Sometimes, a court can hold an attorney who brings or continues causes of action deemed “frivolous” or without merit liable for costs and/or sanctions. In Boye v. Rubin & Bailin, LLP, 152 AD3d 1 [1 Dept. 2017], the First Department held that the attorney for the client-plaintiff in a legal malpractice action ought to be sanctioned for frivolous conduct, mainly due to the attorney’s pursuit of a meritless claim. In remanding the case to the lower court, the appellate court held that,…
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After a careful review of the appellate record and the parties’ briefs, we draw the only conclusion such record permits—the bases for the legal malpractice claim have been without merit in law or fact since their inception. More concerning, however, is that despite it having been apparent from the record that successor counsel was the one who withdrew the conversion and breach of contract claims in the federal action and not defendants, and despite being alerted to this fact by the record of this case and Supreme Court on multiple occasions, counsel persists in repeating a materially false claim to this Court.
There can be no good faith basis for the repetition of this materially false claim on appeal, and we find that counsel’s behavior would satisfy any of the criteria necessary to deem conduct frivolous. In fact, the only fair conclusion is that the prosecution of this appeal and knowing pursuit of a materially false and meritless claim was meant to delay or prolong the litigation or to harass respondents.
“Among the factors we are directed to consider is whether the conduct was continued when it became apparent, or should have been apparent, that the conduct was frivolous, or when such was brought to the attention of the parties or to counsel (22 NYCRR 130-1.1 [c]), circumstances that are replete in this record as noted above” (Levy v Carol Mgt. Corp., 260 AD2d 27, 34 [1st Dept 1999]).
We also consider that sanctions serve to deter future frivolous conduct “not only by the particular parties, but also by the Bar at large” (id. at 34). The goals include preventing the waste of judicial resources, and deterring vexatious litigation and dilatory or malicious litigation tactics.
Here, counsel was ethically obligated to withdraw any baseless and false claims, if not upon his own review of the record, certainly by the time Supreme Court advised him of this fact. Instead, counsel continued to repeat a knowingly false claim in what could only be described as a purposeful attempt to mislead this Court, and pursued claims which were completely without merit in law or fact.
The appropriate remedy for maintaining a frivolous appeal is the award of sanctions in the amount of the reasonable expenses and costs including attorneys’ fees incurred in defending the appeal (see Matter of Levine, 82 AD3d 524, 527 [1st Dept 2011]). Thus, we remand the matter to Supreme Court for a determination of the amount of expenses and costs including attorneys’ fees incurred by defendants in defending this appeal, and for entry of an appropriate judgment as against plaintiff’s attorney.
R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer