Saturday, August 22, 2015

May A Lawyer Post A Client's Bail?

Yes in "rare circumstances," according to a recent ethics opinion by the Alaska State Bar

Question Presented:

Under what circumstances, if any, may a lawyer post bail for a client?

Conclusion:

Under rare circumstances a lawyer may post bail for a client, though the practice is discouraged.

Discussion:

An attorney asks whether it is ethically permissible to post bail for a client who is in custody.

Posting bail for a client raises several issues under the Alaska Rules of Professional Conduct, which help ensure that a lawyer can zealously represent a client without conflicting interests that could affect the quality of the representation. The Rules provide, for example, that a lawyer may not provide financial assistance to a client in connection with litigation or acquire a proprietary interest in the subject matter of litigation. Neither may a lawyer represent a client if the representation is adverse to a personal interest of the lawyer. 

Each of these prohibitions, however, has exceptions. So, while a lawyer is generally prohibited from providing financial assistance to a client in connection with pending or contemplated litigation, a lawyer may advance court costs and expenses. And if a lawyer believes that he or she will be able to provide competent and diligent representation to a client despite their adverse interests, the lawyer may proceed with that representation after obtaining informed consent from the client.

Posting bail for a client imposes on the lawyer both contractual and financial constraints which could give rise to a situation in which the lawyer’s interests are materially adverse to the client’s, particularly if the client fails to comply with his or her conditions of release. Despite these ethical implications, posting bail does not fit squarely within the “costs of litigation” exception contemplated by Rule 1.8(e) nor the concurrent conflict of interest analysis contemplated by Rule 1.7(a)(2). Some jurisdictions interpret bail as akin to a cost of litigation,  while the American Bar Association applies a concurrent conflict of interest analysis.  While the Rules do not expressly address bail, they do provide analytical guidance.

Rule 1.7(b) contemplates limited exceptions to a concurrent conflict of interest where a lawyer’s ability to zealously represent the client’s interest is not compromised and the client consents. Rule 1.8(e) anticipates that a lawyer may pay for certain, limited expenses on a client’s behalf within the scope of the representation. Drawing from these exceptions, a lawyer may post bail for a client where the amount of bail is insignificant enough to not create a material limitation on the lawyer’s ability to represent the client. To ensure that a client understands the unique relationship that is created when the lawyer posts bail, a lawyer must obtain written informed consent from the client, specifying the surety provided and the scope of the liability the bail agreement imposes on the lawyer.

These considerations allow lawyers to facilitate the occasional client’s return to the community, which may assist with the representation. By limiting the acceptable circumstances to rare events, lawyers will avoid facing any significant risk that their ability to provide legal representation will be materially limited by the financial obligations posting bail requires. Similarly, by limiting the amount of bail to sums unlikely to materially limit a lawyer’s ability to represent a client, a lawyer diminishes the risk that the client’s noncompliance with the conditions of release would affect his or her ability to provide competent and diligent ongoing representation.

Approved by the Alaska Bar Association Ethics Committee on May 7, 2015. 

Adopted by the Board of Governors on May 12, 2015.

(Mike Frisch)

August 22, 2015 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 21, 2015

Attorney Wins, Former Client Loses

An attorney prevailed in both a suit for legal fees and in dismissal of counterclaims of the former client in an opinion of the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department.

Here, the plaintiffs established, prima facie, their entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on the cause of action alleging breach of contract by submitting certain email exchanges between the parties, which demonstrated, "[b]y the plain language employed," that the plaintiffs made an offer to represent Landmark in each matter for a certain fee, and that Landmark accepted that offer (Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman, LLP v Duane Reade, 98 AD3d at 405). In one matter, the parties agreed that the plaintiffs would represent Landmark at a rate of $350 per hour. The invoices documenting the number of hours worked and the amount of disbursements paid out demonstrated, prima facie, the plaintiffs' entitlement to legal fees in the sum of $4,760 in connection with the services rendered for that matter. In the second matter, the agreement was for an initial retainer fee of $5,000, plus a 25% contingency fee with respect to any sums that Landmark ultimately recovered in that matter. Since it is undisputed that, shortly after the commencement of an action in connection with the second matter, Landmark entered into a stipulation of settlement whereby Landmark recovered $40,000, the plaintiffs established, prima facie, entitlement to their full fee of $5,000 plus a contingency fee of 25% of $40,000.

In opposition, Landmark failed to raise a triable issue of fact.

Landmark's counterclaim, which alleged tortious interference with contract and tortious interference with prospective business relations, was premised upon the plaintiffs' alleged contact with the third party with whom Landmark had entered into the stipulation of settlement in connection with the second matter. Specifically, Landmark alleged that, contrary to the terms of the stipulation, the plaintiffs requested that certain of the agreed-upon payments be made directly to them as Landmark's counsel, rather than to Landmark. The ostensible purpose of this communication was to ensure that the plaintiffs would be able to deduct their legal fees from the settlement funds.

The Supreme Court properly granted that branch of the plaintiffs' motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss so much of the counterclaim as alleged tortious interference with contract. A necessary element of such cause of action is the intentional and improper procurement of a breach and damages (see White Plains Coat & Apron Co., Inc. v Cintas Corp., 8 NY3d 422, 426). Here, Landmark failed to adequately plead facts that would establish that the plaintiffs, in communicating with the third party to secure their attorney's fees, intentionally procured that party's breach of the stipulation of settlement (see Dune Deck Owners Corp. v Liggett, 85 AD3d 1093, 1095).

To the extent that the counterclaim sought recovery based on a theory of tortious interference with prospective business relations, the Supreme Court properly granted that branch of the plaintiffs' motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss that portion of the counterclaim. A claim for tortious interference with prospective business relations does not require a breach of an existing contract, but the party asserting the claim must meet a "more culpable conduct" standard (NBT Bancorp. v Fleet/Norstar Fin. Group, 87 NY2d 614, 621). This standard is met where the interference with prospective business relations was accomplished by wrongful means or where the offending party acted for the sole purpose of harming the other party (see Carvel Corp. v Noonan, 3 NY3d 182, 190; Caprer v Nussbaum, 36 AD3d 176, 204). " Wrongful means' include physical violence, fraud or misrepresentation, civil suits and criminal prosecutions, and some degrees of economic pressure" (Guard-Life Corp. v Parker Hardware Mfg. Corp., 50 NY2d 183, 191, quoting Restatement [Second] of Torts §§ 768, Comment e and 767, Comment c). As a general rule, the offending party's conduct must amount to a crime or an independent tort, as conduct that is neither criminal nor tortious will generally be "lawful" and thus insufficiently "culpable" to create liability for interference with prospective business relations (Carvel Corp. v Noonan, 3 NY3d at 190 [internal quotation marks omitted]). The mere violation of an attorney disciplinary rule will only create liability if actual damages are incurred as a result of the violating conduct (see Tabner v Drake, 9 AD3d 606, 610). In addition, where the offending party's actions are motivated by economic self-interest, they cannot be characterized as solely malicious (see Out of Box Promotions, LLC v Koschitzki, 55 AD3d 575, 577). Here, contrary to the conclusion of our dissenting colleague, the allegations in the counterclaim do not establish the elements of tortious interference with prospective business relations. The allegations that the plaintiffs contacted a settling party to protect [*2]their attorney's fees after having been discharged as Landmark's counsel, while arguably alleging a violation of a disciplinary rule, do not, without more, allege that the plaintiffs' acts constituted a crime, or an independent tort, or that the plaintiffs acted solely for the purpose of harming Landmark (see Worldcare Intl., Inc. v Kay, 119 AD3d 554, 556-557; Adler v 20/20 Cos., 82 AD3d 915, 918).

