Once someone has sued …and the case is dismissed…

Scales of justice illustrating article about legal malpractice.

Once someone has sued another and the case is dismissed, the plaintiff’s claim is barred or precluded. In Manko v Gabay, 175 AD3d 484 [2d Dept 2019], the court held:

The plaintiff subsequently commenced the instant action against, among others, the Gabay defendants, asserting causes of action against them, inter alia, to recover damages for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty. The Gabay defendants moved, inter alia, pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(5) to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them. The Supreme Court granted that branch of the motion, and the plaintiff appeals.

We agree with the Supreme Court’s determination to grant that branch of the Gabay defendants’ motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(5) to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against them as barred by the doctrine of res judicata, based upon the dismissal, on the merits, of the complaints insofar as asserted against them in the four prior actions. Under the doctrine of res judicata, or claim preclusion, “a valid final judgment bars future actions between the same parties on the same cause of action” (Parker v. Blauvelt Volunteer Fire Co., 93 N.Y.2d 343, 347, 690 N.Y.S.2d 478, 712 N.E.2d 647). “[O]nce a claim is brought to a final conclusion, all other claims arising out of the same transaction or series of transactions are barred, even if based upon different theories or if seeking a different remedy” (O’Brien v. City of Syracuse, 54 N.Y.2d 353, 357, 445 N.Y.S.2d 687, 429 N.E.2d 1158).

This Court takes a “pragmatic approach” to determining what constitutes a single transaction or series of transactions for the purposes of res judicata (Coliseum Towers Assoc. v. County of Nassau, 217 A.D.2d 387, 390, 637 N.Y.S.2d 972). Thus, events are part of the same transaction or series of transactions where their “foundational facts” are related in “time, space, origin, or motivation,” where they “form a convenient trial unit,” and where “treatment [of the foundational facts] as a unit conforms to the parties’ expectations” (id. at 390–391, 637 N.Y.S.2d 972 [internal quotation marks omitted] ).

The doctrine of collateral estoppel, or issue preclusion, is “a component of the broader doctrine of res judicata which holds that, as to the parties in a litigation and those in privity with them, a judgment on the merits by a court of competent jurisdiction is conclusive of the issues of fact and questions of law necessarily decided therein in any subsequent action” ( *133 Gramatan Home Invs. Corp. v. Lopez, 46 N.Y.2d 481, 485, 414 N.Y.S.2d 308, 386 N.E.2d 1328). Collateral estoppel will bar relitigation of an issue where “the issue in the second action is identical to an issue which was raised, necessarily decided and material in the first action, and the plaintiff had a full and fair opportunity to litigate the issue in the earlier action” (Parker v. Blauvelt Volunteer Fire Co., 93 N.Y.2d at 349, 690 N.Y.S.2d 478, 712 N.E.2d 647; see Jeffreys v. Griffin, 1 N.Y.3d 34, 39, 769 N.Y.S.2d 184, 801 N.E.2d 404; Pinnacle Consultants v. Leucadia Natl. Corp., 94 N.Y.2d 426, 432, 706 N.Y.S.2d 46, 727 N.E.2d 543).

Here, the complaints in the four prior actions commenced by the plaintiff against the Gabay defendants were all dismissed insofar as asserted against them on the merits pursuant to the order dated May 7, 2012. The claims asserted in the instant action arise from the same transaction or series of transactions that gave rise to the four prior actions, i.e., the legal assistance provided by Gabay to the plaintiff from November 2007 to December 2007. The majority of the facts alleged in the five complaints are nearly identical, with the only differences being additional causes of action asserted in this action and different entities named as defendants of which Gabay is a principal, differences which nonetheless relate “in time, space, origin [and] motivation” to the claims adjudicated in the four prior actions (Xiao Yang Chen v. Fischer, 6 N.Y.3d 94, 100, 810 N.Y.S.2d 96, 843 N.E.2d 723 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Smith v. Russell Sage Coll., 54 N.Y.2d 185, 192–193, 445 N.Y.S.2d 68, 429 N.E.2d 746). Inasmuch as all issues related to the plaintiff’s claims sounding in simple legal malpractice were fully and finally decided in the four prior actions, they are barred by principles of res judicata and collateral estoppel (see Kret v. Brookdale Hosp. Med. Ctr., 61 N.Y.2d 861, 863, 473 N.Y.S.2d 970, 462 N.E.2d 147; see also Altamore v. Friedman, 193 A.D.2d 240, 244–245, 602 N.Y.S.2d 894). The plaintiff’s additional causes of action alleging, among other things, deprivation of constitutional rights and conspiracy “could have been raised in the prior litigation” and, consequently, are precluded by the doctrine of res judicata (Matter of Hunter, 4 N.Y.3d 260, 269, 794 N.Y.S.2d 286, 827 N.E.2d 269; see Rowley, Forrest, O’Donnell & Beaumont, P.C. v. Beechnut Nutrition Corp., 55 A.D.3d 982, 984, 865 N.Y.S.2d 390).

