Long Intertwined Relationship leads to Death and Non-suit

Attorney represents real estate corporation, and represents it, makes loans to it, and in intimately involved for a number of years.  Attorney dies.  Litigation ensues.

Cohen v Gateway Bldrs. Realty, Inc.   2014 NY Slip Op 50832(U)  Decided on May 27, 2014
Supreme Court, Kings County  Demarest, J. is at base, a very sad story. 

"It is undisputed that prior to his death in September 2009, Malcolm Cohen ("Cohen") acted as attorney for Gateway Builders Realty, Inc. ("Gateway"). According to defendants, Gateway retained Cohen on August 16, 2005 to provide legal services in connection with the purchase and financing of property located at 142 22nd Street, Brooklyn, New York (the "Property"). Over the next four years, Cohen represented Gateway in further refinancing transactions involving the Property, whereby Gateway would obtain a loan from a new lender and pay off its existing loan. It appears that Gateway obtained financing from at least four commercial lenders. During the course of his representation, Cohen also made a number of loans to Gateway.

On or about September 1, 2009, the loans from Cohen to Gateway were amended, restated, and consolidated into one debt totaling $325,000, pursuant to a new note and agreement (the "Consolidation Note" and the "Consolidation Agreement", respectively). In support of her motion, plaintiff submits the Consolidation Note, which reflects the consolidation of two prior notes given by Gateway to Cohen, dated November 8, 2006, and October 1, 2008, each for $100,000, with an additional loan of $125,000 from Cohen to Gateway. The Consolidated Note is secured by a mortgage on the Property and is guaranteed by defendant Yildirim, who is Gateway's principal.

The Lawyer's Code of Professional Responsibility, DR5-104(A),[FN2] in effect at the time, prohibited an attorney from entering into a business transaction with a client without making certain disclosures and obtaining written consent from that client, as Cohen is accused of doing. While a violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility does not alone give rise to a private cause of action (see DeStaso v Condon Resnick, LLP, 90 AD3d 809, 814 [2d Dept 2011]), defendants allege that Cohen's self-dealing gives rise to a breach of fiduciary duty claim. "In order to establish a breach of fiduciary duty, a plaintiff must prove the existence of a fiduciary relationship, misconduct by the defendant, and damages that were directly caused by the defendant's misconduct" (Daly v Kochanowicz, 67 AD3d 78 [2d Dept 2009];(quoting Kurtzman v [*3]Berstol, 40 AD3d 588, 590 [2d Dept 2007]). It is well established that an attorney owes his client a fiduciary duty (see Ulico Cas. Co. v Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, 56 AD3d 1, 9 [1st Dept 2008]). Defendants complain that Cohen's inclusion of the prepayment penalties and high interest rates, and his inappropriately charging legal fees for services "below the standard of care" from 2005 through 2009, constituted self-interest in lending money to Gateway. Plaintiff argues that defendants' third counterclaim for breach of fiduciary duty should be dismissed as duplicative of the two legal malpractice counterclaims, which are also redundant of each other. As defendants' third counterclaim contains the same allegations of fact and seeks the same relief as its first two counterclaims, it is dismissed as redundant (see Nevelson v Carro, 290 AD2d 399, 400 [1st Dept 2002]; see also Murray Hill Investments v Parker Chapin Flattau & Klimpl, LLP, 305 AD2d 228, 229 [1st Dept 2003]).

Plaintiff argues that the first two counterclaims are indeed time barred because they rest upon allegations about transactions that are separate and distinct from the debt involved in the instant action. Defendants' counterclaims allege malpractice relating to a loan made by Silver Hill Financial ("Silver Hill") to Gateway on February 27, 2008, where defendants' claim that Cohen caused Gateway to enter into a loan agreement with a large prepayment penalty contrary to defendants' express wishes. Plaintiff asserts that Cohen's representation of Gateway regarding the loan from Silver Hill is a separate transaction, unrelated to the Consolidation Agreement, which was entered into on September 1, 2009, eighteen months after the Silver Hill transaction. Defendants' position is that their counterclaims involve Cohen's continuous legal representation of Gateway and Yildirim.

The court agrees with plaintiff that the Silver Hill transaction is a separate transaction and occurrence from the debt upon which plaintiff is suing. Therefore, defendants' counterclaims alleging malpractice in Cohen's representation of Gateway in the February 27, 2008 loan from Silver Hill to Gateway are time-barred. Moreover, it is noted that, based upon the documentary evidence of the loan documents, defendants' claims appear to be without merit in that all of the mortgages signed by Gateway prior to the Silver Hill transaction did include prepayment penalties. The remaining allegations contained in defendants' first counterclaim also ambiguously refer to separate transactions which apparently all occurred prior to the 2008 Silver Hill loan and are, in any event, entirely speculative. The first counterclaim is therefore dismissed."