Court denied the law firm’s motion to dismiss

In Jadidian v Drucker, 171 AD3d 1146, 1147-48 [2d Dept 2019], the court denied the law firm’s motion to dismiss the complaint, holding:

On a motion to dismiss pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7), the court must afford the pleading a liberal construction, accept all facts as alleged to be true, accord the plaintiff the benefit of every favorable inference, and determine only whether the *1148 facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory (see CPLR 3026; Leon v. Martinez, 84 N.Y.2d 83, 87–88, 614 N.Y.S.2d 972, 638 N.E.2d 511; Santaiti v. Town of Ramapo, 162 A.D.3d 921, 924–925, 80 N.Y.S.3d 288; Berlin v. DeMarzo, 150 A.D.3d 1185, 52 N.Y.S.3d 878). A cause of action to recover damages for legal malpractice requires proof that the defendant “ failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession ” and that the attorney’s breach of this duty proximately caused plaintiff to sustain actual and ascertainable damages (McCoy v. Feinman, 99 N.Y.2d 295, 301, 755 N.Y.S.2d 693, 785 N.E.2d 714 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Dombrowski v. Bulson, 19 N.Y.3d 347, 350, 948 N.Y.S.2d 208, 971 N.E.2d 338; Rudolf v. Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 N.Y.3d 438, 442, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385).

Here, accepting the facts alleged in the complaint as true, and according the plaintiffs the benefit of every possible favorable inference, the complaint sufficiently alleges a cause of action to recover damages for legal malpractice. The complaint alleges that the defendant failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession by failing to account for the potential outcome of the nuisance action on the use and occupancy of the premises and to protect the plaintiffs’ interests in relation thereto. The complaint further alleges that the defendant’s negligence proximately caused the plaintiffs to sustain actual and ascertainable damages in lost rent and in settling the action brought by the Hive, and thus, validly states a cause of action to recover damages for legal malpractice (see Rudolf v. Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 N.Y.3d at 443, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385; Bua v. Purcell & Ingrao, P.C., 99 A.D.3d 843, 847, 952 N.Y.S.2d 592; Wolstencroft v. Sassower, 124 A.D.2d 582, 507 N.Y.S.2d 728). Accordingly, we agree with the Supreme Court’s denial of that branch of the defendant’s motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss the complaint.

Dismissal pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) is warranted only if the documentary evidence “ utterly refutes plaintiff’s factual allegations, conclusively establishing a defense as a matter of law ” (Goshen v. Mutual Life Ins. Co. of N.Y., 98 N.Y.2d 314, 326, 746 N.Y.S.2d 858, 774 N.E.2d 1190; see Kolchins v. Evolution Mkts., Inc., 31 N.Y.3d 100, 106, 73 N.Y.S.3d 519, 96 N.E.3d 784; Leon v. Martinez, 84 N.Y.2d at 88, 614 N.Y.S.2d 972, 638 N.E.2d 511). Here, the documentary evidence submitted by the defendant **76 failed to utterly refute the plaintiff’s factual allegations. Accordingly, we also agree with the Supreme Court’s denial of that branch of the defendant’s motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) to dismiss the complaint.

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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Duplicative causes of action against an attorney

When a client alleges duplicative causes of action against an attorney based upon different theories of liability, the court can dismiss those duplicative causes of action.

“ To state a claim for breach of fiduciary duty, a plaintiff must allege the existence of a fiduciary relationship, misconduct by the other party, and damages directly caused by that party’s misconduct ” (Castellotti v Free, 138 AD3d 198, 209 [1st Dept 2016]). “ [A] fiduciary relationship arises between two persons when one of them is under a duty to act or give advice for the benefit of another upon matters within the scope of the relation ” (Oddo Asset Mgt. v Barclays Bank PLC, 19 NY3d 584, 593-594 [2012], rearg denied 19 NY3d 1065 [2012] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]). The existence of a duty is essential and may not be imposed unilaterally (see Marmelstein v Kehillat New Hempstead: The Rav Aron Jofen Community Synagogue, 45 AD3d 33, 36-37 [1st Dept 2008], affd 11 NY3d 15 [2008]). Whether a fiduciary relationship exists involves a fact-specific inquiry (see EBC I, Inc. v Goldman Sachs & Co., 5 NY3d 11, 19 [2005]). A claim for breach of fiduciary duty also requires “ the violation of some duty due to an individual, which duty is a thing different from a mere contractual obligation ” (see Batas v Prudential Ins. Co. of Am., 281 AD2d 260, 264 [1st Dept 2001] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]).

