Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics

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Total Auctions and Real Estate, LLC (Total Auctions) was a licensed automobile dealer that intended to hold automobile auctions in Lincoln County. Total Auctions met with a dealer agent employed by the Division of Motor Vehicles (DMV) on how to comply with the applicable law. Total Auctions informed the agent that its business plan included the sale of vehicles consigned from dealers outside Lincoln County, the county of Total Auctions’ place of business. The agent failed to inform Total Auctions that state law prohibited auctioning vehicles consigned from dealers outside Lincoln County. After incurring expenses setting up its business, Total Auctions was informed that there was a problem with the out-of-county consignments. Total Auctions sued the DMV agent, the DMV, its director, and the Department of Revenue and Regulation, alleging negligence and negligent supervision. The court of appeals dismissed the complaint for failure to state a claim. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that because Total Auctions’ claimed damages were caused by the agent’s alleged misrepresentation of law, relief was barred as to all claims because misrepresentations of law are not actionable. View "Total Auctions & Real Estate, LLC v. S.D. Department of Revenue & Regulation" on Justia Law

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Westside Gilts RE, LLC submitted an application to the Beadle County Planning Commission for a conditional use permit (CUP) to construct and operate a concentrated animal feeding operation. The Planning Commission recommended approval of the CUP. The Beadle County Board of Adjustment (Board) approved the CUP. Petitioners appealed, arguing that the Board was without authority to issue the CUP because the county zoning ordinances passed in 2011 (Ordinances), which authorized the Board to grant the permit, were improperly enacted. The circuit court reversed the Board’s decision granting the CUP, concluding that the Ordinances were improperly enacted. The Supreme Court (1) affirmed the circuit court’s ruling reversing the Board’s decision to grant the CUP, holding that the Ordinances were invalid because the Planning Commission failed to comply with S.D. Codified Laws 11-2-18, and therefore, the Board lacked jurisdiction to grant a CUP; but (2) reversed the circuit court’s order declaring the Ordinances invalid, as the order exceeded the options available to the court under its limited scope of review on certiorari. View "Wedel v. Beadle County Comm’n" on Justia Law

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Matthew and Caralynn Fonder purchased a home and obtained a mortgage from Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. Wells Fargo selected Wells Fargo Insurance, Inc. Flood Services (WFFS) to conduct a flood hazard determination on the Fonders’ home. WFFS determined the home was not in a special flood hazard area, and therefore, the Bank did not require the Fonders to obtain flood insurance. A flood later destroyed the Fonders’ home. Wells Fargo later filed a complaint to foreclose on the Fonders’ home. The Fonders cross-claimed against WFFS seeking to recover damages sustained a result of their reliance on WFFS’s erroneous flood determination. The circuit court dismissed the cross-claim for failure to state a claim and dismissed the Fonders’ motion to amend their third-party complaint to assert a claim of negligent misrepresentation on the grounds that WFFS did not owe the Fonders a duty. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the circuit court erred when it dismissed the Fonders’ claims for professional negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress but did not err in dismissing the Fonders’ breach-of-fiduciary duty claim; and (2) upon remand, the Fonders may amend their cross-claim to include negligent misrepresentation. View "Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Fonder" on Justia Law

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Matthew and Caralynn Fonder purchased a home and obtained a mortgage from Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. Wells Fargo selected Wells Fargo Insurance, Inc. Flood Services (WFFS) to conduct a flood hazard determination on the Fonders’ home. WFFS determined the home was not in a special flood hazard area, and therefore, the Bank did not require the Fonders to obtain flood insurance. A flood later destroyed the Fonders’ home. Wells Fargo later filed a complaint to foreclose on the Fonders’ home. The Fonders cross-claimed against WFFS seeking to recover damages sustained a result of their reliance on WFFS’s erroneous flood determination. The circuit court dismissed the cross-claim for failure to state a claim and dismissed the Fonders’ motion to amend their third-party complaint to assert a claim of negligent misrepresentation on the grounds that WFFS did not owe the Fonders a duty. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding (1) the circuit court erred when it dismissed the Fonders’ claims for professional negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress but did not err in dismissing the Fonders’ breach-of-fiduciary duty claim; and (2) upon remand, the Fonders may amend their cross-claim to include negligent misrepresentation. View "Wells Fargo Bank, N.A. v. Fonder" on Justia Law

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After Fannie Mae foreclosed upon and acquired the home at issue in this case, Fannie Mae hired Hayman Residential Engineering Services, Inc. to prepare a structural engineering report on the home. Based on the report, Fannie Mae made some of the recommended repairs. Fannie Mae subsequently sold the home to buyers, who then sold the home to Roger and Dorothy Johnson. Thereafter, the Johnsons discovered that the estimated cost of making all necessary repairs to the home exceeded its value. The Johnsons filed a professional negligence claim against Hayman. The circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Hayman, concluding that Hayman did not owe the Johnsons a duty. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Hayman did not owe a professional duty to the Johnsons because they did not suffer a foreseeable harm stemming from Hayman’s alleged negligence, and therefore, a professional negligence claim could not be established. View "Johnson v. Hayman & Assocs., Inc." on Justia Law