A dissent by Justice Duffy on the tortious interference with business relations count

Although I agree with the majority's position that the plaintiff attorney was motivated by his desire to ensure that he received the fees he contended that Landmark owed him and that, with such motives, the plaintiff attorney's actions cannot be considered "solely malicious," the majority appears to require that, absent facts alleging that the plaintiffs engaged in conduct with the sole purpose of harming Landmark, Landmark failed to state a cause of action for tortious interference with prospective business relations. To the extent that the majority requires that, in order to avoid dismissal of this claim, Landmark had to set forth facts alleging that the plaintiffs engaged in conduct with the sole purpose of harming Landmark and that they did so by means that were unlawful or improper, I disagree. Such an analysis is more rigorous than that applied by the Court of Appeals (citations omitted) in evaluating the sufficiency of a cause of action alleging tortious interference with prospective business relations. To make out a claim for tortious interference with business relations where, as here, the alleged interference was with prospective contractual relationships, rather than existing contracts, the proponent must show that the other party interfered with the proponent's business relationships either with the sole purpose of harming the movant or by means that were unlawful or improper...I submit that Landmark's allegation that the plaintiff attorney interfered with Landmark's business relationships by means that were unlawful or improper—to wit, that he held himself out as counsel for Landmark when he no longer represented it—was sufficient to withstand that branch of the motion which was to dismiss the counterclaim...

The Court of Appeals has enunciated a general rule that, to be sufficiently "culpable" to create liability for tortious interference with prospective business relations, the alleged conduct must amount to a crime or an independent tort (Carvel Corp. v Noonan, 3 NY3d at 190). However, the Court of Appeals did not preclude "other instances of conduct which, though not a crime or tort in itself," are so culpable that they could be the basis of such a claim (id.). Here, the facts alleged by Landmark, that the plaintiff attorney held himself out to be Landmark's counsel when he no longer represented Landmark, in order to obtain money the plaintiffs contend was owed to him by Landmark, if true, would constitute a breach of fiduciary duty as well as a violation of the ethical rules that govern the conduct of attorneys (see Rules of Professional Conduct [22 NYCRR 1200.0] rule 1.8[f] ["A lawyer shall not accept compensation for representing a client, or anything of value related to the lawyer's representation of the client, from one other than the client unless: (1) the client gives informed consent"]; see generally Matter of Cooperman, 83 NY2d 465, 472).

I also disagree with the majority's assertion that, without a concomitant allegation of actual damages, an allegation that, if true, may constitute a violation of an attorney disciplinary rule cannot meet the culpable conduct element required to plead tortious interference with prospective business relations sufficient to defeat the motion to dismiss in this matter. The analysis adopted by the majority is one applied in the context of determining whether a cause of action for legal malpractice has been established (see Tabner v Drake, 9 AD3d at 610), but is not the analysis this Court already has applied in determining the culpable conduct necessary to establish a claim of tortious interference with prospective business relations. In Lyons v Menoudakos & Menoudakos, P.C. (63 AD3d at 802), this Court held that an attorney's violation of a disciplinary rule and his professional obligations was sufficient to demonstrate the culpable conduct required for a claim of tortious interference with prospective business relations so as to withstand a motion for summary judgment. In that case, this Court noted that, to constitute "culpable conduct," the conduct must amount to a crime or an independent tort, and may include " [w]rongful means'" defined as " physical violence, fraud or misrepresentations, civil suits and criminal prosecutions, and some degrees of economic pressure'" (id. at 802, quoting Guard-Life Corp. v Parker Hardware Mfg. Corp., 50 NY2d at 191, and citing Carvel Corp. v Noonan, 3 NY3d at 190-193, and Smith v Meridian Tech., Inc., 52 AD3d 685, 687). In Lyons, this Court took note of the various ethical obligations of the defendant in that matter, who had been the attorney for the seller in a real estate transaction and allegedly wished to purchase the property for himself (see Lyons v Menoudakos & Menoudakos, P.C., 63 AD3d at 802). This Court held that "[e]vidence of a violation of a [*4]disciplinary rule is relevant to the question of tort liability," and concluded that the defendant had failed to eliminate all triable issues of fact as to whether his judgment was affected by his personal interest in the transaction and whether he furthered that interest by making misrepresentations to the seller about the creditworthiness of the plaintiff, thereby wrongfully interfering with the prospective transaction (id.). Here, as in Lyons, the allegations of the plaintiff attorney's violations of his ethical obligations, if true, would meet the culpable conduct element necessary to state a cause of action for tortious interference with prospective business relations.

(Mike Frisch)

August 21, 2015 in Billable Hours, Clients | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Task Delegated But Not Liability

The South Carolina Supreme Court reversed and remanded a case where the Court of Appeals had held that a legal malpractice defendant could not be liable for a task delegated to a title company

In this attorney malpractice case, Amber Johnson alleges her closing attorney, Stanley Alexander, breached his duty of care by failing to discover the house Johnson purchased had been sold at a tax sale the previous year. The trial court granted partial summary judgment in favor of Johnson as to Alexander's liability. On appeal, the court of appeals held Alexander could not be held liable as a matter of law simply because the attorney he hired to perform the title work may have been negligent. Instead, the court determined the relevant inquiry was "whether Alexander acted with reasonable care in relying on [another attorney's] title search"; accordingly, it reversed and remanded. Johnson v. Alexander, 408 S.C. 58, 64, 757 S.E.2d 553, 556 (Ct. App. 2014). We disagree and find the trial court properly granted summary judgment as to liability. We therefore remand to the trial court for a hearing on damages.

The court

In determining the scope of Alexander's duty, we accept his consistent characterization of this responsibility—ensuring Johnson received good title. In her complaint, Johnson alleged "[d]efendants had professional duties to ensure that Plaintiff was receiving good and clear title to the subject property free of any encumbrances, liens, or clouds on title before conducting the closing and if there was a problem after the closing, to correct said deficiencies and/or advise Plaintiff how to correct said deficiencies." In Alexander's answer he admitted those allegations...

