Friday, June 29, 2018

Choice Of Law Analysis Dooms Legal Malpractice Claim

A legal malpractice claim failed due to the application of a shorter (Pennsylvania) rather than longer (New Jersey) statute of limitations, according to a decision of the New Jersey Appellate Division

 Plaintiff MTK Food Services, Inc. alleges defendants, attorney Richard Grungo, Jr. and his former firm, Archer & Greiner, P.C. (Archer),  committed legal malpractice regarding an insurance claim for fire damage at plaintiff's restaurant. 

The fire occurred in the little town of Bethlehem Pennsylvania

We agree with appellants that the trial court erred in concluding the New Jersey statute of limitations applied to this case. The only pertinent connection to New Jersey – that Grungo, a New Jersey licensed attorney, worked in a New Jersey office – falls short of establishing a substantial interest for New Jersey to apply its statute of limitations here. All other relevant facts point to Pennsylvania: the fire and resulting loss occurred in Pennsylvania; plaintiff is incorporated in Pennsylvania; Robbins enlisted Grungo because he is licensed in Pennsylvania; and Grungo filed the underlying complaint in Pennsylvania...

Furthermore, as the New Jersey State Bar Association contends in its amicus brief, applying New Jersey's six-year statute of limitations here would frustrate the purpose of  adopting the substantial-interest test and defy public policy. In McCarrell, the Court explained that the substantial-interest test: "places both this State's and out-of-state's citizens on an equal playing field, thus promoting principles of comity; advances predictability and uniformity in decision-making; and allows for greater certainty in the expectations of the parties." McCarrell, 227 N.J. at 593. If Robbins had obtained assistance from an attorney in Pennsylvania, the Pennsylvania statute of limitations would apply without question. That Robbins sought assistance from an attorney, who holds a New Jersey license and works in New Jersey, bears no relation to the malpractice allegation and therefore should not change the outcome here. To hold otherwise would subject New Jersey attorneys also practicing in other states to disparate, unfair treatment.

We would not want unfair treatment to New Jersey attorneys. (Mike Frisch)

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