A Legal Malpractice Case is Dismissed for Lack of Essentials
Here is a familiar scenario. Plaintiff litigates case for a period of time. Something goes wrong, or it appears that some element is missing from the mix, and the case is settled. Better settled than lost, but when that happens, the question becomes, why was it settled. Was it a good move, or was it required because of some mistake of counsel. An example might be that when the case is ready for trial, and the note of issue has already been filed, it is discovered that a witness will be excluded because no pre-note notice was given. Settlement of the case is essential, because plaintiff knows it cannot win without the witness. It can be said that settlement was effectively compelled by mistakes of counsel.
In Benishai v Epstein 2014 NY Slip Op 02404 Decided on April 9, 2014 Appellate Division, Second Department we see an analogous situation.
"To recover damages in a legal malpractice action, a plaintiff must establish "that the attorney failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a [*2]member of the legal profession' and that the attorney's breach of this duty proximately caused plaintiff to sustain actual and ascertainable damages" (Rudolf v Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 NY3d 438, 442, quoting McCoy v Feinman, 99 NY2d 295, 301, 302; see Held v Seidenberg, 87 AD3d 616, 617; Kennedy v H. Bruce Fischer, Esq., P.C., 78 AD3d 1016, 1018). "To establish causation, a plaintiff must show that he or she would have prevailed in the underlying action or would not have incurred any damages, but for the lawyer's negligence" (Rudolf v Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 NY3d at 442). " A claim for legal malpractice is viable, despite settlement of the underlying action, if it is alleged that settlement of the action was effectively compelled by the mistakes of counsel'" (Tortura v Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo, P.C., 21 AD3d 1082, 1083, quoting Bernstein v Oppenheim & Co., 160 AD2d 428, 430). Nonetheless, a plaintiff's conclusory allegations that merely reflect a subsequent dissatisfaction with the settlement, or that the plaintiff would be in a better position but for the settlement, without more, do not make out a claim of legal malpractice (see Boone v Bender, 74 AD3d 1111, 1113; Holschauer v Fisher, 5 AD3d 553, 554).
""In determining a motion to dismiss a complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7), the court must accept the facts as alleged in the complaint as true, accord plaintiffs the benefit of every possible favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory'" (Sierra Holdings, LLC v Phillips, Weiner, Quinn, Artura & Cox, 112 AD3d 909, 910, quoting Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 87-88). A complaint in a legal malpractice action will be dismissed pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) where "it fails to plead specific factual allegations demonstrating that, but for the . . . defendant's alleged negligence, there would have been a more favorable outcome in the underlying proceeding or that the plaintiff would not have incurred any damages" (Keness v Feldman, Kramer & Monaco, P.C., 105 AD3d 812, 813). Here, viewing the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff (see Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d at 87-88), it failed to plead specific factual allegations demonstrating that, but for the defendant's alleged negligence, there would have been a more favorable outcome in the underlying action or that the plaintiff would not have incurred any damages (id.; Tortura v Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo, P.C., 21 AD3d at 1083). Moreover, nowhere does the complaint allege that the settlement was compelled by the mistakes of counsel".