Justia U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals Opinion Summaries

Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics
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Saint Vincent's alleged that Morgan Stanley - the fiduciary manager of the fixed-income portfolio of Saint Vincent Catholic Medical Centers Retirement Plan - violated its fiduciary duties under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. Saint Vincent's alleged that Morgan Stanley disproportionately invested the portfolio's assets in mortgaged-backed securities, including the purportedly riskier subcategory of "nonagency" mortgage-backed securities, despite warning signs that these investments were unsound. Although Saint Vincent's, as the fiduciary administrator of an ERISA-governed plan, was in a position to plead its claims with greater factual detail than was typically accessible to plaintiffs prior to discovery, and although it received two opportunities to amend its complaint, the Amended Complaint failed to plead sufficient, nonconclusory factual allegations to show that Morgan Stanley failed to meet its fiduciary responsibilities under ERISA. Accordingly, the court affirmed the district court's dismissal of the Amended Complaint. View "Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp. v. Morgan Stanley Inv. Mgmt. Inc." on Justia Law

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Robert G. Smith, an Assistant Federal Defender for the Western District of New York, moved to withdraw from representing defendant in a criminal action pending in the district court. In this interlocutory appeal, Smith challenged the denial of his motion. The court did not reach the merits of Smith's argument based on his professional responsibility as an attorney because the court concluded on other grounds that the denial of the motion exceeded the limits of the district court's discretion. Defendant, having been informed of his right to counsel, stated that he did not wish to have appointed counsel, made no attempt to establish financial eligibility for appointed counsel under the Criminal Justice Act of 1964 (CJA), 18 U.S.C. 3006A, and refused to recognize Smith as his attorney. Under these circumstances, Smith's appointment was improper from the outset, and he could not be required to continue serving as defendant's attorney. View "United States v. Barton" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff appealed the district court's dismissal of his complaint against the Guthrie Defendants. Plaintiff's principal issue on appeal required the court to consider whether the unauthorized disclosure of confidential medical information by a medical corporation's employee gives a plaintiff a right of action for breach of fiduciary duty under New York law that runs directly against the corporation, even when the corporation's employee acted outside the scope of her employment and is not plaintiff's treating physician. Plaintiff's appeal presented a question that has not been resolved by the New York Court of Appeals. Accordingly, the court deferred decision and certified the question to the New York Court of Appeals. The court disposed of plaintiff's remaining claims on appeal in a separate summary order filed simultaneously with this opinion. View "Doe v. Guthrie Clinic, Ltd." on Justia Law

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Plaintiffs brought a putative class action on behalf of current and former UBS and UBSFS employees, alleging that defendants violated various fiduciary duties imposed on them by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. Plaintiffs argued that the district court erred in analyzing their claim for breach of the duty of prudence, as it applied a presumption of prudence to the fiduciaries of both investment plans at issue. The court held that the district court wrongly applied the presumption as to one of the two plans, the Savings and Investment Plan (SIP), as the SIP Plan Document neither required nor strongly encouraged investment in UBS stock or the UBS Stock Fund. The court held, however, that the District Court correctly applied the presumption of prudence as to the second plan, the Plus Plan, which required plan fiduciaries to invest in the UBS Stock Fund. Accordingly, the court affirmed the dismissal order of the district court in part, vacated in part, and remanded the case for further proceedings. Plaintiffs' remaining arguments were addressed in a companion Summary Order. View "Taveras v. UBS AG et al." on Justia Law

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This appeal concerned a First Amendment challenge to a New York rule requiring attorneys to identify themselves as certified specialists to make a prescribed disclosure statement. At issue was whether Rule 7.4 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct, N.Y. Comp. Codes R. & Regs. tit. 22 section 1200.53(c)(1), which required a prescribed disclaimer statement to be made by attorneys who stated that they were certified as a specialist in a particular area of law either violated plaintiff's freedom of speech or was unconstitutionally vague. Because enforcement of two components of the required disclaimer statement would violate the First Amendment and because the absence of standards guiding administrators of Rule 7.4 rendered it unconstitutionally vague as applied to plaintiff, the court reversed with directions to enter judgment for plaintiff.