However, even absent Alexander's admissions, we find the court of appeals erroneously equated delegation of a task with delegation of liability. Certainly  Feeley's negligence is the issue here, but that does not displace Alexander's ultimate responsibility. While an attorney may delegate certain tasks to other attorneys or staff, it does not follow that the attorney's professional decision to do so can change his liability to his client absent that client's clear, counseled consent. See Rule 1.8(h), RPC, RULE 407, SCACR ("A lawyer shall not. . . make an agreement prospectively limiting the lawyer's liability to a client for malpractice unless the client is independently represented in making the agreement."). Thus, Alexander owed Johnson a duty and absent her agreement otherwise, he was liable for that responsibility regardless of how he chose to have it carried out.

We therefore agree with Johnson that an attorney is liable for negligence in tasks he delegates absent some express limitation of his representation. Stated another way, without an express limitation in representation, attorneys cannot delegate liability for tasks that are undertaken in carrying out the duty owed the client.

(Mike Frisch)

July 30, 2015 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 17, 2015

Too Late The Plaintiff

The statute of limitations ran on a legal malpractice plaintiff, according to a decision of the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department.

...contrary to the plaintiff's contention, the defendant did not waive its statute of limitations defense, asserted in its answer, by failing to make a pre-answer motion to dismiss. Rather, a statute of limitations defense may be asserted after joinder of issue in a motion for summary judgment pursuant to CPLR 3212. Although the defendant's motion was made pursuant to 3211(a)(5), the parties clearly charted a summary judgment course by submitting extensive documentary evidence and factual affidavits laying bare their proof, Thus, the defendant's motion is properly treated as a motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint as time-barred.

Further, the Supreme Court properly concluded that the plaintiff's legal malpractice cause of action is time-barred. The defendant met its prima facie burden of demonstrating that the action was commenced more than three years after the alleged malpractice occurred. In opposition, the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether the statute of limitations was tolled by continuous representation. In that respect, the evidence demonstrated that after the plaintiff and her husband retained the defendant law firm to represent them in a personal injury action, the defendant law firm retained the law firm of Bauman & Kunkis, P.C. (hereinafter Bauman & Kunkis), to represent the plaintiff and her husband in that action, and thereafter had no contact with the plaintiff. All of the work on the case, from filing the pleadings to selecting a jury, was performed by Bauman & Kunkis. Before the case could be tried, it was dismissed based on willful default, and Bauman & Kunkis was substituted with a different law firm, which sought to restore the action. Even if the arrangement between the defendant and Bauman & Kunkis could be equated with joint representation, under the circumstances of this case, the defendant's representation of the plaintiff would have terminated as of December 1, 2006, the date on which Bauman & Kunkis was substituted. Accordingly, the present legal malpractice cause of action, commenced on or about April 9, 2012, was untimely. (citations omitted)

(Mike Frisch)

July 17, 2015 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

No Malpractice In Workers' Compensation Matter

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court affirmed the grant of summary judgment to a lawyer sued for malpractice based on his alleged negligence in a workers' compensation matter

Allen argues that she suffered a measureable loss due to McCann’s failure to advise her to perform a work search. However, Allen settled with her employer, and because of the settlement, her proffered damages calculation is speculative. Attorney MacAdam’s assertion, without further detail or explanation, that he believes that he could have settled for more had Allen been receiving an additional $150 per week in workers’ compensation benefits, does not provide a foundation upon which a jury could assess damages without resort to speculation. The other party to the settlement, the employer, certainly has its own settlement criteria, which may or may not have focused upon the weekly benefit rate. Because the factors producing a settlement cannot be ascertained or weighed in hindsight, attempting to calculate an award of damages is speculative. Summary judgment was correctly granted.

The malpractice issue arose after new counsel got involved

In March 2009, Allen hired attorney James MacAdam to represent her in her workers’ compensation claim, replacing McCann. MacAdam advised Allen to do a work search, which she did unsuccessfully, beginning in April 2009. MacAdam sought to use the work search to obtain an increase in Allen’s workers’ compensation benefits, but Allen’s employer raised a res judicata defense. In December 2010, MacAdam sent a settlement demand for $350,000 on behalf of Allen to her employer, and in July 2012, Allen settled her workers’ compensation claim for $300,000.

(Mike Frisch)

July 15, 2015 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Firm That Handled Legal Malpractice Case Sued For Legal Malpractice

Some claims of legal malpractice survived motions to dismiss in a matter in which a law firm was disqualified as a result of a conflict of interest, according to a recent opinion of the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department.

the plaintiffs retained the defendant law firm Gusrae Kaplan Nusbaum, PLLC (hereinafter GKN), to represent them in an ongoing legal malpractice and fee dispute action, and to represent nonparty Nikolay Minkin, a liaison for the plaintiffs, in a related third-party indemnification action. GKN represented the plaintiffs and Minkin until April 24, 2012, when the Supreme Court disqualified GKN from continuing that representation due to a conflict of interest in representing both the plaintiffs and Minkin.

On a motion to dismiss based on documentary evidence

"To succeed on a motion to dismiss based upon documentary evidence pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1), the documentary evidence must utterly refute the plaintiff's factual allegations, conclusively establishing a defense as a matter of law" (Gould v Decolator, 121 AD3d 845, 847; see Goshen v Mutual Life Ins. Co. of N.Y., 98 NY2d 314, 326;Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 88). On a motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss for failure to state a cause of action, the court must accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true, accord the plaintiff the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory (see Goshen v Mutual Life Ins. Co. of N.Y., 98 NY2d at 326; Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d at 87-88).

The court

The Supreme Court erred in granting that branch of GKN's motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) to dismiss the fourth cause of action. The fourth cause of action sought to recover damages for legal malpractice due to GKN's alleged misrepresentation that it had filed a motion to reargue on the plaintiffs' behalf. While the documentary evidence submitted by GKN in support of its motion established that such a motion was prepared, the motion itself indicates that it was not filed until after GKN ceased representing the plaintiffs.

The Supreme Court also erred in granting that branch of GKN's motion which was to dismiss the sixth cause of action, alleging unjust enrichment. "To prevail on a claim of unjust enrichment, a party must show that (1) the other party was enriched, (2) at that party's expense, and (3) that it is against equity and good conscience to permit [the other party] to retain what is sought to be recovered" (Citibank, N.A. v Walker, 12 AD3d 480, 481 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Marini v Lombardo, 79 AD3d 932, 934; Cruz v McAneney, 31 AD3d 54, 59). The complaint alleged that the plaintiffs paid GKN large sums of money, which purportedly represented legal fees associated with the work being performed on the plaintiffs' behalf. The complaint further alleged that, in light of the allegations of, among other things, legal malpractice, GKN had been unjustly enriched by those payments and GKN's retention of that money violated "fundamental principals of justice, equity, and good conscience." GKN did not address those allegations on its motion to dismiss, other than to claim lawful entitlement to the money as fees earned and billed. Accordingly, the Supreme Court erred in determining that the complaint failed to state a cause of action alleging unjust enrichment (see CPLR 3211[a][7]).

