Six-Figure sanctions levied against a law firm
stemming from a failure to investigate the facts of the case
A recent Michigan case, Bonacci v. Ferris State University, Michigan Court of Appeals Case Number 319101 (January 13, 2015), reinforces the lesson that in order for a law firm to maximize value to its clients, part of a law firm’s job is to fully investigate a client’s claims. In addition, both the client and lawyer need to work closely together, and do so openly and honestly. A Judge in Big Rapids, Michigan (Mecosta County) sanctioned the law firm of Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho nearly $300,000 for the filing of a frivolous claim, and the Michigan Court of Appeals recently affirmed. This stemmed from the law firm’s alleged failure to investigate the claims and what may have been apparent miscommunications between lawyer and client regarding the facts of the case.
The case involved a professor who claimed that she was wrongfully terminated by Ferris State University, primarily as an alleged result of a claimed failure by the University to accommodate her disability. Cummings, McClorey, Davis & Acho took the case and sued Ferris State on behalf of the professor and her husband. At her deposition, however, facts were revealed that indicated that her claims were frivolous. She testified that she did not provide certain documentation to the University regarding her disability because she knew she was unable to return to work at all. She also testified, “Realistically looking back on it, I couldn’t have taught.” Therefore, there was no basis for a claim that the University had failed to accommodate her disability.
The trial court not only entered judgment for Ferris State, but also awarded Ferris State nearly $300,000 in attorney fees and costs – against the plaintiffs and her law firm. The sanctions were awarded not only a result of what the plaintiff stated in her deposition; the trial judge also found that “the bulk of allegations of impropriety were grounded in misrepresentations made by [the law firm].” In essence, one could easily conclude that a case like this should have never been filed, and the courts were willing to make the client and law firm bear the costs of filing such a case.
A case like this underscores how important attorney-client communication is, as well as having a law firm willing to thoroughly investigate the facts of the case. A sue-first, ask-questions-later attitude serves no one’s interests. At The Meisner Law Group, P.C., communication is central to our ability to protect and represent you, monitor and advise you on the progress of a case, and keep you informed so that, together, we can take the proper course in your best interests. As you can see from the case discussed above, the failure to do so can be extremely costly to the client as well as lawyers.
Please contact us if you have legal issues which require analysis by experienced and competent attorneys who not only know the law, but are able to make sound recommendations and who work diligently with you to achieve your goals.