R. A. Klass
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Doctrine of judicial estoppel in the context of legal malpractice actions

In Borges v Placeres, 64 Misc 3d 92, 96 [App Term 2019], the court dealt with the doctrine of judicial estoppel in the context of legal malpractice actions.

We hold that the doctrine of judicial estoppel bars plaintiff from arguing such fundamentally inconsistent positions merely because his interests have now changed (see Molina v Faust Goetz Schenker & Blee, LLP, 230 F Supp 3d 279 [SD NY 2017] [under New York law, when a legal malpractice claim is assigned to a former litigation adversary, judicial estoppel precludes the assignee from taking a position in the legal malpractice case that contradicts the assignee’s position in the underlying case]). Courts in other jurisdictions have reached similar conclusions (see Alcman Servs. Corp. v Samuel H. Bullock, P.C., 925 F Supp 252 [D NJ 1996], affd 124 F3d 185 [3d Cir 1997]; Sandman v McGrath, 78 Mass App Ct 800, 943 NE2d 945 [2011]; see also Kracht v Perrin, Gartland & Doyle, 219 Cal App 3d 1019, 1024-1025, 268 Cal Rptr 637, 641 [1990] [“(A) malpractice suit filed by the former adversary is ‘fraught with illogic’ and unseemly arguments: In the former lawsuit (the plaintiff) judicially averred and proved she was entitled to recover against (the defendant); but in the (subsequent) malpractice lawsuit (the plaintiff) must judicially aver that, but for (the) attorney’s negligence, she was not entitled to have recovered against (the defendant). Reduced to its essence, (the plaintiff’s) argument in the malpractice action is ‘To the extent I was not entitled to recover, I am now entitled to recover’ ” (citation omitted)]).

Nor was Civil Court required to defer resolution of the judicial estoppel defense until the ensuing malpractice action. The doctrine of judicial estoppel is intended to prevent abuses of the judicial system (see D & L Holdings v Goldman Co., 287 AD2d 65, 71 [2001], lv denied 97 NY2d 611 [2002]), and is based on general considerations of the orderly administration of justice and regard for the dignity of judicial proceedings (see Environmental Concern v Larchwood Constr. Corp., 101 AD2d 591, 593 [1984]). Manifestly, to prevent an abuse of the judicial system, the doctrine may be invoked at this juncture to preclude plaintiff “from framing pleadings or adopting theories at war with a position taken in prior legal proceedings” (Kimco of N.Y. v Devon, 163 AD2d 573, 575 [1990], quoting Knight v Knight, 31 AD2d 267, 271 [1969], affd 25 NY2d 957 [1969]).

R. A. Klass
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Where former client sues for legal malpractice but previously filed for bankruptcy

Where the former client sues for legal malpractice but has previously filed for bankruptcy, there must be an evaluation as to whether the legal malpractice claim is part of the bankruptcy estate or if the former client may pursue the action, as held in Gobindram v Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, P.C., 2019 NY Slip Op 06190 [2d Dept Aug. 21, 2019]:

We find unpersuasive the defendants’ additional alternative contention that the legal malpractice cause of action was properly dismissed pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(3) because that cause of action belongs to the bankruptcy estate and the plaintiff lacked standing to assert it. “ On a defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint based upon the plaintiff’s alleged lack of standing, the burden is on the moving defendant to establish, prima facie, the plaintiff’s lack of standing ” (BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP v. Rychik, 161 A.D.3d 924, 925, 77 N.Y.S.3d 522; see CPLR 3211[a][3]; MLB Sub I, LLC v. Bains, 148 A.D.3d 881, 881–882). “ [T]he motion will be defeated if the plaintiff’s submissions raise a question of fact as to its standing ” (U.S. Bank N.A. v. Clement, 163 A.D.3d 742, 743, 81 N.Y.S.3d 116 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see MLB Sub I, LLC v. Bains, 148 A.D.3d at 882, 50 N.Y.S.3d 410).

Here, in response to the defendants’ prima facie showing that the plaintiff’s legal malpractice cause of action was the property of the bankruptcy estate (see Wright v. Meyers & Spencer, LLP, 46 A.D.3d 805, 849 N.Y.S.2d 274; Williams v. Stein, 6 A.D.3d 197, 198, 775 N.Y.S.2d 255; In re Strada Design Assoc., Inc., 326 B.R. 229, 237–240 [S.D. N.Y.]), the plaintiff raised a question of fact as to whether the bankruptcy trustee had abandoned the cause of action in accordance with Bankruptcy Code (11 USC) § 554(a) and had authorized the plaintiff to pursue it. Accordingly, dismissal of the legal malpractice cause of action for lack of standing is not available at this juncture.

