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Wilcox v. Bibin

United States District Court, D. Idaho

August 30, 2017

CRAIG WILCOX, an individual, Plaintiff/Counterdefendant,
v.
MICHAEL J. BIBIN, AND ASSOCIATES, CPA, P.A., an Idaho Corporation, and MICHAEL BIBIN, an individual, Defendants/Counterclaimants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          HONORABLE EDWARD J. LODGE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT

         INTRODUCTION

         Before the Court in the above-entitled matter is the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. (Dkt. 37.) The parties have filed their responsive briefing and the Motion is ripe for the Court's consideration. The facts and legal arguments are adequately presented in the briefs and record. In the interest of avoiding further delay and because the Court conclusively finds that the decisional process would not be significantly aided by oral argument, this matter is decided on the record without a hearing.

         FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         In June of 2012, Plaintiff Craig Wilcox and his father, Cort Wilcox, were financial advisors for another entity when Wells Fargo Advisors LLC offered Plaintiff an employment position. That offer prompted Plaintiff to explore a consulting arrangement with Cort Wilcox to purchase his book of business in conjunction with accepting the employment offer from Wells Fargo Advisors LLC. Plaintiff met with and hired Defendants Michael J. Bibin and Associates CPA, P.A. and Michael Bibin (collectively Bibin) for the purpose of obtaining federal and state income and employment tax advice regarding these prospective employment and business acquisition opportunities. (Dkt. 1.) Based on the advice from Defendants, Plaintiff accepted the employment offer and entered into the consulting arrangement with Cort Wilcox. Later, in April of 2014, when Defendants prepared Plaintiff's 2013 tax returns they notified Plaintiff that he would not be able to deduct the expenses relating to the consulting arrangement with Cort Wilcox due to the operation of the Alternative Minimum Tax. Plaintiff's resulting total federal tax liability as reported was higher than expected and will continue to be higher for the ensuing nine years. Additionally, Plaintiff alleges the Defendants failed to claim a state income tax deduction for payments to Cort Wilcox resulting in additional tax liability and improperly advised him concerning IRS Form 1099 resulting in other tax penalties.

         As a result, Plaintiff initiated this action raising a negligence claim for professional malpractice and a breach of fiduciary duty claim. (Dkt. 1.) Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss which this Court denied. (Dkt. 19, 57.) Thereafter, Defendants filed the instant Motion for Summary Judgment as well as a related Motion to Strike. (Dkt. 37, 39.) The Motion to Strike was referred to Chief Magistrate Judge Ronald E. Bush who recently issued an Order granting the Motion to Strike concluding that the disclosures and testimony of Plaintiff's expert witness, Michael Larson, should be excluded. (Dkt. 58.) This Court now finds as follows as to the Motion for Summary Judgment.

         STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Motions for summary judgment are governed by Rule 56 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 56 provides, in pertinent part, that judgment “shall be rendered forthwith if the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(c). An issue is “material” if it affects the outcome of the litigation and may be considered “genuine” if it is established by “sufficient evidence supporting the claimed factual dispute…to require a jury or judge to resolve the parties' differing versions of the truth at trial.” Hahn v. Sargent, 523 F.3d 461, 464 (1st Cir. 1975) (quoting First Nat'l Bank v. Cities Serv. Co. Inc., 391 U.S. 253, 289 (1968)); see also British Motor Car Distrib. v. San Francisco Auto. Indus. Welfare Fund, 883 F.2d 371 (9th Cir. 1989).

         Under Rule 56, summary judgment is mandated if the non-moving party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element which is essential to the non-moving party's case and upon which the non-moving party will bear the burden of proof at trial. See Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986). If the non-moving party fails to make such a showing on any essential element, “there can be no ‘genuine issue of material fact, ' since a complete[] failure of proof concerning an essential element of the nonmoving party's case necessarily renders all other facts immaterial.” Id. at 323.

In order to withstand a motion for summary judgment, a party
(1) must make a showing sufficient to establish a genuine issue of fact with respect to any element for which it bears the burden of proof; (2) must show that there is an issue that may reasonably be resolved in favor of either party; and (3) must come forward with more persuasive evidence than would otherwise be necessary when the factual context makes the non-moving party's claim implausible.

British Motor Car, 882 F.2d at 374 (citation omitted). When applying this standard, the court views all of the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986); Hughes v. United States, 953 F.2d 531, 541 (9th Cir. 1992).

         DISCUSSION

         The claims raised in the Complaint are: 1) Negligence (Professional Malpractice) and 2) Breach of Fiduciary Duty. (Dkt. 1.) Both claims require Plaintiff to prove breach of the applicable standard of care by Defendants as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) in Idaho. See e.g. Estate of Cornell v. Johnson, 367 P.3d 173, 176 (Idaho 2015) (setting forth the elements of a legal malpractice claim); Skinner v. U.S. Bank Home Mortg., 365 P.3d 398, 403-04 (Idaho 2016) (discussing the elements for a breach of fiduciary duty claim). Such a showing necessarily demands that Plaintiff present expert testimony because the standard of care for a CPA in Idaho is not ordinarily within the knowledge or expertise of the members of a jury. See Greenfield v. Smith, 395 P.3d 1279, 1285 (Idaho 2017) (expert testimony required to establish genuine issues of material fact on summary judgment as to the standards of care in attorney malpractice case where jury lacks the knowledge or experience necessary to make such determinations); see also Hayward v. Jack's Pharmacy Inc., 115 P.3d 713, 718 (Idaho 2005) (“We have consistently held that in order to survive a motion for summary judgment in medical malpractice cases, the plaintiff must offer expert testimony indicating the health care provider negligently failed to meet the standard of care….”); Eas ...


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