Fraud

False Advertising and the Unauthorized Practice of Law

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Access Care MSO, LLC (“Access”) hired Oberheiden Law Group, PLLC (“Oberheiden Law”) to advise it with respect to medical compliance issues in Texas and Illinois. It chose Oberheiden Law based on the firm’s web-based advertisements which stated that the firm had both Texas and Illinois practices.  Despite these assertions, no Oberheiden Law attorney was licensed to practice in Illinois at the time Access retained the firm.  Access eventually terminated the representation and sued Oberheiden Law and its principal, Nick Oberheiden, on multiple counts.  The defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the Northern District of Illinois granted in part.

To start, the court dismissed Access’ breach of contract claim. This is because “Texas courts have only allowed independent breach of contract claims against attorneys for excessive legal fees.”  Id. at 3.  It continued that Access “alleges only that […] Oberheiden Law did not provide” the agreed upon services, “which amounts to a legal malpractice claim” under Texas law.  Id.  Access’ claim for tortious interference with a contract was also dismissed.  The court held there that Access did not explain how the defendants’ actions affected its contractual relationship with various Texas medical practices.  Id. at 4.

Conversely, the Northern District declined to dismiss Access’ claim for violation of the Illinois Attorney Act (705 Ill. Comp. Stat. 205/1), which “prohibits an unlicensed attorney from advertising the provision of legal services in Illinois” and practicing law in the state without a license.   Id. at 2.   Here, Oberheiden Law’s website described the firm as “providing ‘Illinois health care fraud defense’” and Oberheiden as an “Illinois health care fraud defense attorney.”  Id.  Moreover, a non-attorney employee of Oberheiden Law and Oberheiden himself had personally provided legal advice to Access while in Illinois.  The court refused to dismiss Access’ claim of fraud as well. It noted that Access specifically set forth four allegedly false statements from Oberheiden Law’s website and sufficiently explained why it relied on them.  Id. at 5.

Access Care MSO, LLC v. Oberheiden Law Grp. PLLC, No. 18 C 7273, 2020 WL 1139257 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 9, 2020)

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

 

 

 

Attorney Aiding and Abetting and Assignment of Malpractice Claims

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Rabbi Stanley Kroll (“Kroll”) had a thirty-year employment contract with his Synagogue. The contract included a deferred compensation plan (the “Plan”) to fund Kroll’s retirement.  The Synagogue was allowed to amend the Plan unilaterally, but not in any way that divested credits to the account or rights to which Kroll would be entitled if the Plan were terminated before an amendment took effect.  Id. at 1.  The Synagogue asked Kroll to retire six years early. Kroll agreed, but on his last day, a Synagogue officer told him that a tax issue had arisen, promising it would be resolved.  Kroll found out later that the issue had not been resolved, thereby subjecting his deferred compensation to heavy taxes and penalties.  Moreover, the Synagogue did not have sufficient funds to pay Kroll, and had amended the Plan to eliminate benefits to which Kroll would otherwise be entitled. Kroll sued the Synagogue, which settled and assigned to him all causes of action related to the Plan that it might have against the law firm it used to amend it: Cozen O’Connor (“Cozen”). Kroll then sued Cozen on multiple counts, but Cozen moved to dismiss. The motion was granted in part and denied in part.

To begin, the Court noted that legal malpractice claims may not be assigned in Illinois except under three exceptions.  However, none of these exceptions applied. It explained that “Kroll is a stranger to [the Synagogue] and Cozen’s attorney-client relationship and was owed no duty by Cozen.”  Id. at 4.  The Court also granted dismissal of Kroll’s aiding and abetting breach of fiduciary duty claim.  It said that no fiduciary duty existed between Kroll and the Synagogue, so Cozen could not have aided a breach of that duty. Id. at 7.  The Court dismissed Kroll’s fraudulent concealment claim as well, since Kroll did not allege facts sufficient to explain how a Cozen attorney used his position of superiority and legal knowledge to take advantage of Kroll’s trust and confidence in him, “especially given that [the attorney] represented the opposing party.”  Id. at 8, emphasis in original.

Conversely, the Court rejected Cozen’s argument that Kroll’s claims were barred by Illinois’ two-year statute of limitations for claims arising out of an attorney’s performance of professional services.  Here, it held that Kroll had demonstrated possible equitable tolling or estoppel when he asserted that a Synagogue officer misled him about resolving the tax issue and that a Cozen attorney misrepresented the enforceability of the Plan’s amendment.  Id. at 5.  Kroll’s claim that Cozen aided and abetted the Synagogue’s fraud was allowed to stand as well.  The Court, quoting an Illinois case, saw “no reason to impose a per se bar that prevents imposing liability upon attorneys who knowingly and substantially assist their clients in causing another party’s injury.”  Id. at 6. Here, the Court agreed that Kroll had pleaded facts sufficient to assert the Synagogue’s fraud and Cozen’s assistance therein.