R. A. Klass
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If attorney has violated a disciplinary rule…

If an attorney has been determined to have violated a disciplinary rule, the client may seek to have the attorney’s fees forfeited. In Baugher v Cullen and Dykman, LLP, 173 AD3d 959 [2d Dept 2019], court held:

“ An attorney who violates a disciplinary rule may be discharged for cause and is not entitled to fees for any services rendered ” (Jay Deitz & Assoc. of Nassau County, Ltd. v. Breslow & Walker, LLP, 153 A.D.3d 503, 506, 59 N.Y.S.3d 443; see Matter of Montgomery, 272 N.Y. 323, 326, 6 N.E.2d 40; Saint Annes Dev. Co. v. Batista, 165 A.D.3d 997, 998, 85 N.Y.S.3d 145; Doviak v. Finkelstein & Partners, LLP, 90 A.D.3d 696, 699, 934 N.Y.S.2d 467; Quinn v. Walsh, 18 A.D.3d 638, 795 N.Y.S.2d 647; Brill v. Friends World Coll., 133 A.D.2d 729, 520 N.Y.S.2d 160). A cause of action for forfeiture of legal fees based on an attorney’s discharge for cause due to ethical violations may be maintained independent of a cause of action alleging legal malpractice or breach of fiduciary duty, and does not require proof or allegations of damages (see Jay Deitz & Assoc. of Nassau County, Ltd. v. Breslow & Walker, LLP, 153 A.D.3d at 506, 59 N.Y.S.3d 443; Ulico Cas. Co. v. Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, 56 A.D.3d 1, 865 N.Y.S.2d 14).

R. A. Klass
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…the client must prove that he sustained damages….

Once the defendant-law firm has moved for summary judgment to dismiss the complaint, the client must prove that he sustained damages. See, Nill v Schneider, 173 AD3d 753 [2d Dept 2019]:

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 sustain actual and ascertainable 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 597, 598, 79 N.Y.S.3d 636). “ An attorney’s conduct or inaction is the proximate cause of a plaintiff’s damages if but for the attorney’s negligence, the plaintiff would have succeeded on the merits of the underlying action, or would not have sustained actual and ascertainable damages ” (Nomura Asset Capital Corp. v. Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, 26 N.Y.3d 40, 50, 19 N.Y.S.3d 488, 41 N.E.3d 353 [citation and internal quotation marks omitted]; see Richmond Holdings, LLC v. David S. Frankel, P.C., 150 A.D.3d 1168, 1168, 52 N.Y.S.3d 672).

“ It is a defendant’s burden, when it is the party moving for summary judgment, to demonstrate affirmatively the merits of a defense, which cannot be sustained by pointing out gaps in the plaintiff’s proof ” (Quantum Corporate Funding, Ltd. v. Ellis, 126 A.D.3d 866, 871, 6 N.Y.S.3d 255). Once a defendant makes a prima facie showing, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to raise a triable issue of fact (see Iannucci v. Kucker & Bruh, LLP, 161 A.D.3d 959, 960, 77 N.Y.S.3d 118; Valley Ventures, LLC v. Joseph J. Haspel, PLLC, 102 A.D.3d 955, 956, 958 N.Y.S.2d 604).

Here, the defendant met her prima facie burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff did not sustain actual and ascertainable damages proximately caused by the defendant’s alleged negligent representation (see Harris v. Barbera, 163 A.D.3d 534, 536, 79 N.Y.S.3d 643; Panos v. Eisen, 160 A.D.3d 759, 760, 75 N.Y.S.3d 69; Kaloakas Mgt. Corp. v. Lawrence & Walsh, P.C., 157 A.D.3d at 779, 66 N.Y.S.3d 897). The evidentiary submissions established that the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s damages was the occurrence of a tree falling on the subject property during Hurricane Sandy, and not any claimed failure on the part of the defendant to discover, prior to the closing, any alleged discrepancy between the certificate of existing use and the 2007 survey of the subject property (see Excelsior Capitol LLC v. K & L Gates LLP, 138 A.D.3d 492, 492, 29 N.Y.S.3d 320; cf. Esposito v. Noto, 132 A.D.3d 944, 946, 19 N.Y.S.3d 300). In opposition, the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact. Accordingly, we agree with the Supreme Court’s determination granting the defendant’s cross motion for summary judgment dismissing the amended complaint insofar as asserted against her. For these same reasons, we agree with the court’s determination denying the plaintiff’s motion, inter alia, for summary judgment on the issue of liability.

R. A. Klass
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