Justia Massachusetts Supreme Court Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Legal Ethics

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In 1993, Joan Oggiani, a judicial secretary, was designated as the deputy assistant register when that position was created. In 2015, the register requested approval to remove Aggiani’s designation. The Chief Justice of the Probate and Family Court approved the register’s request. Oggiani requested review, but Oggiani was told that the decision was final. Oggiani then filed a petition for relief under Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 217, 29D. The county court denied relief. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that the single justice did not abuse his discretion or commit an error of law by denying Oggiani’s petition for relief under the circumstances. View "Oggiani v. Chief Justice of the Trial Court" on Justia Law
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Bryan Corporation (the company) commenced an action against Bryan Abrano (Bryan), who was a shareholder of the company, for breach of fiduciary duty. The company moved to disqualify Bryan’s attorneys, members of the firm of Yurko, Salvesen & Remz, P.C. (YSR) as Bryan’s counsel, alleging an impermissible conflict of interest because YSR had represented the company in an action eight months earlier. The superior court granted the motion. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that YSR’s representation of Bryan violated Mass. R. Prof. C. 1.7, which prohibits the simultaneous representation of adverse parties. View "Bryan Corp. v. Abrano" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff engaged Defendants, a law firm and three individual attorneys, to represent him in connection with the prosecution of patents for Plaintiff’s inventions for a new screwless eyeglasses. After learning that Defendants had been simultaneously representing another client that competed with Plaintiff in the screwless eyeglass market, Plaintiff commenced this action alleging harm resulting Defendants’ failure to disclose the alleged conflict of interest. The trial judge dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint for failure to state a claim. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding (1) the simultaneous representation by a law firm in the prosecution of patents for two clients competing in the same technology area for similar inventions is not a per se violation of the Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct; and (2) based on the facts alleged in his complaint, Plaintiff failed to state a claim for relief. View "Maling v. Finnegan, Henderson, Farabow, Garrett & Dunner, LLP" on Justia Law

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In the underlying case, certain parties moved for sanctions against Attorney on the grounds that he had violated the rules of professional conduct and interfered with the effective administration of justice. The judge ordered Attorney to reimburse all parties their attorney’s fees as a sanction for his misconduct. The judge assessed attorney’s fees against Attorney without the authority of any statute or rule, in the absence of any violation of a court order or rule of procedure, and in the absence of any contractual arrangement among the parties authorizing the assessment of attorney’s fees. The Supreme Judicial Court reversed the judge’s order imposing sanctions, holding (1) a judge may exercise the court’s inherent power to sanction an attorney by imposing attorney’s fees only if the attorney has engaged in misconduct that threatens the fair administration of justice and the sanction is necessary to preserve the judge’s authority to administer justice; and (2) under the circumstances of this case, the judge abused his discretion in exercising the court’s inherent powers to sanction Attorney. View "Wong v. Luu" on Justia Law
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Jay Simkin filed complaints with the Board of Bar Overseers (Board) alleging that certain attorneys committed breaches of the rules of professional conduct in connection with proceedings involving the revocation and reinstatement of Simkin’s license to carry firearms. Bar counsel investigated the complaints but declined to pursue them. After review, the Board determined not to proceed. Simkin subsequently filed a petition requesting that the Supreme Judicial Court enter findings that the attorneys had violated the rules of professional conduct, which, Simkin claimed, would lead to bar counsel’s reconsideration of her decision not to pursue his complaints against the attorneys. A single justice of the Court denied relief. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Simkin had no further standing in the matter, as a private individual cannot prosecute a judicial action for attorney discipline. View "In re Simkin" on Justia Law
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Respondent, an attorney licensed to practice in both Maine and Massachusetts, was suspended from the practice of law in Maine based on a finding of incapacity by reason of mental infirmity or addiction to drugs or intoxicants. After entry of the Maine order, bar counsel in Massachusetts petitioned for an order transferring Respondent to disability inactive status in Massachusetts pursuant to the reciprocal provisions of S.J.C. Rule 4:01, 13(1). After a hearing, a single justice of the Supreme Judicial Court placed Respondent on disability inactive status in Massachusetts. The Supreme Judicial Court affirmed, holding that Respondent’s suspension in Maine based on a finding of incapacity was the practical equivalent of a transfer to “disability inactive status” for purposes of the reciprocal disability provision of Rule 4:01, 13(1), and the single justice correctly concluded that Respondent was not entitled to a separate hearing in Massachusetts to evaluate her incapacity before transferring her to disability inactive status. View "In re Dwyer-Jones" on Justia Law
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Plaintiff retained Law Firm and its attorneys (collectively, Law Firm) to accomplish Plaintiff's foreclosure on a mortgage to certain property. A year after the foreclosure sale, while Law Firm was representing Plaintiff in negotiations for the sale of the foreclosed property, another law firm retained by Plaintiff sent a notice of claim to Law Firm alleging that Law Firm breached its obligations to Plaintiff by failing to inform Plaintiff of outstanding liens on the foreclosed property. After Law Firm concluded its representation of Plaintiff, Plaintiff filed an action against Law Firm, alleging, inter alia, legal malpractice and negligent misrepresentation. Law Firm moved for a protective order to preserve, among other things, the confidentiality of allegedly privileged communications to Law Firm's in-house counsel regarding Law Firm's reply to the notice of claim. The judge allowed the motion. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the judge correctly allowed Law Firm to invoke the attorney-client privilege to preserve the confidentiality of the communications. View "RFF Family P'ship v. Burns & Levinson, LLP" on Justia Law

