Justia U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics
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The Gaetanos run a cannabis dispensary. After a failed business transaction, a third party sued the Gaetanos and their attorney, Goodman, and filed a disciplinary complaint against Goodman. An ethics inquiry uncovered multiple violations. Goodman lost his license to practice law. The Gaetanos severed their relationship with him. The IRS later audited the Gaetanos’ tax returns and contacted Goodman for assistance. Goodman threatened the Gaetanos that unless they gave him a “significant down-payment” he would see them “take[n] down”. They did not oblige, Goodman sent menacing emails. The Gaetanos contacted the IRS. Goodman assured the IRS that his information was not privileged but was obtained through on-line searches and a private investigator; he discussed several aspects of the Gaetanos’ business. Goodman then taunted the Gaetanos, who again notified the IRS. The Gaetanos filed suit, seeking to stop the government from discussing privileged information with Goodman and requiring it to destroy attorney-client confidences. The IRS asserted that the court lacked jurisdiction, citing the Anti-Injunction Act, 26 U.S.C. 7421(a). The Sixth Circuit agreed that the Act bars the lawsuit; the “Williams Packing” exception does not apply. The exception requires that the taxpayer show that under no circumstances could the government prevail against their claims and that “equity jurisdiction otherwise exists.” The Gaetanos have not identified any privileged information that Goodman provided to the IRS and have adequate remedies at law. View "Gaetano v. United States" on Justia Law

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Beane, formerly an Air Force electrical engineer, became involved in a conspiracy theory that the government creates for each citizen a "straw man" and that the Federal Reserve holds in trust that citizen’s inherent “unlimited value.” Proponents believe that by filing the correct paperwork, they can use those funds. Beane, deeply in debt, became involved with Tucci-Jarraf, a former attorney who ran a website, contributed to talk shows, and produced faux-legal documents that purported to allow individuals to access their secret accounts. Beane found a Facebook video that purported to teach viewers how to access their accounts; it actually taught them how to commit wire fraud by exploiting a deficiency in the “Automated Clearing House” bank network. With Tucci-Jarraf's support, Beane logged onto his bank’s website, followed those instructions, and made fraudulent payments on his debts and bought $31 million in certificates of deposit with Federal Reserve funds. He started cashing the certificates and spending money. A bank froze his account. Tucci-Jarraf advised Beane to place his new assets in trust; she prepared pseudo-legal documents and made calls. Agents arrested Beane as he was driving off the dealership lot in a new motor home. Officers arrested Tucci-Jarraf in Washington, D.C., where she was requesting a meeting with the President. Beane and Tucci-Jarraf filed multiple frivolous motions and asked to represent themselves. The judge concluded that they had knowingly and intelligently waived their right to counsel but appointed standby counsel. A jury convicted Beane of bank and wire fraud, 18 U.S.C. 1343, and both of conspiracy to commit money laundering, section 1956(h). The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that the court should have forced them to accept counsel. They knowingly and intelligently made their choice; self-lawyering does not require the individual to subscribe to conventional legal strategies or orthodox behavior. View "United States v. Beane" on Justia Law

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Doe sued the University for violating his due-process rights during a disciplinary hearing. The Sixth Circuit remanded Doe’s case in light of a related ruling requiring live hearings and cross-examination in such proceedings. Upon remand, the district judge, frustrated with the University’s apparent foot-dragging, scheduled a settlement conference and required the University’s president to attend. The University requested that the president be allowed to attend by telephone but the district judge refused. The University then requested permission to send someone with both more knowledge about the sexual assault policy at issue and full settlement authority. The judge again refused, stating he wanted the president to be there even if someone else with full settlement authority attended, and “even if the parties [we]re able to resolve" the issue. The University planned for the president to attend. Two days before the settlement conference, the district judge decided that the conference (which he had assured the University would be private) should be a public event, stating that “the University’s public filing of a Motion to Dismiss . . . . The filing incited confusion amongst the media.” The Sixth Circuit issued a writ of mandamus, finding that the district judge acted beyond his power and abused his discretion. Neither Congress nor the Constitution granted the judge the power to order a specific state official to attend a public settlement conference. View "In re: University of Michigan" on Justia Law