The trial court had dismissed the entire lawsuit. (Mike Frisch)

July 14, 2015 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Bad Advice, No Relief

The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit affirmed the denial of habeas corpus relief to a defendant who had relied on his attorney's advice to plead guilty in West Virginia state court to armed robbery and malicious assault.

Under the circumstances, we have no trouble concluding that the Supreme Court of Appeals of West Virginia could have reasonably found that Christian had little hope of prevailing at trial on the charges and was “lucky to receive the deal that he did.[..]”

Here, abundant evidence exists to support a factual finding that Christian’s guilty plea was driven not by his sentencing exposure at all, which everyone agrees was onerous, but rather by his recognition from the outset that he had little hope of defeating either the federal or state charges against him, or of living long enough to get out of prison at all, and by his desire to spend as much of his remaining life as possible in federal prison. Christian may well have developed “buyer’s remorse."

Circuit Judge Gregory wrote a powerful dissent

The majority goes to great lengths to disguise the simple truths of this case: Counsel gave bad advice to a client, and the client relied on the advice in deciding to plead guilty and forgo his constitutional right to a trial. I respectfully dissent...

Despite the thin veneer of ‘hypotheticals’, [defense counsel] Henderson’s testimony clearly establishes that (1) Christian told him of the two prior felony convictions; (2) Henderson did no further investigation to determine the date or nature of the prior felonies; (3) on the basis of Christian’s disclosure, Henderson advised him that he faced a possible mandatory minimum life sentence if convicted of any of the new charges; and (4) the advice Henderson gave was incorrect because under no circumstances did Christian face such a sentence if convicted...

Here, Henderson failed to investigate his client’s criminal record – either by asking more questions or pulling a file – when accurate information was critical to the client’s ability to make an informed, intelligent choice about whether to accept a plea deal. Indeed, Christian made clear during plea negotiations that his desire to avoid a recidivism enhancement was a significant motivating factor for accepting a deal – as revealed by the letter Henderson wrote to the government expressing Christian’s demand that “THERE WILL BE NO RECIDIVIST FILED”. J.A. 597. Doing a minimally sufficient investigation into Christian’s record would have involved very little effort, requiring a simple examination of the dates of the two prior felony convictions. And the reward would have been significant, fundamentally changing Christian’s calculus in deciding whether to forgo his Sixth Amendment right to a trial...

Of course, as the majority points out, it is possible that Christian would have received a lengthy sentence if he had chosen to go to trial. But the Sixth Amendment right to a public trial does not exist solely when a trial would be in a defendant’s best interests. The record here compels a conclusion that it is reasonably probable Christian would have exercised this constitutional right if he received accurate advice.

(Mike Frisch)

July 9, 2015 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Avvo Poster Remains Anonymous

The opinion of the Washington State Court of appeals denying a plaintiff attorney access to information that would identify an anonymous Avvo poster is linked here.

What showing must be made by a defamation plaintiff seeking disclosure of an anonymous speaker's identity? This is an open question in Washington. Thomson brought a defamation suit against Doe, an anonymous poster who wrote a negative review of Thomson on Avvo.com. Thomson then subpoenaed Avvo seeking Doe's identity. When Avvo refused to provide the information, Thomson moved to compel Avvo's compliance with the subpoena. The trial court denied Thomson's motion, finding that Thomson had not made a prima facie claim of defamation. We affirm.

Thompson is a Florida attorney who sued as a result of this post

I am still in court five years after Ms. Thomson represented me during my divorce proceedings. Her lack of basic business skills and detachment from her fiduciary responsibilities has cost me everything. She failed to show up for a nine hour mediation because she had vacation days. She failed to subpoena documents that are critical to the division of assets in any divorce proceeding. In fact, she did not subpoena any documents at all. My interests were simply not protected in any meaningful way.

Thomson's complaint alleged that Doe was not a client and that the post was designed to impugn Thomson's personal and professional reputation. Thomson alleged four causes of action: defamation, defamation per se, defamation by implication, and intentional infliction of emotional distress (MED).

The court concluded that the First Amendment protects the right to post anonymously.

Hat tip to the ABA Journal. (Mike Frisch)

July 7, 2015 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Apparent Authority Of Attorney Makes Settlement Agreement Enforceable

A recent decision of the Arizona Supreme Court

Agreements between parties or attorneys in civil lawsuits are not binding if disputed unless they are evidenced by a writing or made orally in court. Ariz. R. Civ. P. 80(d). We here consider whether Rule 80(d) makes a written settlement agreement unenforceable because it lacked the written assent of clients who dispute their attorney’s authority to make the agreement. Holding that no such written assent is required and that the agreement here satisfied Rule 80(d), we also conclude that it is enforceable because the attorney acted within the apparent authority given by his clients.

The facts

Petitioners (“the Robertson Group”) sued neighboring property owners (“the Alling Group”) concerning a water line. On January 29, 2013, the parties and their attorneys attended a mediation but did not reach an agreement. At the end of the mediation, the Alling Group, represented by attorney Mark Sifferman, made a settlement offer requiring acceptance within forty-eight hours.Hours before the offer expired, Robert Grasso, the Robertson Group’s attorney, told Sifferman that the Robertson Group needed more time to respond to the offer because one group member had a family emergency. Grasso proposed that the attorneys discuss the offer the next week. Sifferman did not extend the January 31 deadline, and the offer expired.

Sifferman advised his clients of Grasso’s request and recommended they “leave the door open” for settlement. Two of the Alling Group members emailed Sifferman on February 4 stating that they and others favored “removing the settlement offer proposed in the mediation.” But Sifferman did not read the email and mistakenly thought all his clients were willing to settle on the terms previously conveyed to the Robertson Group.

On February 6, after talking with another attorney at Grasso’s law firm, Sifferman sent that attorney an email extending a new settlement offer with terms that mirrored the prior offer but would expire at 5:00 p.m. on February 8. Grasso timely accepted the offer via email. Later, after Grasso’s law firm had informed the trial court of the settlement (the “February 8 settlement”) and circulated draft settlement documents, Sifferman discovered he had lacked authority to extend the settlement offer. After conferring with his clients, Sifferman made a new settlement offer, which materially varied from the February 8 settlement.

