Justia U.S. 4th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
Medical Mutual Insurance Co. of North Carolina v. Gnik
A former patients of Pediatric Partners for Attention and Learning, Inc. and its founder, Dr. Joni Johnson, sued them in state court after discovering that the clinic’s in-house psychologist, Sharonda Avery, was not a licensed psychologist. The clinic and Dr. Johnson asked their professional liability insurance carrier, Medical Mutual Insurance Company of North Carolina, to defend and indemnify them in those lawsuits. Medical Mutual responded by filing a declaratory judgment action in federal court, arguing that it could rescind the policy covering Pediatric Partners and Dr. Johnson due to Dr. Johnson’s material misstatements in her insurance applications. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit ruled that Medical Mutual has no duty to indemnify or defend Dr. Johnson or Pediatric Partners under Virginia law due to material misstatements made by Dr. Johnson in her policy applications. The court affirmed the district court's decision that Dr. Johnson's misrepresentation that none of her employees had been subject to disciplinary investigative proceedings was a material misstatement, and therefore, Medical Mutual could rescind its professional liability policy covering Pediatric Partners and Dr. Johnson. View "Medical Mutual Insurance Co. of North Carolina v. Gnik" on Justia Law
Schulman v. Axis Surplus Ins. Co., Inc.
This case involves Jeremy Schulman, a former shareholder at the Maryland law firm Shulman, Rogers, Gandal, Pordy & Ecker. Schulman sued insurance companies AXIS Surplus Insurance Company, Endurance American Specialty Insurance Company, and Prosight Syndicate 1110 at Lloyd’s, for breach of contract, detrimental reliance, and lack of good faith, claiming that they wrongfully denied his claim for coverage under his law firm's professional liability insurance policy. The dispute hinges on whether Schulman's indictment in a criminal case qualifies as a "claim" under his professional liability insurance policy, and whether a letter from the insurance companies promising to cover certain costs relating to a subpoena also covered costs related to the later indictment. Schulman also alleges that the insurers acted in bad faith.The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's decision, granting summary judgment to the defendants. The court held that Schulman's indictment in the criminal case did not constitute a "claim" under his professional liability insurance policy, and that the insurers' letter did not promise to cover costs related to the indictment. The court also held that Schulman's claim of bad faith could not succeed because he was not entitled to coverage under the policy and the insurers did not breach any tort duty by denying coverage. View "Schulman v. Axis Surplus Ins. Co., Inc." on Justia Law
In re: Grand Jury 2021 Subpoenas
While representing a client, Jane Roe , Appellant attorney John Doe engaged in settlement negotiations with the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS). The negotiations between Doe and UMMS proceeded poorly. Among other things, Doe also made any settlement between Roe and UMMS contingent on his personal receipt of an additional $25 million that would effectuate his retention by UMMS as a private consultant of sorts. A grand jury indicted Doe, charging him with attempted extortion in violation of 18 U.S.C. Sections 1951 and 1952. Shortly thereafter—at the government’s request—the grand jury issued multiple subpoenas duces tecum to the lawyers and firms that assisted in Doe’s representation of Roe—and in the formation of the alleged extortion scheme. Doe and Roe moved to quash the subpoenas. That court then granted in part a subsequent motion filed by the government to compel production. Doe and Roe now appealed asking the court to reverse the district court’s orders first denying their motions to quash and then compelling production.The Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal as to Doe for lack of appellate jurisdiction and otherwise affirmed. The court held that it lacks jurisdiction to consider Doe’s arguments given the Supreme Court’s effective narrowing of the Perlman doctrine. The court otherwise affirmed discerning no reversible error and ordered the parties must proceed to comply with the disputed subpoenas duces tecum in accordance with the district court’s order compelling production and this opinion. View "In re: Grand Jury 2021 Subpoenas" on Justia Law
Halscott Megaro, P.A. v. Henry McCollum
Law firm Halscott Megaro, P.A. (“Halscott Megaro” or “the firm”) sued former clients and their guardians (collectively “former clients”), seeking to recover unpaid legal fees and expenses. A district court dismissed the action under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). The district court took judicial notice of a North Carolina State Bar Disciplinary Hearing Commission (“Commission”) decision that found the firm’s lead partner misled the former clients and engaged in other unethical conduct. The court then held the firm was precluded from relitigating issues decided by the Commission. It held that Halscott Megaro failed to plausibly plead claims for which relief could be granted. Halscott Megaro appealed, arguing the district court improperly considered matters outside the pleadings and failed to accept its allegations and all reasonable inferences from them as true in concluding that the Commission’s decision as to its lead partner bound the law firm. The Fourth Circuit affirmed and held that the district court committed no reversible error in granting the former clients’ motion to dismiss or in denying the law firm’s motion for recusal. The court wrote that it agreed with the district court’s conclusion that the Commission was acting in a judicial capacity when it entered its discipline order against Megaro. The court also agreed that Megaro received a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issues and due process protections. Further, the court held that the firm’s allegations of impartiality were not related to any particular facts, sources or statements. A presiding judge is not required to recuse himself simply because of unsupported or highly tenuous speculation. View "Halscott Megaro, P.A. v. Henry McCollum" on Justia Law
Martin Conway v. Smith Development, Inc.
