Thursday, October 22, 2020

New Jersey Appellate Court Holds State Has Personal Jurisdiction In Malpractice Claim Against Out-Of-State Attorney

The New Jersey Appellate Division held that a Mississippi attorney's involvement in a New Jersey matter was sufficient to confer personal jurisdiction on the client's subsequent malpractice claim

In June 2005, on the advice of an acquaintance, plaintiff contacted Eastland regarding representation in a potential federal lawsuit alleging systemic corruption in New York's court system, the venue of plaintiff's divorce litigation. Eastland was a resident of Mississippi, and the law firms were located there. He had several phone conversations with plaintiff, met an FBI agent in New York to urge the Bureau's pursuit of plaintiff's allegations, and met with plaintiff in Mississippi several times. Eastland met with plaintiff at Newark Liberty Airport during his trip to New York and came to New Jersey on one other occasion to observe plaintiff's pro se presentation during an administrative hearing regarding his medical license.

Plaintiff and Eastland entered into a retainer agreement

During May and June 2006, Eastland was apparently very busy representing the former governor of Alabama in a criminal trial.  Eager to have his complaint filed in New Jersey's federal district court, plaintiff visited Eastland in Alabama to discuss the litigation. Eastland certifies that he told plaintiff they "were nowhere near being able to draft a New Jersey federal RICO complaint without extensive further due diligence review." Nevertheless, plaintiff drafted his own complaint, naming the New Jersey Attorney General and other public officials, as well as the Department of Public Safety and the Division of Consumer Affairs, as defendants. A licensed New Jersey attorney, Robert J. Conroy, filed the complaint in federal district court on plaintiff's behalf.

Eastland's motion to enter the case pro hac vice was granted.

Eastland acknowledges that he prepared numerous pleadings in plaintiff's federal lawsuit, including amended complaints, motions and responses to motions; the federal docket bears witness to the filings, all of which were made by Conroy as local counsel

The underlying suit was dismissed

We need not detail applications that continued to be made in the district court, some admittedly drafted by Eastland, before the litigation finally ended in dismissal of the complaint against all parties.

Plaintiff sued for malpractice and Eastland moved to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction

Although our court has considered the exercise of personal jurisdiction over out-of-state attorneys before, we have yet to address the issue under similar facts to those presented here...

Initially, it is beyond cavil that plaintiff's lawsuit arises out of Eastland's alleged contacts with New Jersey, i.e., his "forum-related activities." Jardim, 461 N.J. Super. at 376. Eastland provided representation to plaintiff, a New Jersey resident, in a lawsuit alleging that New Jersey officials and governmental offices engaged in RICO activities against plaintiff. In other words, Eastland assisted plaintiff in his preparing a lawsuit that could only be brought in New Jersey against the very sovereign which jurisdiction Eastland now seeks to avoid on constitutional due process grounds.

Eastland contended that that the client solicited him

while solicitation in the forum state may demonstrate purposeful availment, the lack of solicitation is but one factor to consider in deciding whether an out-of-state attorney purposely availed himself of the forum state's jurisdiction.

...Putting aside the merits of plaintiff's claims in this suit, it was entirely foreseeable that Eastland's representation of a New Jersey resident in New Jersey's federal district court might include appearances in New Jersey on his client's behalf and might result in future litigation commenced by a disgruntled client.

As to pro hac admission

We also view Eastland's pro hac vice admission to the federal district court as significant in deciding whether he purposely availed himself of the privilege of conducting business in New Jersey.


In sum, considering the totality of the circumstances, we conclude Eastland had sufficient minimum contacts with New Jersey to permit the Law Division to exercise specific personal jurisdiction over him and his associated firms with respect to plaintiff's complaint.

(Mike Frisch)

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