The Robertson Group moved to enforce the February 8 settlement. Without an evidentiary hearing, the trial court granted the motion, ruling that Sifferman had actual and apparent authority to extend the settlement offer and, alternatively, that the Alling Group was equitably estopped from disputing that authority. The court also ruled that Arizona Rule of Civil Procedure 80(d) did not apply but, if it did, the emails exchanged between counsel satisfied the rule.

The court here reversed the Court of Appeals, which had found that the settlement was not enforceable.

...we hold that the Alling Group’s actions allowed the Robertson Group to reasonably assume that Sifferman had authority to keep a settlement offer on the table or reoffer the same settlement terms days after the agreement’s expiration, and the Robertson Group reasonably relied on the attorney’s apparent authority...

Rule 80(d) applies only if a party disputes the existence or terms of an agreement. If such a dispute exists, the rule can be satisfied by writings exchanged by counsel. Rule 80(d) does not also require the written assent of a client who disputes that it is bound by the agreement. Because the parties here do not dispute the existence or terms of the February 8 settlement, Rule 80(d) does not apply. Finally, because the evidence shows that Sifferman was cloaked with apparent authority to bind the Alling Group to the February 8 settlement, the trial court correctly enforced the agreement. We vacate the court of appeals’ opinion, affirm the trial court’s judgment, and award the Robertson Group its reasonable attorney fees on appeal.

 (Mike Frisch)

July 1, 2015 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Sporting Chance

A law firm was entitled to summary judgment on fees charged a client in one matter but not a second representation, according to an opinion of the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department.

Plaintiff [Boies, Schiller & Flexner]  established prima facie that it entered into a retainer agreement with defendant and sent her regular invoices pursuant thereto, and that, after plaintiff withdrew from representation, defendant paid more than $400,000 towards those bills, with a promise to pay the remainder in exchange for plaintiff's agreement to represent her a second time in the same or related matters (Morrison Cohen Singer & Weinstein, LLP v Waters, 13 AD3d 51 [1st Dept 2004]; Levisohn, Lerner, Berger & Langsam v Gottlieb, 309 AD2d 668 [1st Dept 2003], lv denied 1 NY3d 509 [2004]). Accordingly, plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment on its account stated claim for the outstanding amount of $30,525 for bills dated July 31, 2012, August 20, 2012, and September 20, 2012, in connection with the first representation.

However, as plaintiff withdrew and then agreed to represent defendant again, defendant's partial payments in connection with the first representation cannot be construed as consent to the amounts due in connection with the second representation. Accordingly, plaintiff is not entitled to summary judgment to the extent the account stated claim is based on work performed and invoiced for October 2012 through February 2013, i.e., during the second representation.

While the parties agree that defendant paid the October 2012 bill, purportedly for work performed in September 2012, the record does not conclusively establish the services billed for in that invoice, including whether the invoice related to the first or second representation. Coupled with defendant's objections to and refusal to pay any subsequent invoice, the payment of the October 2012 bill does not suffice to eliminate any triable issue of fact as to defendant's consent to the amounts due under later invoices.

Moreover, defendant averred that she called plaintiff within a day or two after receiving each invoice, spoke to the lawyer primarily handling her case and her assistant, and objected that she did not understand the charges, that they appeared to be unwarranted, and that she could not pay. This evidence of defendant's oral objections is sufficiently detailed to create a triable issue of fact as to her consent to the amounts due (compare Darby & Darby v VSI Intl., 95 NY2d 308, 315 [2000] ["self-serving, bald allegations of oral protests" insufficient to raise issue of fact]; Zanani v Schvimmer, 50 AD3d 445 [1st Dept 2008] [assertion of oral objection to bills insufficient because the defendant failed to state when objection was made or specific substance thereof]).

As plaintiff correctly notes, numerous emails cited in an affidavit by defendant's daughter (who exercised a power of attorney on defendant's behalf) and relied upon by the motion court, when read in context, fail to raise any specific, timely objections to any bills. However, [*2]defendant's oral objections are supported by at least two emails to plaintiff from defendant's daughter, advising plaintiff on December 31, 2012, that she intended to go over the "outlandish bills" with her accountant, and on January 25, 2013, that she would not pay any bills until they were reviewed by the accountant (see RPI Professional Alternatives, Inc. v Citigroup Global Mkts. Inc., 61 AD3d 618 [1st Dept 2009]; see also Herrick, Feinstein v Stamm, 297 AD2d 477, 479 [1st Dept 2002]).

The breach of contract counterclaim should be dismissed since defendant fails to identify any provision of the retainer agreement that promises to produce a particular result, rather than setting forth general professional standards (see Boslow Family Ltd. Partnership v Kaplan & Kaplan, PLLC, 52 AD3d 417 [1st Dept 2008], lv denied 11 NY3d 707 [2008]; Sarasota, Inc. v Kurzman & Eisenberg, LLP, 28 AD3d 237 [1st Dept 2006]).

The motion court correctly declined to dismiss the affirmative defenses at this point in the litigation since they are supported by more than bare legal conclusions (see Robbins v Growney, 229 AD2d 356, 358 [1st Dept 1996]).

The defendant is the widow of the former chairman of Modell's Sporting Goods. (Mike Frisch)

June 16, 2015 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 5, 2015

Not Solely Responsible, Not Liable For Malpractice

A criminal defendant was convicted at trial of multiple counts of sexual conduct against a child. The conviction was reversed based on a finding of ineffective assistance of counsel.

The defendant, represented by new counsel, was acquitted at a second trial.

She then sued her first counsel for legal malpractice.

The New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department held that the trial court should have granted summary judgment to the defendant attorney. 

Here, the defendant met his initial burden of demonstrating, prima facie, that the plaintiff is unable to prove the element of causation. Specifically, the defendant submitted admissible evidence demonstrating that the plaintiff's convictions after her first trial were not due solely to the defendant's conduct, but were also the result of other factors, including those arising from "some consequence of [her] guilt" (Britt v Legal Aid Socy., 95 NY2d at 447). The evidence submitted by the defendant included graphic testimony of the plaintiff's own children, admitted into evidence at the first trial, which detailed numerous acts of sexual abuse committed by the plaintiff against them. In opposition, the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact as to whether her convictions after the first trial were due solely to the defendant's conduct (see id.)

The court further held that "the plaintiff's claims for nonpecuniary damages, including physical and psychological injuries allegedly sustained while she was incarcerated following the first trial, are not recoverable in a legal malpractice action."  (Mike Frisch) 

June 5, 2015 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Risk v. Reward

The Montana Supreme Court has reversed and remanded with spoilation sanctions a verdict in favor of defendant BNSF Railway based on its failure to preserve a video of the accident of an employee plaintiff.