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G. Russell Damon filed with bar counsel a complaint regarding attorney Peter Farber's alleged fraudulent misrepresentation of certain facts in connection with a real estate purchase. After bar counsel filed a petition for discipline against Farber, Damon testified as a witness before a hearing committee of the board of bar overseers (board) on the matter. The hearing committee made findings consistent with the allegations in the petition for discipline, and the board adopted the committee's factual findings. Thereafter, the Supreme Court issued an order of public reprimand. Farbert subsequently filed a civil suit against Damon asserting, inter alia, claims of defamation and wrongful instigation of civil proceedings based on statements made in the complaint, in follow-up communications with bar counsel, and in the testimony Damon gave. Bar counsel filed this action for declaratory judgment to resolve controversy between the parties relating to the proper interpretation of S.J.C. Rule 4:01, 9. The Supreme Court held that, under section 9, a bar discipline complainant is entitled to absolute immunity from civil liability with respect to his complaint filed with bar counsel or the board and his sworn testimony given or communications made to bar counsel or the board or any hearing committee thereof. Remanded. View "Bar Counsel v. Farber" on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed a petition in the county court seeking an investigation into alleged misconduct of an assistant clerk of the court and a determination that he violated his obligation under the Code of Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Courts. A single justice ordered that the petition be dismissed on the ground that there is no right to bring a private action in court to obtain discipline of a clerk. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that although a private individual may file a complaint with the Board of Bar Overseers or the Committee on Professional Responsibility for Clerks of the Courts, there is no private right to operate the disciplinary process. View "Gorbatova v. First Assistant Clerk of the Supreme Judicial Court" on Justia Law

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Petitioner filed suit in superior court claiming that she and her son entered into an oral that granted her a life estate in certain property. Petitioner sought to enforce the oral agreement or, in the alternative, recover of a theory of quantum meruit. The superior court granted summary judgment for Defendants. The appeals court remanded for proceedings as to whether Petitioner should recover under a theory of quantum meruit. While the case was pending on remand, Petitioner filed a petition in the county court against the judge assigned to the matter, in both his individual and official capacities, and against the Commonwealth. Petitioner raised a number of claims concerning the judge's rulings and conduct, including an assertion that he had acted in an unlawful and biased manner. The single justice denied the petition without a hearing. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) Petitioner's claims of judicial bias and declaratory judgment claims should have been addressed through the ordinary trial and appellate process; (2) the judge was absolutely immune from Petitioner's request for monetary damages; and (3) Petitioner's allegations of conspiracy were insufficient to overcome the judge's absolute immunity. View "Johnson v. Commonwealth" on Justia Law