v. Idaho Board of Medicine" on Justia Law

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Husband and wife Walter and A.K. Lienhart Minnick sued the law firm Hawley Troxell Ennis and Hawley, LLP (Hawley Troxell), alleging negligence in rendering services in connection with a real estate development project. On motion of Hawley Troxell for summary judgment, the district court dismissed the action as time-barred under the applicable statute of limitations. On appeal, the Minnicks argued that the district court erred in calculating accrual of their action under the statute, Idaho Code section 5-219(4). After review, the Supreme Court agreed, reversed the trial court's judgment, and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Minnick v. Hawley Troxell Ennis" on Justia Law

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This case arose out of a professional negligence claim relating to a life insurance policy. Bill Gailey purchased the life insurance policy from Kim Whiting in 2010. In August 2011, Gailey cashed in the life insurance policy after receiving advice from Whiting to that end. Gailey suffered negative tax consequences from cashing in the policy and subsequently filed a complaint against Whiting alleging Whiting was negligent when he advised Gailey to cash in his policy without warning him of the potential tax consequences. Whiting subsequently moved the court to dismiss the action for lack of personal jurisdiction because Whiting no longer lived in Idaho, Gailey was a resident of Oregon, and the alleged tort did not occur in Idaho. The district court granted Whiting’s motion and Gailey appealed to this Court. Finding no reversible error, the Supreme Court affirmed. View "Gailey v. Whiting" on Justia Law

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Christian Westby, James Westby, and Kristina Westby appealed the district court’s denial of their motion to reconsider the court’s protective order granted to Mercy Medical Center and Dr. Gregory Schaefer. This case arose from the Westbys’ claim that Dr. Schaefer’s and Mercy Medical’s negligence resulted in lifelong brain damage to Christian Westby. Near the end of discovery, the district court granted Mercy Medical and Dr. Schaefer’s protective order motion to prohibit the Westbys from deposing Mercy Medical and Dr. Schaefer’s expert witnesses. The district court later denied the Westbys’ motion to reconsider that protective order. The Westbys argued on appeal to the Supreme Court that the district court abused its discretion by not requiring any showing of good cause or unreasonable delay and basing its decision on a mistaken belief that the Westbys were dilatory. The Supreme Court agreed that the trial court erred, vacated the order and remanded the case for further proceedings. View "Westby, et al v. Schaefer, M.D." on Justia Law