636 F.3d 124 (4th Cir. 2011), 09-7907, Brandt v. Gooding

Docket Nº:09-7907, 09-7909.
Citation:636 F.3d 124
Opinion Judge:AGEE, Circuit Judge:
Party Name:Donald BRANDT, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Elizabeth K. GOODING; Gooding & Gooding PA, Movants-Appellants, and Jonathan E. Ozmint; Tom Carter, Sheriff Allendale County; Attorney General of the State of South Carolina, Respondents. Donald Brandt, Petitioner-Appellee, v. Jonathan E. Ozmint; Tom Carter, Sheriff Allendale County, Respondents-Appellants, an
Attorney:Donald John Zelenka, Office of the Attorney General of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina; Daniel A. Speights, Speights & Runyan, Hampton, South Carolina, for Appellants. James Mixon Griffin, Law Offices of James Mixon Griffin, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee. A. Gibson Solomons, Spe...
Judge Panel:Before MOTZ, AGEE, and KEENAN, Circuit Judges. Affirmed by published opinion. Judge AGEE wrote the opinion, in which Judge MOTZ and Judge KEENAN joined.
Case Date:February 18, 2011
Court:United States Courts of Appeals, Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit
 
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636 F.3d 124 (4th Cir. 2011)

Donald BRANDT, Petitioner-Appellee,

v.

Elizabeth K. GOODING; Gooding & Gooding PA, Movants-Appellants,

and

Jonathan E. Ozmint; Tom Carter, Sheriff Allendale County; Attorney General of the State of South Carolina, Respondents.

Donald Brandt, Petitioner-Appellee,

v.

Jonathan E. Ozmint; Tom Carter, Sheriff Allendale County, Respondents-Appellants,

and

Attorney General of the State of South Carolina, Respondent,

Elizabeth K. Gooding; Gooding & Gooding PA, Movants.

Nos. 09-7907, 09-7909.

United States Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit.

February 18, 2011

Argued: Dec. 7, 2010.

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ARGUED:

Donald John Zelenka, Office of the Attorney General of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina; Daniel A. Speights, Speights & Runyan, Hampton, South Carolina, for Appellants.

James Mixon Griffin, Law Offices of James Mixon Griffin, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee.

ON BRIEF:

A. Gibson Solomons, Speights & Runyan, Hampton, South Carolina, for Appellants Elizabeth K. Gooding and Gooding & Gooding PA. Henry D. McMaster, Attorney General, John W. McIntosh, Chief Deputy Attorney General, Office of the Attorney General of South Carolina, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellants Jonathan E. Ozmint and Tom Carter. Margaret N. Fox, Griffin LLC, Columbia, South Carolina, for Appellee.

Before MOTZ, AGEE, and KEENAN, Circuit Judges.

Affirmed by published opinion. Judge AGEE wrote the opinion, in which Judge MOTZ and Judge KEENAN joined.

OPINION

AGEE, Circuit Judge:

Donald Brandt instituted a legal malpractice suit against Elizabeth Gooding and her law firm, Gooding & Gooding PA, (collectively " Gooding" ) in South Carolina state court after Gooding represented Brandt in the closing of a real estate transaction. During the course of that proceeding, the state court summarily found Brandt guilty of criminal contempt and sentenced him to six months' imprisonment for introducing a letter, which the court deemed to be fraudulent, into the record at a deposition. Brandt appealed his contempt conviction, which was affirmed by the Supreme Court of South Carolina. See Brandt v. Gooding, 368 S.C. 618, 630 S.E.2d 259 (2006). Subsequently, Brandt filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus in the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina.

Once in federal court, Brandt filed a motion for summary judgment, which a United States Magistrate Judge recommended granting based on his conclusion that the contempt proceedings in South Carolina state court violated Brandt's due process rights. Gooding subsequently moved to intervene in Brandt's federal habeas proceeding in order to file a memorandum of observations regarding certain allegedly misrepresented facts in the case. The district court ultimately granted summary judgment in Brandt's favor and denied Gooding's motion to intervene, although the court " construed [Gooding's] submissions as amicus briefs." Brandt v. Ozmint, 664 F.Supp.2d 626, 632 (D.S.C.2009). On appeal, Brandt's custodians challenge the district court's grant of summary judgment in his favor, while Gooding contests the court's denial of her motion to intervene.1 For the reasons stated herein,

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we affirm the judgment of the district court.

I.

The facts of this case are well summarized in the opinion of the Supreme Court of South Carolina, see Brandt, 630 S.E.2d at 260-61, and the report and recommendation issued by the United States Magistrate Judge. See Brandt, 664 F.Supp.2d at 633-37. Accordingly, we outline only the facts necessary to decide the issues presented in this appeal.

