Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics

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The Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's order compelling defendant to produce the medical records of five of his patients pursuant to a subpoena issued by an investigator with the Medical Board of California, a unit of the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA). The Medical Board opened an investigation on defendant after it received a report from a law enforcement officer that defendant may be overprescribing controlled substances to patients. In light of Grafilo v. Cohanshohet, (2019) 32 Cal.App.5th 428, 437, the court held that the DCA did not establish good cause for the subpoena of patient records because the DCA offered no evidence as to how many patients defendant treats, the similarly-situated pain management specialists might prescribe the drugs defendant prescribed, or the likelihood defendant properly issued the prescriptions. In this case, the DCA did not offer any evidence to contradict the statement that defendant's prescriptions were not outside of acceptable levels of a pain management specialist. View "Grafilo v. Wolfsohn" on Justia Law

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In July 2012, Maguire, represented by attorney Bornstein, brought an unlawful detainer action against Connelly. In September 2012, Maguire voluntarily dismissed the unlawful detainer action. On September 16, 2014, Connelly sued Maguire and Bornstein for malicious prosecution, alleging the two “actively were involved in brin[g]ing and maintaining” the unlawful detainer action, which ended in appellant’s favor; “no reasonable person in [Maguire and Bornstein’s] circumstances would have believed that there were reasonable grounds” to bring and/or maintain the action; and Maguire and Bornstein “acted primarily for a purpose other than succeeding on the merits” of the action. The trial court dismissed, citing the one-year statute of limitations in Code of Civil Procedure section 340.6(a), governing “[a]n action against an attorney for a wrongful act or omission, other than for actual fraud, arising in the performance of professional services.” The court of appeal affirmed, recognizing that finding section 340.6(a) applicable to malicious prosecution claims against attorneys will result in a one-year statute of limitations for such claims, while a two-year statute of limitations will apply to malicious prosecution claims against litigants. View "Connelly v. Bornstein" on Justia Law

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Jackson filed a pro se complaint against Kaiser under the California Fair Employment and Housing Act. After unsuccessfully attempting to serve the summons and complaint, Jackson sought counsel. Jackson never properly served Kaiser; Kaiser never appeared in the action. In April 2016, Jackson retained Horowitz to assist her “with regard to” the suit. Horowitz advised Jackson to dismiss her pending lawsuit without prejudice, believing that she could re-file by September 30, 2016. Although they apparently contemplated that Horowitz would prepare a new complaint, Jackson did not retain Horowitz as counsel of record. Jackson filed a Request for Dismissal prepared by Horowitz. On September 9, 2016, Horowitz informed Jackson that his advice had been based on his misunderstanding of the statute of limitations, which had expired on December 29, 2015, the date Jackson had filed her action. Jackson’s claims are now time-barred. Jackson retained Horowitz on a limited scope basis to represent her on an application seeking relief from the dismissal under Code of Civil Procedure 473(b). The court denied that application, stating that Horowitz’s erroneous advice could not serve as the basis for relief because he did not represent Jackson at the time and did not make an appearance in the case until October 2016, and section 473's mandatory relief provision did not apply to voluntary dismissal. The court of appeal affirmed. Although the order was appealable, section 473(b) mandatory relief is unavailable for this type of voluntary dismissal. View "Jackson v. Kaiser Foundation Hospitals" on Justia Law

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Southwestern Community College District (District) and its governing board (Board) (together Southwestern) demoted Arlie Ricasa from an academic administrator position to a faculty position on the grounds of moral turpitude, immoral conduct, and unfitness to serve in her then-current role. While employed by Southwestern as the director of Student Development and Health Services (DSD), Ricasa also served as an elected board member of a separate entity, the Sweetwater Union High School District (SUHSD). The largest number of incoming District students were from SUHSD, and the community viewed the school districts as having significant ties. As a SUHSD board member, Ricasa voted on million-dollar vendor contracts to construction companies, such as Seville Group, Inc. (SGI) and Gilbane Construction Company, who ultimately co-managed a bond project for the SUHSD. Before and after SGI received this contract, Ricasa went to dinners with SGI members that she did not disclose on her Form 700. Ricasa's daughter also received a scholarship from SGI to attend a student leadership conference that Ricasa did not report on her "Form 700." In December 2013, Ricasa pleaded guilty to one misdemeanor count of violating the Political Reform Act, which prohibited board members of local agencies from receiving gifts from a single source in excess of $420. Ricasa filed two petitions for writs of administrative mandamus in the trial court seeking, among other things, to set aside the demotion and reinstate her as an academic administrator. Ricasa appealed the denial of her petitions, arguing the demotion occurred in violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act (the Brown Act) because Southwestern failed to provide her with 24 hours' notice of the hearing at which it heard charges against her, as required by Government Code section 54957. Alternatively, she argued the demotion was unconstitutional because no nexus existed between her alleged misconduct and her fitness to serve as academic administrator. Southwestern also appealed, arguing that the trial court made two legal errors when it: (1) held that Southwestern was required to give 24-hour notice under the Brown Act prior to conducting a closed session at which it voted to initiate disciplinary proceedings, and (2) enjoined Southwestern from committing future Brown Act violations. The Court of Appeal concluded Southwestern did not violate the Brown Act, and that substantial evidence supported Ricasa's demotion. However, the Court reversed that part of the judgment enjoining Southwestern from future Brown Act violations. View "Ricasa v. Office of Admin. Hearings" on Justia Law