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A 2004 Ohio statute regulated the "off-label" prescription of mifepristone (RU-486), which is commonly used in conjunction with misoprostol, to induce first-trimester abortions without surgery. Planned Parenthood challenged the statute under 42 U.S.C. 1983. The Sixth Circuit affirmed a preliminary injunction “insofar as it prohibits unconstitutional applications of the [statute].” In 2006, the district court entered a permanent injunction. After the Ohio Supreme Court answered certified questions, the Sixth Circuit remanded for a determination regarding the injunction’s scope. In 2011, the district court clarified that the statute was enjoined only as it applied to instances where the health of the patient was at risk and denied broader relief, leaving one remaining claim. In 2016, the FDA amended its approval and label for mifepristone, authorizing the off-label uses at issue. The statute remains in force, requiring physicians to prescribe medication abortion according to the FDA’s updated approval. Planned Parenthood sought $10,365.35 to cover costs for litigation on the merits and attorneys’ fees at 2016 rates to offset lost interest. Using this rate, the requested fees for the preliminary injunction litigation totaled $372,164.63. The district court granted that request, finding the requested hours and rates reasonable. The Sixth Circuit affirmed, rejecting arguments that Planned Parenthood does not properly qualify as a “prevailing party” because its relief was narrow and preliminary; that the court erred in refusing to apply a blanket fee reduction based on the degree of success; and that the court erred in applying 2016 rates rather than 2006 rates The court properly engaged in a contextual, case-specific review, considered the aims of section 1988, and adequately explained its rationale. View "Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region v. DeWine" on Justia Law

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Ohio Revised Code 4123.88 addresses how workers' compensation claimant information is handled and protected by the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation and contains the solicitation ban at issue: “No person shall directly or indirectly solicit authority” (1) to “represent the claimant or employer in respect of” a worker’s compensation “claim or appeal,” or (2) “to take charge of” any such claim or appeal. The district court rejected Bevan's challenge on summary judgment. The Sixth Circuit reversed, concluding that the state has prohibited all solicitation, whether oral or written, by any person to represent a party with respect to an Ohio workers’ compensation claim or appeal and that such a prophylactic ban violates the First Amendment under the Supreme Court’s 1988 "Shapero" decision. The court rejected an argument that the constitutionally questionable language is part of a larger statutory scheme that Bevan allegedly violated by obtaining claimant information from the Bureau in an unlawful manner. Whether Bevan violated other statutory provisions governing disclosure of claimant information is not relevant to whether the solicitation ban itself is constitutional. The solicitation ban makes no distinction as to how the person doing the soliciting learned of the claimant’s information: it bans all solicitation regardless of where or how that information was obtained. The prohibition is repugnant to the First Amendment's free speech clause. View "Bevan & Associates, LPA v. Yost" on Justia Law

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Chase sued to recover millions of dollars under a credit agreement "between Chase and entities owned and operated by [Winget]” and obtained an award of over $425 million. Winget’s personal trust was liable for the full amount. Winget, protected by a limitation in his personal guaranty, owed Chase only $50 million, which he paid. The parties then litigated attorneys’ fees and whether Winget was personally liable for Chase’s $12.6 million in fees and expenses. The Sixth Circuit held that despite Winget’s limited personal guaranty, he “is still liable for Chase’s costs and expenses associated with collection of the Guaranteed Obligation.” The district court then entered a final amended judgment against Winget and his trust. Rather than use the trust’s assets to pay Chase, Winget transferred the assets out of his trust and filed a new lawsuit, seeking a declaration that Chase had no recourse against those assets. Chase filed counterclaims, alleging that the transfers were fraudulent conveyances. The district court consolidated the new lawsuit with the previous litigation, calling it “the functional equivalent of post-judgment proceedings,” and granted one motion, awarding Chase another $2 million for expenses from June 2015 through November 2016. The court noted that “Chase’s efforts to collect the Guaranteed Obligations are ongoing.” The Sixth Circuit dismissed an appeal for lack of jurisdiction, reasoning that the order is not a “final decision” under 28 U.S.C. 1291. View "JPMorgan Chase Bank, N.A. v. Winget" on Justia Law