Rabbi Stanley Kroll, Plaintiff, v. Cozen O’Connor, 2020 WL 919005

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

Conspiracy Requires Knowing the Co-Conspirators, Malpractice Requires Knowing the Underlying Outcome

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Natalja Vildziuniene (“Vildziuniene”) sued attorney Bradley Foreman (“Foreman”) for conspiracy to commit fraud and legal malpractice.  Specifically, she alleged that Foreman conspired to defraud her, breached the duty of care, and represented her in various court proceedings without her knowledge.  Foreman moved successfully to dismiss these counts and Vildziuniene appealed.  The Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, affirmed.  With respect to the conspiracy to commit fraud, it stated that Vildziuniene’s accusations were a “mere characterization of acts as a conspiracy.” Id. at ¶47.  Moreover, “there were no allegations that Foreman knew the other defendants, spoke with the other defendants, or knew anything about the allegedly fraudulent purpose behind these” supposedly fraudulent transactions.  Id. at ¶50.  Regarding the alleged malpractice, the Appellate Court noted that “there are no allegations as to what happened in any of the cases in that Foreman allegedly represented plaintiff” such as whether Vildziuniene even prevailed in those matters.  Id. at ¶54.  It was therefore impossible to ascertain whether she would have prevailed in the underlying actions but for Foreman’s negligence.

Vildziuniene v. Rieff, 2019 IL App (1st) 181324-U

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

Breach of the Standard of Care Must be the Proximate Cause

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In 2006, insurance executive Steven Menzies (“Menzies”) sold over $64 million worth of his company’s stock without reporting any capital gains on his federal tax return.  He alleged that this was due to a fraudulent tax shelter presented to him and others by tax attorney Graham Taylor (“Taylor”), Taylor’s law firm Seyfarth Shaw (“Seyfarth”), and two financial services firms: Northern Trust and Christiana Bank.  Menzies brought claims against all four defendants under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (“RICO”) and Illinois law.  The defendants moved successfully to dismiss all counts, and Menzies appealed.  The Seventh Circuit affirmed in part, reversed in part, and remanded.  With respect to Menzies’ RICO claim, it held that it “falls short on the statute’s pattern-of-racketeering element” in that Menzies “failed to plead not only the particulars of how the defendants marketed the same or similar tax shelter to other taxpayers, but also facts to support a finding that the alleged racketeering activity would continue.”  Id. at 332.  The Court added that finding otherwise would allow “an ordinary (albeit grave) claim of fraud to advance in the name of RICO.”  Id.  Conversely, Menzies’ state law claims against Taylor and Seyfarth were barred by the Illinois’ two-year statute of limitations for attorney misconduct.  Id. at 346.   However, his claims against Northern Trust and Christiana Bank were allowed to proceed on remand.  Id.  The court did not address whether the RICO claims against Taylor and Seyfarth would be barred by the two-year attorney statute as well.

Menzies v. Seyfarth Shaw LLP, 943 F.3d 328 (7th Cir. 2019)

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

Hill v. Simmons

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In this unpublished opinion, the First District held that a complaint against a lawyer was properly dismissed as time-barred.   The court held that the plaintiff’s claims for fraud, aiding and abetting fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and conspiracy were properly subject to the two year attorney statute of limitations, and that the statute began to run when the plaintiff learned of the lawyer’s alleged misrepresentations.

Hill v. Simmons, 2017 IL App (1st) 160577-U

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

Recent Illinois Case: Damian v. Carey

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The Northern District of Illinois refused to dismiss a legal malpractice case on collateral estoppel grounds. In the underlying case, the malpractice plaintiffs were held liable for committing intentional fraud.  In so holding, the court rejected the malpractice plaintiffs’ defense that they had reasonably relied on their attorneys’ advice finding, to the contrary, that they had ignored their attorneys’ advice. In the malpractice action, the Northern District of Illinois recognized that plaintiffs faced an uphill battle proving causation in light of the underlying court’s finding that the plaintiffs had ignored their attorneys’ warnings, but declined to apply collateral estoppel because the underlying court did not analyze the adequacy of the attorneys’ representation.

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

Damian v. Carey, 2016 WL 851992

 

Recent Illinois Case: Navar v. Tribler, Orpett and Meyer, P.C.

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In this unpublished opinion, the Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal of three claims against lawyers. A breach of contract claim was properly dismissed because the plaintiff failed to identify a specific contract term that was breached. The malpractice claim was properly dismissed because the complained of acts involved judgment and not malpractice. The fraud claim was properly dismissed because predictions of future events do not constitute fraud. The Appellate Court also affirmed the trial court’s refusal to allow a further amendment.

Navar v. Tribler, Orpett and Meyer, P.C., 2015 IL App (1st) 142641-U

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

Recent Illinois Case: Saleh v. Azulay Seiden Law Group

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Consumer fraud act claim against attorney dismissed because the act does not apply to attorneys.

Saleh v. Azulay Seiden Law Group,  2015 IL App (1st) 140768-U

 (This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

Recent Illinois Case: Banks v. Casson

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This recent case involved a dispute between attorneys over failure to pay a lawyer referral fee.  The attorneys never obtained signed written consent from the client for the referral fee, as required by Rule 1.5 of the Illinois Rules of Professional Conduct. Nonetheless, the attorney who was allegedly owed the fees filed a lawsuit, seeking damages for breach of fiduciary duty (under a joint venture theory) and fraud.  The First District affirmed dismissal, holding that the breach of fiduciary duty claim failed because the “joint venture” was based on an unenforceable agreement.   The fraud claim was time barred.

Banks v. Casson, 2015 IL App (1st) 133141-U

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

Recent Illinois Case: Workforce Solutions v. Pettinger

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The following recent case affirmed dismissal of a fraud claim that a party filed against the opposing counsel in a lawsuit:

Workforce Solutions v. Pettinger, 2015 IL App (1st) 121265-U.

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)