A breach of fiduciary duty claim is duplicative of a legal malpractice claim when both are based upon the same facts and seek the same damages (see Barrett v Goldstein, 161 AD3d 472, 473 [1st Dept 2018]; accord Cohen, 115 AD3d at 513). As applied herein, plaintiff has established that the fiduciary duty counterclaim is grounded upon the same facts as the legal malpractice counterclaim. Defendant has neither attempted to distinguish the two counterclaims nor addressed why the second counterclaim should not be dismissed.

Adam Leitman Bailey, P.C. v Pollack, 63 Misc 3d 1229(A) [Sup Ct 2019]

R. A. Klass
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[ duplicative causes of action ]

…Court held that collateral estoppel (issue preclusion) barred a legal malpractice action

In Sang Seok Na v Schietroma, 2019 NY Slip Op 04017 [2d Dept May 22, 2019], court held that collateral estoppel (issue preclusion) barred a legal malpractice action, holding:

A plaintiff in an action alleging legal malpractice must prove that the defendant attorney’s failure to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession proximately caused the plaintiff to suffer damages (see Rudolf v. Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 N.Y.3d 438, 442, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385; Sang Seok NA v. Schietroma, 163 A.D.3d at 598, 79 N.Y.S.3d 636). To establish proximate causation, the plaintiff must show that he or she would have prevailed in the underlying action or would not have incurred any damages, but for the defendant attorney’s negligence (see Rudolf v. Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 N.Y.3d at 442, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385; Kluczka v. Lecci, 63 A.D.3d 796, 797, 880 N.Y.S.2d 698).

Here, the Schietroma defendants established their entitlement to summary judgment dismissing the complaint on the ground that this action was barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel (see Karimian v. Time Equities, Inc., 164 A.D.3d 486, 489, 83 N.Y.S.3d 227). “ The doctrine of collateral estoppel, a narrower species of res judicata, precludes a party from relitigating in a subsequent action or proceeding an issue clearly raised in a prior action or proceeding and decided against that party or those in privity, whether or not the tribunals or causes of action are the same ” (Ryan v. New York Tel. Co., 62 N.Y.2d 494, 500, 478 N.Y.S.2d 823, 467 N.E.2d 487). The doctrine of collateral estoppel applies when: “ (1) the issues in both proceedings are identical, (2) the issue in the prior proceeding was actually litigated and decided, (3) there was a full and fair opportunity to litigate in the prior proceeding, and (4) the issue previously litigated was necessary to support a valid and final judgment on the merits ” (Conason v. Megan Holding, LLC, 25 N.Y.3d 1, 17, 6 N.Y.S.3d 206, 29 N.E.3d 215 [internal quotation marks omitted] ).

In order for the plaintiff to recover damages for legal malpractice against the Schietroma defendants based on their alleged failure to advise him of a potential legal malpractice claim against S & M, the plaintiff must prove that he would have prevailed in a legal malpractice action against S & M, but for the Schietroma defendants’ negligence. In order for the plaintiff to prevail in a legal malpractice action against S & M, the plaintiff must prove that he would have prevailed in the Greyhound action, but for S & M’s negligence.

The issue of whether the plaintiff would have succeeded on the merits in the Greyhound action was raised, necessarily decided, and material in the first legal malpractice action, and the plaintiff had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in that action (see Sang Seok NA v. Schietroma, 163 A.D.3d 597, 79 N.Y.S.3d 636). Thus, the Schietroma defendants established, as a matter of law, that their alleged negligence did not proximately cause the plaintiff’s damages by showing that the plaintiff would not have prevailed in a legal malpractice action against S & M, and that they were entitled to summary judgment dismissing the complaint based on the doctrine of collateral estoppel (see generally Lamberti v. Plaza Equities, LLC, 161 A.D.3d 841, 841–842, 73 N.Y.S.3d 901; Matter of Trump Vil. Apts. One Owner v. New York State Div. of Hous. & Community Renewal, 143 A.D.3d 996, 40 N.Y.S.3d 157). Accordingly, we agree with the Supreme Court’s determination to grant the Schietroma defendants’ motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint.

