Justia Government & Administrative Law Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
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The case involves East Central Water District ("East Central") and the City of Grand Forks ("City"). East Central alleged that the City unlawfully curtailed its water service area, violating federal and state laws. East Central sought to declare a water supply and service agreement with the City void from the beginning under a specific North Dakota statute. The agreement, entered into in 2000, was designed to avoid conflict in providing potable water as the City annexed territory in East Central's service area. The agreement was subject to a North Dakota statute that required the public lending authority to be a party to the agreement. However, the Bank of North Dakota, the public lending authority, was not a party to the agreement.The case was initially brought before the United States District Court for the District of North Dakota. The City answered East Central’s complaint and counterclaimed, and brought a third-party complaint against William Brudvik and Ohnstad Twichell, P.C. for legal malpractice in their representation of the City during negotiations and execution of the Agreement. The City then moved the federal district court to certify questions to the Supreme Court of North Dakota on the interpretation of the North Dakota statute.The Supreme Court of North Dakota was asked to answer two certified questions of law: whether the language “invalid and unenforceable” in the North Dakota statute means an agreement made without the public lending authority as a party is (1) void from the beginning or (2) voidable and capable of ratification. The court concluded that the language “invalid and unenforceable” means void from the beginning, and does not mean voidable and capable of ratification. The court reasoned that the statute speaks to the authority to contract on this subject matter, as opposed to the manner or means of exercising one’s power to contract. Therefore, none of the parties were authorized to contract for water services without the public lending authority being a party to the agreement. View "East Central Water District v. City of Grand Forks" on Justia Law

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The case involves a petition for a writ of prohibition filed by Judge Timothy L. Sweeney of the Circuit Court of Pleasants County, West Virginia. The petition was filed against the Hearing Panel Subcommittee (HPS) of the West Virginia Lawyer Disciplinary Board (LDB) and several attorneys. The case stems from consolidated lawyer disciplinary proceedings concerning several lawyers who were involved with a program operated by the City of St. Marys, West Virginia, called “Slow Down for the Holidays.” The program allowed certain criminal charges to be dismissed in exchange for donations to benefit needy children and seniors during the holiday season. Judge Sweeney reported the program to the appropriate authorities, leading to disciplinary proceedings against the involved attorneys.The HPS granted a motion by one of the attorneys to depose Judge Sweeney, who then moved to quash the subpoena, arguing that the requested deposition testimony and documents were protected by the judicial deliberative privilege. The HPS denied the motion to quash, leading to Judge Sweeney's petition for a writ of prohibition.The Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia granted the writ of prohibition. The court found that the HPS clearly erred in ordering Judge Sweeney to submit to a deposition and produce documents. The court held that the testimony and records sought by the subpoena were protected by the judicial deliberative privilege. The court also found that the HPS erred in failing to hold a mandatory hearing pursuant to Hatcher v. McBride, which sets forth the limited circumstances in which judicial testimony may be compelled. The court concluded that the HPS exceeded its legitimate powers by ordering Judge Sweeney to appear for a deposition and produce documents. View "State ex rel. Sweeney v. Mundy" on Justia Law

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In September 2020, George Fluitt was indicted on three counts of fraud and offering kickbacks related to genetic testing services that his company, Specialty Drug Testing LLC, provided to Medicare beneficiaries. As part of a nationwide investigation into genetic testing fraud, the Government executed search warrants at laboratories referred to as the Hurricane Shoals Entities (“HSE”), allegedly operated by Khalid Satary. The Government copied several terabytes of data from HSE, some of which were later determined to be material to Fluitt’s defense.In the lower courts, the Government established a “Filter Team” to review materials seized in its investigation and identify any that might be privileged. The Filter Team’s review was governed in part by a Protocol Order, which established a multi-step process for notifying a third party that it might have a claim of privilege and then adjudicating that claim. HSE and Satary provided privilege logs to the Filter Team, asserting thousands of claims of privilege. Both Fluitt and the Filter Team found these privilege logs to be facially deficient as they made only threadbare assertions of privilege, without any accompanying explanation.In the United States Court of Appeals Fifth Circuit, the court affirmed the lower court's decision. The court found that the appellants failed to establish their claims of privilege. The court also found that the appellants' argument that they are not bound by the Protocol Order was a red herring, as the magistrate judge evaluated the appellants’ privilege logs under the standards established by federal caselaw. The court also rejected the appellants' argument that Fluitt “has not shown a need for the documents” and has not “demonstrated any kind of relevancy.” The court found that the record suggests that Fluitt “has a need” for the potentially privileged documents, as the Government determined that the potentially privileged materials were material to preparing Fluitt’s defense. View "United States v. Fluitt" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court of the State of Delaware considered an appeal from a decision of the Superior Court regarding the adoption of a Medicare Advantage Plan for State retirees by the State Employee Benefits Committee (SEBC). The Superior Court had found that the SEBC's decision was subject to the requirements of Delaware’s Administrative Procedures Act (APA), granted a motion to stay the implementation of the Medicare Advantage Plan, and required the State to maintain its retirees’ Medicare Supplement Plan. The Superior Court also denied the plaintiffs' application for attorneys’ fees.The Supreme Court of the State of Delaware disagreed with the lower court's ruling. It found that the SEBC's decision to adopt a Medicare Advantage Plan was not a "regulation" as defined by the APA. The court reasoned that the decision did not meet the APA's definition of a regulation because it was not a "rule or standard," nor was it a guide for the decision of future cases. Therefore, the Superior Court did not have jurisdiction to stay the implementation of the plan. The Supreme Court reversed the decision of the Superior Court.On cross-appeal, the plaintiffs argued that the Superior Court erred by refusing to grant their application for attorneys’ fees. However, the Supreme Court found this argument moot because fee shifting is available only against a losing party in favor of a prevailing party. Since the Supreme Court reversed the decision below, fee shifting was foreclosed. View "DeMatteis v. RISE Delaware, Inc." on Justia Law

