The Collateral Estoppel Trap in Legal Malpractice

A legal malpractice case is brought, and swiftly dismissed.  In Cie Sharp v Krishman Chittur  2014 NY Slip Op 31303(U)  May 13, 2014  Supreme Court, New York County  Docket Number: 155098/13  Judge: Joan A. Madden the reason is that the attorney was awarded a fee for the same work.  The two cannot co-exist.

"In this action for legal malpractice, plaintiffs prose seek $6,000,000 in compensatory, punitive, consequential and treble damages. In lieu of answering, defendants prose move to dismiss the complaint on various grounds. Plaintiff Cie Sharp opposes the motion and crossmoves for a default judgment or summary judgment against defendants. Defendants motion to dismiss is granted, as plaintiffs' legal n:malpractice claims are barred by the order rendered in the underlying action permitting defendants .to withdraw and recognizing their claim to a charging lien on account of their services in that action. See Molinaro v. Bedke, 281 AD2d 242 ( 1st Dept 2001 ).

It has long been the law in New York that a judicial determination fixing the value of a professionals services necessarily decides there was no malpractice. See Blair v. Bartlett, 75 NY 150 (1878). Thus, a plaintiffs claim for legal malpractice is barred by the attorney's successful prosecution of a lien proceeding to recover fees for the same legal services that plaintiff alleges were negligently performed. See Lusk v. Weinstein, 85 AD3d 445 (1st Dept), Iv app den 17 NY3d 709 (2011); Kinberg V. Garr, 28 AD3d 245 (I st Dept 2006); Coburn V. Robson & Miller, LLP, 13 AD3d 323 (I st Dept 2004); Smira v. Roper, Barandes & Fertel, LLP, 302 AD2d 305 (1st Dept 2003); Molinaro v. Bedke, 281AD2d242 (1st Dept 2001); Chalpin v. Caro, 265 AD2d 155 (1st Dept 1999); Koppelman v. Liddle, O'Connor, Finkelstein & Robinson, 246 AD2d 365, 366 (1st  Dept 1998); Summit Solomon & Feldesman v. Matalon, 216 AD2d 91 (1st Dept), Iv app den, 86 NY2d 711 (1995); John Grace & Co., Inc. v. Tunstead, Schechter & Torre, 186 AD2d 15, 19 (1st Dept 1992). Even if plaintiff did not raise any issue of malpractice in the proceeding to determine the attorney's lien, the cases cited above uniformly hold that a court's determination fixing the value of an attorney's professional services, necessarily decides there was no malpractice, even though the issue was not specifically raised. See Blair v. Bartlett, supra; Coburn v. Robson & Miller, LLP, supra; Chalpin v. Caro, supra; Koppelman v. Liddle, O'Connor, Finkelstein & Robinson, supra; Summit Solomon & Feldesman & Matalon, supra; John Grace & Co, Inc. v. Tunstead, Schechter & Torre, supra.."