BNSF is a seasoned and sophisticated corporate litigant well aware of its obligations when responding to workplace violations and employee injuries and accidents. These obligations include the retention of evidence relevant to injury claims. In this case, BNSF supervisors took immediate action within minutes of Spotted Horse’s alleged accident. While Price drove Spotted Horse to the hospital for medical treatment, BNSF supervisors began gathering and analyzing information related to the incident. Within hours of the alleged accident, according to testimony, three individuals viewed a brief portion of the video footage from one camera in the shop stall where Spotted Horse and Syverson were apparently working. And yet–inexplicably–this and other video footage from the shop was not retained...

We reject the notion that BNSF is entitled to unilaterally determine which evidence is relevant or valuable when investigating an alleged work-related accident preceding litigation. Such a decision must be left to the trial court.

Justice Wheat would order default

I agree with the Court’s decision to reverse the judgment of the District Court and to order more serious spoliation sanctions against BNSF on remand. I would, however, remand to the District Court with an instruction to enter default judgment, because the audacity of the spoliation in this case warrants more than a mere negative inference in favor of Spotted Horse...

Montana courts should not shrink from granting default judgment where, as here, spoliation is willful, in bad faith, or knowingly committed in order to obscure the truth and to prevent accurate decision making. By failing to take such action when it is warranted, we fail the spoliation victim and our system of justice, while at the same time rewarding the spoliator with the result he or she sought: an advantage in litigation. By failing to take such action, we set the stage with perverse incentives and encourage further spoliation. Until we are willing to respond with sanctions commensurate to the damage caused by intentional spoliation – that is, with default judgment – the reward from destroying evidence will continue to outweigh the risk.

Justice McKinnon dissented and would affirm the trial court's exercise of discretion. (Mike Frisch)

May 31, 2015 in Clients, Law & Business | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Failure To Pursue Winning Appeal Bars Legal Malpractice Claim

A client's failure to pursue a potentially successful appeal barred a claim of legal malpractice against the attorney, according to an opinion of the New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department.

Summary judgment was also affirmed where the attorneys discontinued a claim against a non-negligent defendant in the underlying medical malpractice case.

Karen Buczek, and her husband asserting a derivative cause of action, commenced this action alleging, inter alia, that the defendants committed legal malpractice in the prosecution of an underlying medical malpractice action. The plaintiffs alleged that the underlying medical malpractice action was voluntarily discontinued by the defendant attorneys insofar as asserted against North Shore University Hospital (hereinafter the Hospital) due to the defendants' legal malpractice, and that the complaint insofar as asserted against the other defendants in the  underlying action was dismissed due to the defendants' failure to prosecute the action.

The defendants moved for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. They argued that the alleged instances of legal malpractice did not proximately cause the plaintiffs' damages. The defendants contended that the plaintiffs' action insofar as asserted against the Hospital would not have been successful since the Hospital staff involved in the underlying medical procedures properly carried out the directions of the attending private physicians and did not engage in any independent negligent acts. They contended, thus, that they properly consented to discontinue the action insofar as asserted against the Hospital. The defendants also contended that the court in the underlying action erred as a matter of law in dismissing the complaint insofar as asserted against the other defendants for failure to prosecute. The defendants argued that if the plaintiffs had appealed from the order dismissing the action, the order would have been reversed and the complaint insofar as asserted against the other defendants would have been reinstated. The Supreme Court denied the defendants' motion.

As to the remaining defendants in the med mal case

The failure to pursue an appeal in an underlying action bars a legal malpractice action where the client was likely to have succeeded on appeal in the underlying action (see Grace v Law, 24 NY3d 203, 206-207; see also Rupert v Gates & Adams, P.C., 83 AD3d 1393, 1396). The Court of Appeals has stated that this "likely to succeed" standard "obviate[s] premature legal malpractice actions by allowing the appellate courts to correct any trial court error and allow[s] attorneys to avoid unnecessary malpractice lawsuits by being given the opportunity to rectify their clients' unfavorable result" (Grace v Law, 24 NY3d at 210). By establishing that an appeal would likely have been successful, a defendant in a legal malpractice action can establish that the alleged negligence did not proximately cause the plaintiff's damages (see id.).

(Mike Frisch)

May 6, 2015 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Tax Avoidance Advice Suit May Proceed

Claims by the heirs to the Johnson & Johnson fortune against Proskauer Rose LLP on allegations of fraud, excessive legal fees and unjust enrichment may go forward, according to a decision yesterday by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department.

The court affirmed dismissal of the legal malpractice claim.

The law firm had initiated discussions of the possible sale of long-held J & J stock. The plaintiffs agreed to consider the law firm's proposal. 

The issue involved a complex series of steps recommended "to effectuate the tax [avoidance] strategy."

Between October 13, 2000 and November 30, 2000, plaintiffs took the complex series of steps recommended by TDG [a business that developed tax avoidance strategies] and Proskauer to effectuate the tax strategy. They paid TDG a total of $1,379,650 in fees and costs, of which they allege that $425,000 was paid by TDG to Proskauer to cover its legal fee.

In June 2001, Proskauer sent plaintiffs a 63-page opinion letter, dated December 29, 2000, which concluded that "it was more likely than not" that the scheme, already executed, would not generate any gain or loss, or accrue any penalties if it was disallowed by the IRS.

In January 2002, the IRS announced a tax amnesty program which allegedly would have been applicable to plaintiffs' situation. However, Proskauer did not notify plaintiffs of that program. In April 2006, the IRS sent plaintiffs a letter requesting documents and detailed information about the tax avoidance strategy they had implemented over five years earlier. Plaintiffs sought counsel from Waxenberg, but he informed them that Proskauer was conflicted by its representation of TDG. Concerned that the agency would ultimately challenge the scheme and assess penalties against them, plaintiffs secured a tolling agreement from Proskauer which, after a later extension, tolled the statute of limitations for any claims against Proskauer up to and including July 31, 2011. Ultimately, the IRS ruled the shelter transaction was not entitled to favorable capital gains tax treatment and assessed plaintiffs back taxes, penalties and interest amounting to millions of dollars.

In December 2010, plaintiffs became aware of a decision in a federal case in Massachusetts District Court (Fidelity Intl. Currency Advisor A Fund, LLC v United States, 747 F Supp 2d 49 [D Ma 2010]). That case was brought by a former Proskauer client who had executed a tax avoidance plan similar to that recommended to plaintiffs by Proskauer and Akselrad. The District Court, after a 44-day trial, issued findings of fact and conclusions of law which stated that the attorneys "agreed in advance to provide favorable legal opinions in order to induce taxpayer-investor" to get involved in the shelter opportunity, and that Proskauer and another law firm had "derived substantial profit from the promotion and sale of the tax shelter strategy, and therefore had a financial interest in upholding the strategy" (747 F Supp 2d at 212, 213).

In July 2011, plaintiffs commenced this action against defendants.