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The Debtors filed their bankruptcy petition in 2008. Grusin provided them legal advice before the filing and at the beginning of the bankruptcy case. Fullen filed the petition and represented them in the chapter 7 case. In 2011, the bankruptcy court granted the Trustee summary judgment in an adversary proceeding seeking to deny the Debtors’ discharge and disqualified both lawyers from further representation of the Debtors in that case. The Debtors hired new counsel, who obtained relief from the summary judgment order. Following a trial, in 2015, the bankruptcy court again denied the Debtors’ discharge. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed. In 2012, the bankruptcy court granted CJV derivative standing to pursue a malpractice action on behalf of the estate against Grusin and Fullen. Malpractice complaints were filed in the bankruptcy court and in Tennessee state court. In 2014, CJV filed another adversary proceeding, seeking declaratory relief that the malpractice claims constituted property of Debtors’ estate. The Bankruptcy Appellate Panel affirmed the bankruptcy court in holding that the malpractice action for denial of debtors’ discharges based on errors and omissions contained in a bankruptcy petition, as well as pre and post-petition legal advice, was not property of the debtors’ bankruptcy estate. There was no pre-petition injury; the Debtors were injured by that negligence when their discharges in bankruptcy were denied. View "In re Blasingame" on Justia Law

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Mendoza-Garcia, then 16, came to the U.S. from Guatemala in 2004. In 2011 removal proceedings, he sought asylum and withholding of removal, stating that he was afraid to return to Guatemala because his hometown had been torn apart by violence after a mayoral election won through fraud. His merits hearing was scheduled for November 2017. One week before that hearing, his attorney moved to withdraw, stating that he told Mendoza-Garcia six week earlier about an outstanding obligation related to their 2011 representation agreement. Mendoza-Garcia was unable to pay and requested more time. The IJ informed him that financial difficulty would not justify a continuance. When asked a third time if he objected to his attorney’s withdrawal, Mendoza-Garcia said no. The IJ granted the motion; the attorney left. The hearing proceeded, with interpreters translating from English to Spanish and from Spanish to Aguacateco, Mendoza-Garcia’s indigenous language. Mendoza-Garcia stated, “I don’t fear any person in particular or a group, per se,” but “they made us" "get involved with a group to protect the village,” giving him a gun. He stated that he had been expelled from the village and had “no idea what might happen.” The IJ again refused a continuance. The BIA and Sixth Circuit upheld the denial of relief. Denying a continuance was not irrational, discriminatory, or a departure from established policies. This type of procedural due process claim requires a showing of prejudice; Mendoza-Garcia could not show that his “claims could have supported a different outcome.” View "Mendoza-Garcia v. Barr" on Justia Law

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Attorney Boland was an expert witness and defense counsel in child pornography cases. To demonstrate that pornographic images may be altered to appear that minors were engaged in sexual conduct when they were not, Boland purchased innocent stock images of minors and "morphed" them into pornographic images for use in criminal proceedings. The issue of whether Boland committed a crime in creating and displaying these images of child pornography was raised and Boland eventually voluntarily entered into a Pretrial Diversion Agreement, explaining and apologizing for creating the images. Two of the minors, depicted in the images Boland created, won awards under 18 U.S.C. 2252A(f), which provides civil damages for victims of child pornography. Boland filed a Chapter 7 bankruptcy petition; the minors filed an unsuccessful adversary proceeding, asserting their awards were non-dischargeable debts for willful and malicious injury under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(6). The Sixth Circuit Bankruptcy Appellate Panel remanded. Collateral estoppel did not apply on the issue of whether Boland intended to injure the minors since intent was not actually litigated or necessary to the outcome of the prior litigation, but stipulations made through Boland's Diversion Agreement and judicial decisions concerning his liability to the minors established that Boland knowingly created and possessed pornographic images involving images of real children. The bankruptcy court did not consider the legal injury suffered by the minors as a result of the invasion of their privacy and reputational interests. Boland acted without justification, maliciously injuring the minors under 11 U.S.C. 523(a)(6). View "In re Boland" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought medical malpractice claims in Ohio state court against a doctor who operated on them and against several hospitals where he worked. The plaintiffs allege that the judge presiding over their case, Judge Schweikert, and Chief Justice O’Connor of the Ohio Supreme Court were biased against their claims. In accordance with Ohio law, they filed affidavits of disqualification against Judge Schweikert, and requested that Chief Justice O’Connor recuse herself from deciding Judge Schweikert’s disqualification. They then requested that a federal court enjoin Chief Justice O’Connor from ruling on the affidavit of disqualification pertaining to Judge Schweikert and enjoin Judge Schweikert from taking any action in their cases before the affidavit of disqualification was ruled upon. The Sixth Circuit affirmed the dismissal of the claims. The Younger abstention doctrine applies. The ability of Ohio courts to determine when recusal of a judge or justice is appropriate and to administer the recusal decision process in accordance with state law operates “uniquely in furtherance of the state courts’ ability to perform their judicial functions.” View "Aaron v. O'Connor" on Justia Law