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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It is important for a retainer agreement…

It is important for a retainer agreement to set forth the tasks that the attorney will perform on behalf of the client, as well as those which are outside of the tasks to be performed. This was emphasized in the following decision of Keld v Giddins Claman, LLP, 170 AD3d 589 [1st Dept 2019]:

The retainer agreement entered into by plaintiff and defendant law firm constitutes documentary evidence which utterly refutes plaintiff’s claims (see generally Leon v. Martinez, 84 N.Y.2d 83, 88, 614 N.Y.S.2d 972, 638 N.E.2d 511 [1994]; CPLR 3211[a][1] ). The scope of services defendant was to provide plaintiff in connection with her purchase of a condominium unit was clearly limited by the retainer agreement. The retainer agreement enumerated the legal services defendants would provide including the review, preparation, and/or negotiation of specific documents related to the closing and the investigation and analysis of issues relating to title. Plaintiff’s allegation that the agreement required defendants to manage all aspects of the purchase including advising on inspections for safety, quality of renovation and environmental issues is without merit. These duties are outside the scope of the retainer (see AmBase Corp. v. Davis Polk & Wardwell, 8 N.Y.3d 428, 435, 834 N.Y.S.2d 705, 866 N.E.2d 1033 [2007] ). Thus, plaintiff cannot maintain a legal malpractice claim against defendants.

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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[ retainer agreement ]

Standard on deciding motions to dismiss

In a decision reminding defendants of the standard on deciding motions to dismiss, the court in Jadidian v Drucker, 2019 NY Slip Op 03033 [2d Dept Apr. 24, 2019] held:

On a motion to dismiss pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7), the court must afford the pleading a liberal construction, accept all facts as alleged to be true, accord the plaintiff the benefit of every favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory (see CPLR 3026; Leon v. Martinez, 84 N.Y.2d 83, 87–88, 614 N.Y.S.2d 972, 638 N.E.2d 511; Santaiti v. Town of Ramapo, 162 A.D.3d 921, 924–925, 80 N.Y.S.3d 288; Berlin v. DeMarzo, 150 A.D.3d 1185, 52 N.Y.S.3d 878). A cause of action to recover damages for legal malpractice requires proof that the defendant “ failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession ” and that the attorney’s breach of this duty proximately caused plaintiff to sustain actual and ascertainable damages (McCoy v. Feinman, 99 N.Y.2d 295, 301, 755 N.Y.S.2d 693, 785 N.E.2d 714 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Dombrowski v. Bulson, 19 N.Y.3d 347, 350, 948 N.Y.S.2d 208, 971 N.E.2d 338; Rudolf v. Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 N.Y.3d 438, 442, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385).

Here, accepting the facts alleged in the complaint as true, and according the plaintiffs the benefit of every possible favorable inference, the complaint sufficiently alleges a cause of action to recover damages for legal malpractice. The complaint alleges that the defendant failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession by failing to account for the potential outcome of the nuisance action on the use and occupancy of the premises and to protect the plaintiffs’ interests in relation thereto. The complaint further alleges that the defendant’s negligence proximately caused the plaintiffs to sustain actual and ascertainable damages in lost rent and in settling the action brought by the Hive, and thus, validly states a cause of action to recover damages for legal malpractice (see Rudolf v. Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 N.Y.3d at 443, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385; Bua v. Purcell & Ingrao, P.C., 99 A.D.3d 843, 847, 952 N.Y.S.2d 592; Wolstencroft v. Sassower, 124 A.D.2d 582, 507 N.Y.S.2d 728). Accordingly, we agree with the Supreme Court’s denial of that branch of the defendant’s motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss the complaint.

Dismissal pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) is warranted only if the documentary evidence “ utterly refutes plaintiff’s factual allegations, conclusively establishing a defense as a matter of law ” (Goshen v. Mutual Life Ins. Co. of N.Y., 98 N.Y.2d 314, 326, 746 N.Y.S.2d 858, 774 N.E.2d 1190; see Kolchins v. Evolution Mkts., Inc., 31 N.Y.3d 100, 106, 73 N.Y.S.3d 519, 96 N.E.3d 784; Leon v. Martinez, 84 N.Y.2d at 88, 614 N.Y.S.2d 972, 638 N.E.2d 511). Here, the documentary evidence submitted by the defendant failed to utterly refute the plaintiff’s factual allegations. Accordingly, we also agree with the Supreme Court’s denial of that branch of the defendant’s motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) to dismiss the complaint.

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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