Key holding

this Court has stated that, where an attorney enters into a business transaction with a client whereby the two parties' interests may at some point diverge, the ethics rules place on the attorney the burden of obtaining the client's consent, after full disclosure, "irrespective of the sophistication of the client" (Forest Park Assoc. Ltd. Partnership v Kraus, 175 AD2d 60, 62 [1st Dept 1991] [holding that law firm should have been disqualified from representing the plaintiff in a litigation, which was an entity in which 49 of its partners were investors, where the firm had previously represented the defendant in connection with the transaction in which the entity was formed]; accord Schlanger v Flaton, 218 AD2d 597, 602-603 [1st Dept 1995]). Accordingly, defendants were required to place plaintiffs' interests above all else, without regard to their perceived pedigrees, fortunes or business savvy.

Indeed, the mere facts that plaintiffs were wealthy and could afford high-priced counsel are insufficient for us to draw the conclusion that, as a matter of law, they should have known that there was almost a 50% possibility that the tax strategy would not succeed. On this record, defendants cannot establish the specific backgrounds of plaintiffs and their familiarity with the tax code and IRS practices such that defendants can argue that plaintiffs were not justified in relying on defendants' advice. Ironically, this argument by defendants bolsters plaintiffs' excessive fee claim, since it invites the question why, if they were truly so sophisticated, they needed a $425,000 opinion from Proskauer to convince them to pursue the TDG/Proskauer strategy. Further, it is worth noting that one of the things a sophisticated investor is presumed to know to do before entering a transaction is to consult with its attorney (see Stuart Silver Assoc. v Baco Dev. Corp., 245 AD2d 96, 99 [1st Dept 1997]). That is precisely what plaintiffs did, and they were entitled to rely on defendants' advice.

Finally, plaintiffs' claim for punitive damages properly survived dismissal. Defendants' conduct is alleged to have been directed at a wide swath of clients, and the first amended complaint sufficiently alleges intentional and malicious treatment of those clients as well as a "wanton dishonesty as to imply a criminal indifference to civil obligations" (Walker v Sheldon, 10 NY2d 401, 405 [1961]). Indeed, although we offer no opinion regarding whether the particular scheme at issue was criminal in its manipulation of the tax laws, plaintiffs have demonstrated that similar tax avoidance schemes resulted in the indictments of some of their promoters. Accordingly, the demand for punitive damages is adequately stated. Defendants cite Denenberg v Rosen (71 AD3d 187 [1st Dept 2010], lv dismissed 14 NY3d 910 [2010]) for the purported proposition that an attorney's involvement in promoting an unsuccessful tax avoidance scheme can never support a claim for punitive damages. However, this Court made no such declaration in that case. Nor did this Court find in Denenberg that the pension plan at issue was generally defective. Rather, it held that "it was the operation of plaintiff's particular plan that caused the problems with the IRS" (71 AD3d at 195) (emphasis added).

(Mike Frisch)

May 1, 2015 in Clients, Economics, Hot Topics | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, April 17, 2015

Client Conduct Negates Malpractice Claim

The Nebraska Supreme Court overturned the grant of a new trial to the plaintiff in a legal malpractice case and reinstated the verdict in favor of the defendant law firm.

Thomas Balames, filed this legal malpractice action against Robert Ginn and Brashear LLP, formerly known as Brashear and Ginn (collectively Ginn), the firm where Ginn practiced when the alleged malpractice occurred. Balames brings this action for himself and three other individuals for whom he serves as attorney in fact (collectively Balames). Balames claimed that Ginn negligently failed to obtain signatures on a guaranty for a loan that Balames made to a third party and failed to inform Balames of the missing signatures. When the third party defaulted, Balames could not obtain a judgment against the individuals who were the intended guarantors for the full amount of the third party’s obligation. The jury returned a general verdict for Ginn, but the court granted Balames a new trial.

The client sought to complete the transaction while the attorney was on vacation. The client had not previously advised the attorney that the situation was urgent and terminated his services shortly thereafter.

The court

[Client] Balames admitted to being pressured by his bank to complete the transaction, and he insisted upon getting the documents to the bank as soon as humanly possible. [Attorney] Ginn’s evidence supported a reasonable inference that because Balames and his business associates had personally guaranteed the loan, they had an immediate need to show the bank that they had renegotiated the debt with Banopu. The crucial point here is that a client has the ultimate authority to determine the objective of a legal representation. Of course, an attorney should make reasonable efforts to explain the legal consequences of a course of conduct that a client insists upon taking. Yet, evidence regarding Ginn’s advisement raised a question of fact whether Ginn had breached a duty of care. That is, if the jury determined that Balames insisted upon closing without Ginn’s review, whether Ginn’s advisements were sufficient to inform Balames of the potential consequences was a question of fact.

The jury verdict sufficiently dealt with the issues

When the jury returns a general verdict for one party, a court presumes that the jury found for the successful party on all issues raised by that party and presented to the jury, particularly when the opposing party did not ask the court to give the jury a special verdict form or require the jury to make special findings. This is true both for Ginn’s failure-of-proof defense and his statute of limitations defense which barred Balames’ recovery even if he proved his malpractice claim. Because the court erred in concluding that plain error permeated the trial, this presumption controlled...

 If the jury believed Ginn’s version of the facts, then Ginn did not breach a duty to ensure that the documents were signed before or after the closing. Instead, Balames’ injury was caused by his failure to follow Ginn’s advice, his failure to review the documents for the required signatures, and his misrepresentation to Ginn that the documents were signed.

 (Mike Frisch) 

 

April 17, 2015 in Clients, Law & Business, Law Firms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

When Morgan Stanley Talks

Allegations of conflict of interest were properly alleged in litigation against the Blank Rome law firm, according to this decision of the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department.

the complaint alleges that defendants concealed a conflict of interest that stemmed from defendant law firm's attorney-client relationship with Morgan Stanley while simultaneously representing plaintiff in divorce proceedings against her ex-husband, a senior Morgan Stanley executive, who participated in Morgan Stanley's decisions to hire outside counsel..

plaintiff identifies the nature of the conflict as stemming from defendants' interest in maintaining and encouraging its lucrative relationship with Morgan Stanley and the impact of that interest on defendants' judgement in its representation of plaintiff in the divorce proceedings..

Further, the complaint alleges numerous acts of deceit by defendants, committed in the course of their representation of plaintiff in her matrimonial action. Additionally, the complaint sufficiently alleges that the individual defendants knew of but did not disclose defendant law firm's representation of Morgan Stanley to plaintiff, and it details the calculations of her damages.

The allegations were not subject to strike as scandalous or prejudicial. (Mike Frisch)

March 4, 2015 in Clients, Law Firms | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Notice Of Claim Lapse Absolves Insurance Company

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has held that an insurance company is not obligated to defend a legal malpractice suit where the attorney fails to (as required by the insurance contract) to notify the carrier during the coverage period.

