An Attorney Leaves the room, then...

In Bernard v Proskauer Rose, LLP; 2011 NY Slip Op 06184 ;  Appellate Division, First Department we see a situation in which plaintiff sues his attorneys, who defend by arguing that the plaintiff brought it all upon himself.
 

"In this action for legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract, plaintiff alleges that defendants Proskauer Rose, LLP (Proskauer) and Michael Album (Album), a partner at Proskauer, failed to adequately advise him regarding his departure from Oaktree Capital Management, L.P. (OCM), a real estate investment hedge fund. Plaintiff alleges that as a result of defendants' negligence he was sued in arbitration by OCM and sustained damages in the amount of $51.5 million, including forfeited incentive fees, compensatory damages paid to OCM, and legal fees. "

"In October 2005, plaintiff made an offer in OCM's name to purchase 60 Main Street, a real estate investment opportunity he first learned of in November 2004. The offer was made without OCM's knowledge or permission, and plaintiff furnished OCM's financial information in support. In November 2005, plaintiff entered into a purchase agreement for the 60 Main Street property in the name of one of his own entities, Westport Property Management, LLC.

On or about November 1, 2005, plaintiff decided to leave OCM. Album, a partner in Proskauer's Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation Group retained by plaintiff in October 2004, began discussions with OCM's general counsel for plaintiff's departure. On November 18, while discussions were ongoing, plaintiff resigned in writing as an employee and principal "effective immediately" and gave 120 days notice of his resignation as a member of OCM. On December 1, 2005, plaintiff issued a press release announcing the formation of Westport.

On December 12, 2005, the Executive Committee of OCM voted to expel plaintiff as a [*2]member due to his "abrupt departure and his announcement of the formation of a competing entity," and refused to pay him any incentive fees. Plaintiff initiated arbitration against OCM for recovery of fees he was purportedly owed and other damages. During arbitration, OCM learned of plaintiff's misconduct with regard to ROF IV and 60 Main Street and on November 7, 2006, expelled plaintiff as a member on these independent grounds. OCM counterclaimed for damages on the grounds that plaintiff breached his contractual and fiduciary duties, and misappropriated confidential financial information. "

"Here, the arbitrator found that plaintiff's dilatory conduct with regard to ROF IV, self-dealing with regard to the 60 Main Street opportunity, and misappropriation of OCM's financial information constituted breaches of his fiduciary and contractual duties. The arbitrator specifically found that "[b]eginning in early 2005" plaintiff was "stalling the launch of [ROF] IV so that he could deflect possible investment sources to the new entity he was forming." The arbitrator found that during the summer of 2005, plaintiff formed Westport Capital Partners, LLC, and began collecting OCM information to take with him to his new venture. He requested a list of all of his contacts at OCM and copies of quarterly investment letters, and obtained detailed information about OCM investments made by specific investors.

Relying on the arbitrator's factual findings, the motion court determined that plaintiff's course of misconduct began well before any purported advice received by plaintiff from defendants in August 2005. The court observed that there was no indication that "defendants knew of, or advised plaintiff to purchase 60 Main Street" for Westport, or to "collect[] OCM's financial information for his personal use." The motion court concluded that these activities, which the arbitrator found to be breaches of fiduciary duty and/or contractual duty, would have resulted in his justifiable expulsion regardless of his resignation.

The factual findings and issues resolved by the arbitrator establish that it was plaintiff's own misconduct prior to and apart from any advice from defendants that led to his termination for cause. The plaintiff had a full and fair opportunity to litigate these facts and issues at arbitration, and the application of collateral estoppel precludes him from relitigating them in this malpractice action (see e.g. GUS Consulting Gmb, 74 AD3d 678-679; Fajemirokun v Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein Ltd., 27 AD3d 320 [2006], lv denied 7 NY3d 705 [2006]).

Because the arbitral findings establish as a matter of law that defendants were not the cause of plaintiff's losses, the motion court properly dismissed plaintiff's complaint (see Tydings v Greenfield, Stein & Senior, LLP, 43 AD3d 680, 682 [2007], affd 11 NY3d 195 [2008]). Plaintiff's claim that had he not resigned, he may have been able to hide his fraudulent activities, [*4]continue to collect fees, and reach an agreement with OCM is purely speculative and does not raise a triable issue of fact (see AmBase Corp. v Davis Polk & Wardwell, 8 NY3d 428, 434-436 [2007]; GUS Consulting Gmb, 74 AD3d at 679; Phillips-Smith Speciality Retail Group II v Parker Chapin Flattau & Klimpl, 265 AD2d 208, 210 [1999], lv denied 94 NY2d 759 [2000]). "
 

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