A. Proceedings in the State Trial Court

Gooding represented Brandt, among other parties, during a land transaction conducted in Allendale County, South Carolina. Brandt subsequently filed a malpractice suit in South Carolina state court alleging Gooding breached her fiduciary duty, was guilty of negligence, and joined in a civil conspiracy against him. Gooding, in turn, filed counterclaims for slander and malicious prosecution.

During the discovery phase of the litigation, Brandt provided a letter to his malpractice expert, John Freeman, which appeared to have been sent to Brandt by the lender used to conduct the real estate transaction at issue. The letter, if valid, was evidence that Gooding conducted the land deal with knowledge of a conflict of interest related to her representation of Brandt. At his deposition, Freeman relied on the letter in opining that Gooding had committed legal malpractice.

After Gooding learned of the letter's existence, her counsel filed a petition for rule to show cause that asked the state court to hold Brandt in contempt of court unless he could establish the letter was authentic. Because the case was scheduled to go to trial shortly, the state court dismissed the petition without prejudice based on its conclusion that " a contempt proceeding [was] premature until after the trial of th[e] case." Joint Appendix (" J.A." ) at 159. Gooding thereafter deposed the purported author of the letter and his secretary, both of whom testified that the letter was not genuine, as it was neither written nor signed by them. Gooding also hired an expert, Marvin Dawson, to examine the letter and he concluded the letter was counterfeit.

Brandt's counsel subsequently moved to withdraw. The state court granted the motion and gave Brandt sixty days to retain new counsel. After this sixty-day period had elapsed and a new judge had been assigned to the case, Gooding filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion for contempt, sanctions, and dismissal of the complaint (" motion for contempt" ). Gooding's motion for contempt represented to the state court that criminal contempt proceedings against Brandt might be appropriate. See id. at 234 (" It is well within the power and discretion of a circuit court judge to impose a sentence of imprisonment for contempt of court." ).

The clerk of the state court scheduled a hearing at which the state judge would " hear all pending motions in the" case and mailed a letter notifying the parties five days in advance of that hearing. Id. at 239. That same day, Gooding's counsel mailed a letter to the state judge, which contained a copy of Gooding's motion for contempt and memorandum of law in support thereof. Copies of this letter were forwarded to Brandt and his new counsel.

In federal district court, Gooding presented additional evidence indicating that Brandt was aware the state court would consider her motion for contempt along with the other pending motions in the case.

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This evidence, gained through discovery related to Gooding's counterclaims for slander and malicious prosecution, consisted of two notations Brandt made on faxes sent to his expert witness. The first notation states " [t]hey have proposed two motions to have [the] case thrown out and then have me locked up," id. at 1169, while the second indicates " [t]hey want to take me to the slau[gh]ter." Id. at 1173. Both of these comments were written in advance of the state court hearing date.

At the scheduled hearing before the state court, Brandt appeared with new counsel who told the court that his representation of Brandt extended only to having the allegedly fraudulent letter examined, as his prior relationship with Gooding precluded any further involvement in the case. The state court resolved the matter by taking the letter into court custody and relieving Brandt's new counsel. Dawson then testified regarding his findings that the letter was fraudulent and that it did not contain an authentic signature. The state court subsequently recessed the proceedings in order to provide Brandt's new expert, Hans Gideon, with an opportunity to examine the letter. Gideon declined to testify, however, due to a lack of adequate equipment to perform an analysis of the letter.

Once the hearing reconvened, the state court denied Brandt's request for a continuance to obtain counsel and informed him that he would have to proceed pro se. Brandt attempted to cross-examine Dawson and asked if Gideon could also cross-examine Dawson, a request the state court denied. Gooding's counsel subsequently proceeded to summarize the deposition testimony from lay witnesses and other corroborating evidence indicating that the letter was fraudulent.

Gooding's counsel concluded by asking the state court to find Brandt in contempt of court, grant summary judgment in favor of Gooding, and order Brandt to pay Gooding's costs and attorneys' fees. He also reminded the state court of its " authority to impose ... criminal contempt sanctions." Id. at 364. This was the first reference to " criminal contempt" at the motions hearing.

Brandt was then provided an opportunity to present argument. He asserted that he made substantial, but unsuccessful, efforts to obtain counsel and that he did not come to the hearing prepared for a trial. Brandt then proceeded to reaffirm his testimony that the letter was genuine and that his malpractice suit had merit.

After a short recess, the state court found that the evidence was " absolutely overwhelming" that Brandt perpetrated " a fraud" upon the court. It consequently held Brandt in " direct contempt." Id. at 377. The state court then provided Brandt an opportunity to speak " concerning the sentence, and/or sanctions for contempt of court." Id. Brandt proclaimed his innocence and stated that he had not received " a fair trial ... without any representation." Id. at 379. Thereafter, the state court sentenced Brandt to " six months in the State Department of...

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