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St. Paul appealed from the district court's grant of a petition by Scandinavian to vacate an arbitral award in St. Paul's favor and denying a cross-petition by St. Paul to confirm the same award. St. Paul had initiated the arbitration to resolve a dispute concerning the interpretation of the parties' reinsurance contract. The principal issue on appeal was whether the failure of two arbitrators to disclose their concurrent service as arbitrators in another, arguably similar, arbitration constituted "evident partiality" within the meaning of the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. 10(a)(2). The court concluded, under the circumstances, that the fact of the arbitrators' overlapping service in both the Platinum Arbitration and the St. Paul Arbitration did not, in itself, suggest that they were predisposed to rule in any particular way in the St. Paul Arbitration. As a result, their failure to disclose that concurrent service was not indicative of evident partiality. Therefore, the court reversed and remanded with instruction to the district court to affirm the award.

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Defendants, moved the district court to dismiss plaintiff's complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6), arguing that Mathew Trainor, a Fulton County Assistant District Attorney, was absolutely immune from plaintiff's claims. The court affirmed the district court to the extent it found Trainor absolutely immune from plaintiff's claim that Trainor violated her constitutional rights by making false statements in support of a material witness order. The court vacated and remanded the rest of the order and judgment because absolute immunity did not immunize prosecutors from liability for making defamatory statements to the press, accessing a person's voicemail without consent, or persuading a party to a conversation to record its contents; and, the district court should consider in the first instance whether Trainor was absolutely immune for continuing to withhold/preserve evidence - plaintiff's cell phone.

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Appellants brought various claims before Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA) arbitrators against Ameriprise, a financial-services company, for, inter alia, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, fraud, and negligent misrepresentation related to the decline in value of various financial assets owned by appellants and managed by Ameriprise. Ameriprise answered appellants' FINRA complaint by asserting, principally, that appellants released their claims by operation of a settlement agreement in a class-action agreement suit that had proceeded between 2004 and 2007 in the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. After FINRA arbitrators denied Ameriprise's motion to stay appellants' arbitration, Ameriprise moved in the district court, in which the class action had been litigated and settled, for an order to enforce the settlement agreement that would enjoin appellants from pressing any of their claims before FINRA arbitrators. The district court concluded that the class settlement barred all of appellants' arbitration claims and therefore granted Ameriprise's motion and ordered appellants to dismiss their FINRA complaint with prejudice. The court held that the district court had the power to enter such an order and that several of appellants' arbitration claims were barred by the 2007 class-action settlement. Therefore, the court affirmed in part. But because the court concluded that appellants' arbitration complaint plead claims that were not, and could not have been, released by the class settlement, the court vacated in part the district court's judgment, and remanded the case for the entry of an order permitting the non-Released claims to proceed in FINRA arbitration. The court dismissed as moot appellants' appeal from the district court's denial of their motion for reconsideration.

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Plaintiffs appealed from a decision granting defendants' motion to dismiss plaintiffs' complaints for failure to state a claim upon which relief could be granted. Plaintiffs, participants in two retirement plans offered by defendants, brought suit alleging breach of fiduciary duty under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq. Plaintiff alleged that defendants acted imprudently by including employer stock as an investment option in the retirement plans and that defendants failed to provide adequate and truthful information to participants regarding the status of employer stock. The court held that the facts alleged by plaintiffs were, even if proven, insufficient to establish that defendants abused their discretion by continuing to offer plan participants the opportunity to invest in McGraw-Hill stock. The court also held that plaintiffs have not alleged facts sufficient to prove that defendants made any statements, while acting in a fiduciary capacity, that they knew to be false. Accordingly, the judgment was affirmed.

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Plaintiffs, participants in retirement plans offered by defendants and covered by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA), 29 U.S.C. 1001 et seq., appealed from a judgment dismissing their ERISA class action complaint. Plan documents required that a stock fund consisting primarily of Citigroup common stock be offered among the plan's investment options. Plaintiffs argued that because Citigroup stock became an imprudent investment, defendants should have limited plan participants' ability to invest in it. The court held that plan fiduciaries' decision to continue offering participants the opportunity to invest in Citigroup stock should be reviewed for an abuse of discretion and the court found that they did not abuse their discretion here. The court also held that defendants did not have an affirmative duty to disclose to plan participants nonpublic information regarding the expected performance of Citigroup stock and that the complaint did not sufficiently allege that defendants, in their fiduciary capacities, made any knowing misstatements regarding Citigroup stock. Accordingly, the court affirmed the judgment.