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In this case, the California Board of Psychology revoked the license of Dr. Robert Geffner after it found that he had violated the American Psychological Association’s Ethical Principles of Psychologists and Code of Conduct. The violations were based on his evaluation of two children for suicide risk without their father’s consent, failure to consult their existing therapist, making recommendations beyond the scope of an emergency risk assessment, and delegating the duty to warn the father of one child's thoughts about killing him. Dr. Geffner petitioned for a writ of mandamus to vacate the Board’s decision, but the trial court denied the petition. On appeal, the appellate court reversed the trial court's decision, finding that the evidence did not support the trial court’s conclusions. The appellate court clarified that the father's consent was not necessary in cases of emergency, as the circumstances suggested, and that Dr. Geffner did not make any custody recommendations. Moreover, the court found no evidence to suggest that Dr. Geffner had a duty to personally warn the father of his son's threat, and thus did not violate any ethical standards. The court directed the trial court to grant Dr. Geffner's petition and reverse the Board's findings. View "Geffner v. Board of Psychology" on Justia Law

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In this case, the New York State Department of Corrections and Community Supervision (DOCCS) withheld 11 documents from a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request by Appellate Advocates, arguing that the documents were privileged attorney-client communications. These documents had been prepared by DOCCS counsel to train and advise Board of Parole commissioners on how to comply with their legal duties and obligations.The New York Court of Appeals had to determine whether these documents were rightly withheld under the FOIL exemption for privileged matters. The court found that the documents reflected counsel's legal analysis of statutory, regulatory, and decisional law, and were therefore protected attorney-client communications, prepared to facilitate the rendition of legal advice or services in a professional relationship. The court rejected Appellate Advocates' arguments that disclosure was required under FOIL, noting that the privilege applied to proactive advice to assist the client in compliance with legal mandates, and was not limited to communications triggered by a client's disclosure of confidential information or a direct request for advice. The court also rejected the argument that documents identified as Commissioner training materials were categorically not exempt from disclosure.The court concluded that the documents were properly withheld under the FOIL exemption for privileged matters as they were privileged attorney-client communications. The court affirmed the order of the Appellate Division. View "Matter of Appellate Advocates v New York State Dept. of Corr. & Community Supervision" on Justia Law

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The Idaho Supreme Court ruled in favor of the Idaho State Appellate Public Defender (SAPD) in a case involving the SAPD's statutory duty to arrange for substitute counsel for indigent defendants when a conflict of interest arises. The SAPD filed a direct action against the Fourth Judicial District Court, alleging that the court infringed on the SAPD’s statutory duty to arrange a new attorney for a defendant named Azad Abdullah. The SAPD had identified a conflict of interest in its own office and tried to substitute an attorney from Pennsylvania, but the district court refused the substitution and appointed a new attorney of its own choosing. The Idaho Supreme Court held that the district court had obstructed the SAPD's statutory duty and authority under Idaho Code section 19-5906. The Court ordered the district court's decisions to be vacated, restored the SAPD as attorney of record for the limited purpose of arranging for substitute counsel, and ordered the appointment of a new district judge to preside over Abdullah’s post-conviction proceeding. View "SAPD v. Fourth Judicial District" on Justia Law