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Appellant filed claims of legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty against his former attorneys (Appellees) based on an alleged conflict of interest relating to Appellees’ representation of his co-defendants in an underlying lawsuit. The circuit court granted summary judgment for Appellees and dismissed Appellant’s claims. The Supreme Court held that summary judgment was improper. Specifically, the Court held that the circuit court (1) erred in striking Appellant’s expert opinion; (2) did not err by finding collateral estoppel precluded litigation of the limited issue of whether Hamilton signed a conflict of interest waiver; and (3) improperly weighed evidence in granting summary judgment regarding proximate cause. Remanded. View "Hamilton v. Sommers" on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought a breach of contract action against H&S Builders, Inc. and retained Defendants to defend them in the lawsuit. Plaintiffs fired Defendants during the proceedings and hired a new attorney to assist them. The case was eventually settled. Plaintiffs then commenced this legal malpractice case against Defendants, claiming that Defendant failed properly to represent their interests in the action brought against H&S. The circuit court entered a default judgment as to liability in favor of Plaintiffs but concluded that Plaintiffs failed to prove they suffered any damages that were proximately caused by Defendants’ negligent representation. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that the circuit court did not clearly err in finding that Plaintiffs failed to prove damages sustained as a proximately result of Defendants’ conduct. View "Peterson v. Issenhuth" on Justia Law

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Thomas Konrad accepted a loan from Bob Law upon the advice of attorney Douglas Kettering. Law and Kettering had been partners in at least one of Law's business ventures and had an attorney-client relationship. Thomas's parents (the Konrads) provided their land as collateral for Thomas's loan. Thomas later defaulted on the note. Seven months after Kettering passed away, Law brought suit to enforce the note and mortgage against Thomas and the Konrads. Law settled with Thomas and the Konrads. Law then sought to recover from the Kettering Estate the amounts outstanding on the note, claiming that Kettering's acts - including his conflict of interest with Law and his alleged fraudulent inducement of the Konrads into signing the note and mortgage - voided the note and mortgage, and therefore, the Estate was liable to Law for the interest due on the note. The circuit court granted summary judgment for the Estate. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding (1) the contract between Law and Thomas did not contravene public policy because it was drafted by an attorney who failed to disclose a conflicting attorney-client relationship; and (2) the theory that Kettering fraudulently induced the Konrads into signing the note and mortgage rested on mere speculation. View "Law Capital, Inc. v. Kettering" on Justia Law

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Curley Haisch and his wife Rose owned Mulehead Ranch. Joe Duling was the Haisches' financial advisor as well as a realtor and broker. When Curley was ninety years old, he decided to sell the ranch and signed a listing agreement with Joe. Approximately one year later, Joe suggested that Curley and Rose form a charitable remainder trust (Trust) into which the ranch and chattels could be gifted. Curley and Rose executed the Trust, to which the Ranch was transferred. The Trustee then sold the Ranch to Joe and Lynne Duling. Later, it was discovered that the Trust contained multiple defects. The Trustee brought suit against the Dulings, their businesses, and the Mulehead Ranch on behalf of the Trust and the Haisches. The complaint alleged negligence, negligent misrepresentation, and breach of fiduciary duties. A jury found in favor of the Trust awarded Plaintiffs $1,568,200, including punitive damages. The Supreme Court reversed in part and remanded for a new trial on damages, holding (1) the circuit court erred in failing to give a proper instruction on the statutes of limitation applicable to Plaintiffs' claims for future tax consequences related to the defects in the Trust; and (2) the court did not err in the remainder of its judgment. View "Bailey v. Duling" on Justia Law

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In a disciplinary proceeding, the South Dakota Real Estate Commission found that Cheri St. Pierre, a licensed broker associate, had engaged in unprofessional conduct involving dishonesty. The Commission suspended her license for one year, but held the suspension in abeyance on conditions, including the payment of a penalty and repayment of the Commission's attorney's fees. The circuit court reversed the Commission's conditional suspension. The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court and reinstated all terms of the Commission's conditional suspension except the provision requiring the repayment of the Commission's attorney's fees, holding (1) St. Pierre engaged in unprofessional conduct within the meaning of S.D. Codified Laws 36-21A-71(15); (2) the Commission was without authority to conditionally order St. Pierre to reimburse the Commission for its attorney's fees expenses as part of its discipline; and (3) the Commission had authority to order St. Pierre to pay a $1,000 penalty as a condition of avoiding a suspension. View "St. Pierre v. State ex rel. S.D. Real Estate Comm'n" on Justia Law