Attorney and his law firm, Pesner Kawamato Conway, P.C. (collectively, Conway), appealed the district court’s order rejecting the bankruptcy court’s report and recommendation to enjoin Smith Development, Inc.’s legal malpractice suit against Conway and to impose sanctions for violating the Barton doctrine and the automatic stay. The Fourth Circuit dismissed the appeal, finding that it lacks subject-matter jurisdiction because the district court’s decision rests on the abstention principles. The court explained that Conway suggests the district court had no authority to enter an abstention order because, under Barton, the district court itself lacked jurisdiction over Smith Development’s malpractice claims. However, the court wrote that this argument fares no better than the first. Barton concerns subject-matter jurisdiction over a separate action, not jurisdiction over the proceedings in which a party seeks Barton protection in the first place. And even if the court accepted the argument’s doubtful premise, it fails on its own logic because the bankruptcy court issued a report and recommendation to the district court, thereby authorizing the district court to rule on the matter. Further, the court found that even if it recognized a narrow exception to Section 1334(d)’s clear jurisdictional bar, the district court’s order would not fall within it. View "Martin Conway v. Smith Development, Inc." on Justia Law
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Klopp
The district court held defendant in contempt after finding him in violation of a consent order limiting his participation in the mortgage industry. The district court ordered the disgorgement of over half-a-million dollars of defendant's contemptuous earnings.The Fourth Circuit affirmed the district court's contempt decision, holding that the district court cited several proper reasons for holding defendant in contempt. However, the district court based its disgorgement sanction on an erroneous legal interpretation of the terms of the underlying consent order. Accordingly, the court vacated the disgorgement order and remanded for further proceedings. View "Consumer Financial Protection Bureau v. Klopp" on Justia Law
United States v. Kivanc
In this case, a federal jury found that the defendant properties were subject to civil forfeiture. The jury found that each property derived from the proceeds of a health care fraud and money laundering scheme committed by Dr. Mert Kivanc - the son of Turan and Duygu Kivanc (Claimants). The court concluded that the district court correctly denied Claimants' motion to dismiss based on the statute of limitations; the district court did not err in denying Claimants' motions to permit Turan and Dr. Kivanc to testify remotely from Turkey; the district court did not abuse its discretion by admitting Dr. Kivanc's statements and two documents at issue; the district court did not abuse its discretion in declining to give Claimants' proposed jury instructions; and Dr. Kivanc's statements and transfer of defendant properties to Claimants and money to Turan were sufficient evidence of his intent to conceal his unlawful activities to withstand Claimants' Rule 50 motion. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment. View "United States v. Kivanc" on Justia Law
McDaniel, Jr. v. Blust
Plaintiffs appealed a district court order dismissing several of their claims in a suit regarding conduct that occurred during bankruptcy proceedings. Plaintiffs were former officers of EBW Laser, a company that entered bankruptcy in 2005. After the case was converted to Chapter 7, the court appointed attorney Charles Ivey as trustee and Ivey subsequently retained his firm (IMGT) to serve as his counsel and to prosecute an adversary proceeding he had filed against plaintiffs. On appeal, plaintiffs argued that the district court erred in dismissing their claims against the IMGT defendants under the Barton doctrine. The Supreme Court established in Barton that before another court could obtain subject-matter jurisdiction over a suit filed against a receiver for acts committed in his official capacity, plaintiff must obtain leave of the court that appointed the receiver. The court held that the district court properly dismissed plaintiffs' claims and properly applied the Barton doctrine. Therefore, the court affirmed the district court's order. View "McDaniel, Jr. v. Blust" on Justia Law
Rivers, Jr. v. Wachovia Corp., et al.
Appellant, a former shareholder in Wachovia, sought to recover personally for the decline in value of his shares of Wachovia stock during the recent financial crisis. The district court dismissed the suit, concluding that appellant's complaint stated a claim derivative of injury to the corporation and that he was therefore barred from bringing a direct or individual cause of action against defendants. The court held that because appellant's varied attempts to recast his derivative claim as individual were unavailing, the judgment of the district court was affirmed. View "Rivers, Jr. v. Wachovia Corp., et al." on Justia Law
Belue v. Leventhal
Appellants appealed an order revoking their pro hac vice admissions in connection with a putative class action suit where the suit alleged that appellants' clients breached supplemental cancer insurance policies that they had issued. At issue was whether the district court erred in revoking appellants' pro hac vice status where the revocation was based on motions appellants filed in response to plaintiffs' request for class certification, chiefly a motion to recuse the district judge based on his comments during an earlier hearing. The court vacated the revocation order and held that, even though the recusal motion had little merit, the district court erred in revoking appellants' pro hac vice admissions where it did not afford them even rudimentary process.