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In this case, the Nebraska Supreme Court affirmed a lower court's decision, finding that the Middle Republican Natural Resources District (NRD) violated the due process rights of two landowners, Merlin Brown and Uhrich & Brown Limited Partnership, by having the same attorneys act as both prosecutors and participants in the adjudicatory process of the case. The court held that such a combination of prosecutorial and adjudicatory functions in the same individuals posed an intolerably high risk of actual bias, thus, infringing on the landowners' right to a fair trial by an impartial tribunal. In this case, the NRD had accused the landowners of violating certain ground water management rules. The case was initially heard by the Board of Directors of the NRD, whose decision to impose penalties on the landowners was informed by the same attorneys who had prosecuted the case on behalf of the NRD. The landowners appealed the Board's decision under the Administrative Procedure Act (APA), leading to the district court's reversal. The NRD then appealed to the Nebraska Supreme Court, which upheld the lower court's ruling. View "Uhrich & Brown Ltd. Part. v. Middle Republican NRD" on Justia Law

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The Supreme Court affirmed the orders entered by the circuit court granting summary judgment to Defendants in the underlying action brought after investigators identified unsafe, non-sterile injection techniques, holding that the circuit court did not err.Plaintiffs, a pain management clinic and its physician, brought the underlying action alleging that the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, West Virginia Bureau for Public Health, and its former Commissioner and State Health Officer (collectively, the DHHR Defendants) breached their duty of confidentiality when they issued a press release announcing that Defendants used unsafe injection practices and encouraging Plaintiffs' patients to be tested for bloodborne illnesses. Plaintiffs also sued the West Virginia Board of Ostseopathic Medicine and its executive director (together, the BOM Defendants), asserting a due process claim for failing to timely provide a hearing after their summary suspension of the physician's medical license. The circuit court concluded that the DHHR defendants were entitled to qualified immunity and that the claim against the BOM defendants was barred by res judicata. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that there was no error in the circuit court's judgment. View "Chalifoux v. W. Va. Dep't of Health & Human Resources" on Justia Law

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In Louisiana v. Bartie, 14th Judicial District Court Case Number 12615-16, Div. G, Judge Michael Canaday presided over multiple hearings relating to the defendant’s indigency and his request for ancillary funding for defense experts. Because the hearings involved the disclosure of defense strategy, they were conducted without the district attorney, and the transcripts were sealed. Judge Canaday found the defendant was not indigent and denied his request for funding. The defense filed a writ application with the Third Circuit Court of Appeal challenging the indigency ruling. To facilitate filing the application, Judge Canaday granted defense counsel’s request for transcripts of the hearings. After defense counsel moved to obtain a missing transcript, Judge Canaday ordered the transcript be given to defense counsel and handwrote that it be “release[d] from seal.” Judge Canaday then received an email from the district attorney’s office asking whether his order gave the district attorney’s office access to the transcripts, or only defense counsel and the Third Circuit. Defense counsel was not copied with this email. Judge Canaday replied: “Since I don’t believe the state could appeal my granting relief to the defense on funding, I don’t think they can support the courts [sic] position to deny. The courts [sic] reasons will be sufficient for the 3rd to review. If the 3rd requests a states [sic] response obviously they could access the record.” Defense counsel was not included in these communications. The district attorney’s office then filed a “Motion to Unseal All Documents and Transcripts in Regards to Determining Indigency of the Defendant.” This motion was styled neither ex parte nor unopposed. Without a hearing, Judge Canaday signed an order granting the district attorney’s office the requested relief. Defense counsel did not have an opportunity to respond. The materials released by Judge Canaday included a transcript of a closed hearing where defense strategy specific to Bartie was discussed, including experts and their expected testimony. Defense counsel successfully argued for Judge Canaday’s recusal from the Bartie case. Writ applications seeking reversal of the recusal were denied by both the Third Circuit and the Louisiana Supreme Court. The recusal and subsequent related writ applications resulted in the expenditure of significant time, effort, and funds by both the state and defense counsel. There were negative media reports concerning Judge Canaday’s actions. Media reports prompted a Judiciary Commission investigation. The Commission found Judge Canaday engaged in improper ex parte communications and inappropriately granted a state motion to release documents from seal without holding a hearing or otherwise allowing defense counsel the opportunity to respond. The Commission recommended that he be publicly censured and pay costs. The Louisiana Supreme Court concurred with the censure recommendation. View "In re: JUDGE G. Michael Canaday" on Justia Law