High-level employee is the subject of a state investigation along with the Hospital employer. The investigation and litigation continue and eventually the hospital and the County succeed. The employee, not so much. Employee says that had the attorneys filed a certain appeal, he would have been exonerated. May he sue the attorneys assigned to him, who also represented the County?
Spring v County of Monroe 2017 NY Slip Op 04645 Decided on June 9, 2017 Appellate Division, Fourth Department says, “no.”
“Memorandum: In this action arising from plaintiff’s employment at defendant Monroe Community Hospital (MCH), plaintiff asserted three causes of action against various defendants. The first cause of action, for legal malpractice, was asserted against defendants Daniel M. DeLaus, Jr., Esq., William K. Taylor, Esq., Brett Granville, Esq., and Merideth H. Smith, Esq. (collectively, County attorneys). The second cause of action, for negligence, was asserted against MCH, the County attorneys, and defendants County of Monroe (County), and Maggie Brooks, as Monroe County Executive. The third cause of action, for defamation, was asserted against Brooks and defendant Karen Fabi. The County, MCH, Brooks, and the County attorneys (collectively, County defendants) and Fabi made separate motions to dismiss the complaint against them. The County defendants and Fabi now appeal from an order that denied the motions, and we modify the order by granting the County defendants’ motion in part and dismissing the first and second causes of action.
On these motions to dismiss, we accept the facts alleged in the complaint as true and accord plaintiff the benefit of every favorable inference (see Daley v County of Erie, 59 AD3d 1087, 1087-1088). According to plaintiff, he became employed by the County in 2001 and became the Executive Health Director/Chief Administrative Officer of MCH in 2004. In February or March 2013, “questions were raised” regarding the treatment of a patient of MCH and, in March 2013, an investigation was commenced by the New York State Department of [*2]Health (DOH) and the New York State Attorney General. The County provided plaintiff with legal representation by the County attorneys. Although plaintiff was assured that there was no conflict of interest, the County attorneys were also representing the County and other MCH staff members, whose interests were adverse to plaintiff. On March 29, 2013, the DOH issued a statement of deficiency that included accusations against plaintiff with respect to the treatment of a patient at MCH. In or around April 2013, the County hired an independent consultant to assist with a response to the statement of deficiencies and to contest DOH’s allegations by preparing and filing an “Informal Dispute Resolution” (IDR/appeal). The consultant invited plaintiff to provide her with any information, and she told plaintiff that she agreed with him that an IDR/appeal should be filed. The written IDR/appeal report was finalized on April 25, 2013 but, at the last minute, the County attorneys decided not to submit it. In plaintiff’s view, the filing of the IDR/appeal was in his best legal interests and would have protected his reputation, his license as a nursing home administrator, and his position as executive director of MCH. On May 8, 2013, plaintiff requested that he be represented by private counsel. The County defendants did not respond to that request and, on May 10, 2013, plaintiff was terminated.
We agree with the County attorneys that Supreme Court erred in denying that part of the motion of the County defendants seeking to dismiss the legal malpractice cause of action, and we therefore modify the order accordingly. It is well established that, “[t]o recover damages for legal malpractice, a plaintiff must prove, inter alia, the existence of an attorney-client relationship” (Moran v Hurst, 32 AD3d 909, 910; see Berry v Utica Natl. Ins. Group, 66 AD3d 1376, 1376; Rechberger v Scolaro, Shulman, Cohen, Fetter & Burstein, P.C., 45 AD3d 1453, 1453). In a prior appeal arising from the same incident as here, we determined that plaintiff did not have an attorney-client relationship with the County attorneys inasmuch as “[c]ounsel for the County represented [plaintiff] only in [plaintiff’s] capacity as a County employee” (Matter of Spring v County of Monroe, 141 AD3d 1151, 1152). Consequently, plaintiff is collaterally estopped from claiming here that the County attorneys represented him individually (see generally Buechel v Bain, 97 NY2d 295, 303-304, cert denied 535 US 1096). Thus, the legal malpractice cause of action must be dismissed because there was no attorney-client relationship between plaintiff and the County attorneys (see Berry, 66 AD3d at 1376; Moran, 32 AD3d at 911-912).”