Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Sounds Of Suing

A dismissed legal malpractice suit was reinstated by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department. The court held that the law in the area was sufficiently settled to sustain the claims of the former client:

Plaintiffs allege that defendant, a law firm, incorrectly advised them concerning the early 20th century sound recordings they proposed to re-engineer, re-master and distribute as CDs. After the CDs had been manufactured and distributed, plaintiffs were sued and found liable for common-law copyright infringement.

The court dismissed the legal malpractice complaint, pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1), based on documentary evidence from which it concluded that the state of the law at the time the advice was given was unsettled and defendants therefore had not " failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession'" at that time.

We conclude, however, that the state of the law was not so unsettled at the time the advice was given as to bar as a matter of law plaintiffs' claim that a reasonably skilled attorney would have advised that the CDs were or might be entitled to common-law copyright protection and would not have advised that the release of the CDs would not result in any copyright liability. Although defendant maintains that it did advise plaintiffs of the possibility of common-law liability and did not advise plaintiffs that the release of the CDs would not result in any copyright liability, we must accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true and accord plaintiffs the benefit of every possible
favorable inference. The determination whether defendant exercised the requisite level of skill and care must await expert testimony.

The statute of limitations was tolled as to defendant because the attorneys who initially handled the matter continued to represent plaintiffs in the matter, albeit at different law firms, until 2005. (citations omitted)

(Mike Frisch)

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