The basic facts

Melissa and Kenneth Anderson sued their former attorney, Thomas Aul, for legal malpractice.  Wisconsin Lawyers Mutual Insurance Company (WILMIC), Attorney Aul's professional liability insurer, intervened in the lawsuit.  WILMIC sought summary judgment declaring that the insurance policy it issued to Attorney Aul did not cover the Andersons' claim.

The WILMIC insurance policy provides coverage for those "claims that are first made against the insured and reported to the [insurance company] during the policy period" (emphasis added).  This type of policy is commonly known as a claims-made-and-reported policy.

Wisconsin's notice-prejudice statutes, Wis. Stat. §§ 631.81(1) and 632.26(2) (2011-12), provide that an insured's failure to furnish timely notice of a claim as required by the terms of a liability policy will not bar coverage unless timely notice was "reasonably possible" and the insurance company was "prejudiced" by the delay...

The parties agree that the Andersons' claim against Attorney Aul was first made during the policy period, that Attorney Aul did not report the claim during the policy period, and that reporting the claim during the policy period was reasonably possible.  They dispute whether the WILMIC policy's requirement that claims be reported during the policy period is governed by the notice-prejudice statutes and also whether WILMIC was prejudiced by Attorney Aul's failure to report the claim during the policy period.

Chief Justice Abrahamson held

the benefits to insurance companies and insureds of claims-made-and-reported policies, the statutory history underlying Wisconsin's notice-prejudice statutes, the persuasive authority of other courts that have decided the question presented by this case, and the unreasonable results a contrary holding would produce persuade us that Wisconsin's notice-prejudice statutes permit an insurance company to deny coverage without a showing of prejudice when an insured fails to report a claim within a claims-made-and-reported policy period.

The clients who sued lose out

from the Andersons' vantage point, they have been victimized twice: first by Attorney Aul's malpractice and now by his failure to comply with his malpractice insurance policy's reporting requirement.  We reach a harsh result, but one we have determined the law requires.  We conclude that the legislature did not intend to rewrite the fundamental terms of the WILMIC insurance policy or to make the strict reporting requirement underlying claims-made-and-reported policies unenforceable in this state.

Justice Ziegler, joined by three colleagues, concurred

Although I reject the lead opinion's consideration of "consequences of alternative interpretations," I agree with the lead opinion's conclusion that the notice-prejudice statutes, by their plain meaning, do not apply to the reporting requirement at issue.  I also agree with the lead opinion's conclusion, consistent with that plain meaning, that applying these statutes to the reporting requirement at issue would produce unreasonable results.  I join that conclusion only to the extent that it can be construed as engaging in a plain-meaning analysis of these unambiguous statutes.  This writing is intended make clear the majority opinion of the court.

For the foregoing reasons, I respectfully concur.

(Mike Frisch)

February 25, 2015 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

No Lien On Me

A recent decision of the Connecticut Supreme Court deals with charging liens in domestic relations matters

The plaintiff, Ralph Olszewski, challenges the Appellate Court’s conclusion that equitable charging liens are permissible in marital dissolution actions in Connecticut. He claims that they are barred by the Rules of Professional Conduct, they are not supported by Connecticut precedent, and the public policy considerations that justify equitable charging liens in other contexts do not apply in marital dissolution actions. The defendants Carlo Forzani and Carlo Forzani, LLC. respond that equitable charging liens against marital assets are permissible in Connecticut because the Rules of Professional Conduct specifically provide for charging liens, the rules do not preclude the use of charging liens in marital dissolution actions, and public policy considerations support their use in domestic relations matters. We agree with the plaintiff and reverse the judgment of the Appellate Court.

The court

in the eight jurisdictions in which the court explicitly held or determined that an attorney’s charging lien could be enforced against an award of alimony and/or child support, the courts in five jurisdictions based their holdings on statutory authority rather than the common law. Id., §§ 4a and 4b, pp. 613–17. We therefore conclude that attorneys are not entitled by operation of law to equitable charging liens on marital assets for fees and expenses incurred in obtaining judgments for their clients in marital dissolution proceedings in Connecticut.

(Mike Frisch)

February 24, 2015 in Billable Hours, Clients | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, February 6, 2015

Excusable Law Office Failure

When you are representing a plaintiff suing former counsel for legal malpractice, you need to be careful to keep the case alive whenever possible.

The New York Appellate Division for the Second Judicial Department affirmed an order reinstating a legal malpractice case in which the claims were struck for discovery violations

A party seeking to vacate an order entered upon his or her failure to oppose a motion is required to demonstrate both a reasonable excuse for the default and the existence of a potentially meritorious opposition to the motion (see Bhuiyan v New York City Health & Hosps. Corp., 120 AD3d 1284; Garcia v Shaw, 118 AD3d 943; Oller v Liberty Lines Tr., Inc., 111 AD3d 903). The determination of what constitutes a reasonable excuse lies within the Supreme Court's discretion, and will not be disturbed if the record supports such determination (see White v Incorporated Vil. of Hempstead, 41 AD3d 709, 710). In making that discretionary determination, the court should consider relevant factors, such as the extent of the delay, prejudice or lack of prejudice to the opposing party, whether there has been willfulness, and the strong public policy in favor of resolving cases on the merits (see Oller v Liberty Lines Tr., Inc., 111 AD3d at 904; Fried v Jacob Holding, Inc., 110 AD3d 56, 60; Moore v Day, 55 AD3d 803, 804; Harcztark v Drive Variety, Inc., 21 AD3d 876, 876-877).

Here, the Supreme Court providently exercised its discretion in excusing the plaintiff's default based upon his counsel's excuse of law office failure (see CPLR 2004), given the minimal delay in moving to vacate the default, the lack of prejudice to the defendants, and the lack of any intent to abandon the action (see Moore v Day, 55 AD3d at 804) motion on the ground that the defendants failed to make a clear showing that the plaintiff's failure to comply with the defendants' discovery demands was willful and contumacious.

(Mike Frisch)

February 6, 2015 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, February 5, 2015

No Jurisdiction

The Nevada Supreme Court has held that a Nevada client of a Texas-based law firm cannot assert specific jurisdiction over the firm on claims arising out of investments in a San Antonio real estate venture.

Based on the evidence presented to the district court, we conclude that [client] Verano failed to make a prima facie showing that petitioners are subject to general or specific personal jurisdiction. In particular, we conclude that an out-of-state law firm that is solicited by a Nevada client to represent the client on an out-of-state matter does not subject itself to personal jurisdiction in Nevada simply by virtue of agreeing to represent the client. Moreover, because Verano's additional evidence of petitioners' Nevada contacts have no clear connection to Verano's causes of action against petitioners, we conclude that Verano failed to make a prima facie showing of personal jurisdiction.

The case is Fulbright & Jaworski v. Eighth Judicial District Court. (Mike Frisch)

February 5, 2015 in Clients | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)