A Federal Primer on Legal Malpractice
ENGLAND and MIDWEST GEMS, INC., -against- . FELDMAN and FELDMAN LAW GROUP, Defendants.11 Civ. 1396 (CM) UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK; 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 36382; March 28, 2011, is as good a primer in the general and substantive laws of legal malpractice as one might read. There, Judge McMahon tells us:
"Plaintiffs' First Cause of Action alleges a legal malpractice claim against Defendants. Defendants argue that Plaintiffs have not pleaded facts tending to show that Defendants were negligent or that Defendants caused Plaintiffs harm. Yes, they have."
"Thus, a plaintiff "must . . . establish that the attorney failed to exercise that degree of care, skill, and diligence commonly possessed and exercised by a member of the legal community." Stokes v. Lusker, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 23471, 2009 WL 612336, at *10 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 4, 2009) (quoting Hatfield v. Herz, 109 F. Supp. 2d 174, 180 (S.D.N.Y. 2000)).
"To [*10] establish the elements of proximate cause and actual damages for a claim of legal malpractice, the plaintiff must show that 'but for the attorney's negligence, what would have been a favorable outcome was an unfavorable outcome.'" Stonewell Corp., 678 F. Supp. 2d at 209 (quoting Zarin v. Reid & Priest, 184 A.D.2d 385, 585 N.Y.S.2d 379, 381 (N.Y. App. Div. 1992)). "The failure to establish proximate cause requires dismissal of the legal malpractice action, regardless of whether it is demonstrated that the attorney was negligent." Schwartz v. Olshan Grundman Frome & Rosenzweig, 302 A.D.2d 193, 753 N.Y.S.2d 482, 486 (N.Y. App. Div. 2003).
Plaintiffs allege facts tending to show that Feldman's conduct in the Underlying Lawsuit fell below the standard of care and diligence commonly possessed by other members of the bar. Moreover, Plaintiff's allege that Feldman's negligence was the proximate cause of Plaintiffs' damages—specifically, the loss of certain trademark rights in the "Iceman" mark (Compl. ¶ 47), the inability to assert valid cross-claims and third-party claims against other parties (id. ¶ 40), and the payment of unnecessary legal fees (id. ¶ 47). Plaintiffs' allegations are sufficient to plead a claim for legal malpractice in New York as they allege facts tending to show attorney negligence by Defendants and that Defendants' negligence is the proximate cause of the damage Plaintiffs' suffered.
Under New York law, where a claim for negligence, breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, or failure to disclose a conflict of interest are premised on the same facts and seek the identical relief as a claim for legal malpractice, these claims are "redundant and should be dismissed." Nordwind, 584 F.3d at 432-33 (quotation marks omitted); accord Amadasu v. Ngati, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 19654, 2006 WL 842456, at *9 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 27, 2006) (dismissing plaintiff's claims for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, negligent misrepresentation, negligent performance, and gross negligence as duplicative). Plaintiffs' claims for breach of contract and breach of the implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing arise from the same facts as the legal malpractice claim in and do not allege any distinct damages other than the damages suffered as a result of the legal malpractice. See Financial Services Vehicle Trust v. Saad, 72 A.D.3d 1019, 900 N.Y.S.2d 353, 354 (N.Y. App. Div. 2010); [*14] see also Joyce v. Thompson Wigdor & Gilly LLP, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 43210, 2008 WL 2329227, at *14 (S.D.N.Y. June 3, 2008) (citing Norwind v. Rowland, 2007 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 75764, 2007 WL 2962350, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 10, 2007)) (breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract).
Accordingly, Counts Two and Three are dismissed as duplicative of the legal malpractice claim."