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Pursuant to a former version of Code of Civil Procedure section 128.5, the trial court ordered CPF Vaseo Associates, LLC (CPF) and its counsel, John Byrne, to pay Bruce and Barbara Gray (the Grays) just over $30,000 in fees and costs. Yet a mandatory procedural prerequisite to that award was never fulfilled. The motion requesting sanctions was served and filed on the same day, and no safe harbor period was afforded for CPF and Byrne to correct the challenged conduct. While a panel of the Court of Appeal previously determined that no such safe harbor applied to a sanctions motion like the one here, the Legislature's subsequent clarifying amendment of the section and the contrary opinion of another court convinced the Court to now reach a different conclusion. For that reason, the Court reversed and remanded for further proceedings. View "CPF Vaseo Associates, LLC v. Gray" on Justia Law

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Finance Holding Company, LLC (Finance) obtained a judgment against Dominque Molina for about $50,000 plus interest and attorney fees. In judgment enforcement proceedings, Finance sought documents from Molina's employer, The American Institute of Certified Tax Coaches, Inc. (Institute). Finance requested numerous categories of business, tax, and bank records, without limiting the request to information relevant to Molina. The court overruled the Institute's objections and ordered the Institute "to produce for inspection and copying all the demanded documents." On appeal, the Institute argued the document production order was overbroad under the statute governing third party discovery in judgment enforcement proceedings. The Court of Appeal determined the order was appealable, and statutorily overbroad: the court did not have the authority to order the expansive document production that went far beyond the statutory guidelines. The Court remanded for the trial court to narrow the order to require production only of those documents pertaining to Molina's compensation, property, or services, and/or the Institute's debts owed to Molina. View "Finance Holding Co., LLC v. The American Inst. of Certified etc." on Justia Law

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Genisman and Cline co-owned ECI and Coast. Genisman wanted Cline to buy out his interests and sought to be released from personal guarantees to lenders, including Blumenfeld. Genisman retained the Hopkins law firm. Initial drafts of the transaction documents structured it as a buyout. At some point, Hopkins revised the documents to implement a redemption of Genisman’s interest by the companies. Genisman, signed the documents unaware of the change. In July 2012, Blumenfeld sued Genisman for intentional misrepresentation, negligent misrepresentation, and constructive fraud, alleging that Blumenfeld had loaned $3.5 million to Coast, secured by its assets and the personal guarantees; that he released Genisman from his personal guarantees; that $750,000 remained unpaid when, in 2009, Coast became insolvent; that, in 2012, Blumenfeld learned that the documents called for Coast to pay Genisman $1,115,000; and that he would not have agreed to release Genisman from his personal guarantees had Genisman properly advised him of the terms. Genisman’s new law firm billed Genisman $2,475.40 to defend. Genisman sued Hopkins in December 2013. The court affirmed rejection of the suit as untimely under Code of Civil Procedure 340.6(a), which requires legal malpractice claims be brought one year after actual or constructive discovery. View "Genisman v. Hopkins Carley" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Pamela Palmieri, an attorney hired by real party in interest California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (Department) in part to conduct disciplinary cases against prison guards, was herself terminated for misconduct. After a 21-day hearing, she was found culpable of four counts of misconduct, one of which was her discourtesy and dishonesty to an administrative law judge (ALJ) after she was taken to task for her tardiness. She appealed her dismissal to the State Personnel Board (Board) which ultimately upheld her termination. The trial court denied her mandamus petition to overturn her dismissal, and she timely appealed. Finding no reversible error, the Court of Appeal affirmed. View "Palmieri v. Cal. State Personnel Bd." on Justia Law

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The Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court's denial of a petition for writ of administrative mandate. The court held that substantial evidence supported the Board's decision to impose disciplinary restrictions on plaintiff's veterinary practice after finding he committed certain negligent and/or incompetent acts while treating four animal patients. Although plaintiff forfeited his contentions on appeal, the court nevertheless reviewed the evidence cited by the trial court to determine that substantial evidence supported the trial court's findings. View "Shenouda v. Veterinary Medical Board" on Justia Law

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The law firm of Crowell & Moring (Crowell) was vicariously disqualified from this insurance coverage action based on a newly-hired, but disqualified discovery associate in a geographically distant office. Then, while the disqualification appeal was pending with the California Court of Appeal, the associate left Crowell. At that point, Kirk v. First American Title Ins. Co., 183 Cal.App.4th 776 (2010) became the controlling authority. "Kirk" also involved a disqualified attorney who left a vicariously disqualified law firm during the pendency of an appeal, and the result was that the order of disqualification had to be reversed and remanded back for reconsideration by the trial court. In the process Kirk outlined a number of factors that controlled the case on remand with regard to the efficacy of what is called an ethical screen in retroactively deciding whether any of a former client’s confidential communications had been actually disclosed. Following Kirk, the Court of Appeal reversed the disqualification order and returned the case to the trial court with directions to reevaluate its disqualification decision in light of Kirk – specifically the Kirk factors as to whether any confidential information has actually been disclosed. View "Fluidmaster v. Fireman's Fund Ins. Co." on Justia Law