Is It Legal Malpractice Not To Answer A Legal Malpractice Complaint?

Defendant attorney is served with a "bare" summons and complaint.  He sends it on to his carrier.He defines a "bare" summons and complaint as one which does not have an index number, filing date or basis of venue.  Carrier appoints a defense attorney who tries to call the plaintiff's attorney, all to no avail.  Motion for a default judgment is filed, with cross-motion to dismiss.  What happens?

In Golia v Char & Herzberg LLP 2014 NY Slip Op 30985(U) April 14, 2014 Supreme Court, New York County Docket Number: 150349/13  Judge Anil C. Singh refuses to grant either motion.  Here are the salient facts:  "Plaintiff Stacey Golia commenced the instant action by filing a summons
and verified complaint on January 11, 2013. The complaint alleges that the defendants committed legal malpractice by: a) failing to properly notice an appeal  on a judgment that was entered against plaintiff following a trial in Queens County  Supreme Court; and b) mishandling proceedings before referees.

After careful consideration, we find that the defendants' delay in this matter was not willful. In addition, plaintiff has failed to show any prejudice whatsoever resulting from the brief delay. Under such circumstances, it would clearly be unjust to enter a default judgment.  We turn next to the cross-motion to dismiss the complaint pursuant to CPLR  321 l(a)(l), (7) and (8). Defendants contend that the legal malpractice action should be dismissed because it: a) fails to set forth specific facts demonstrating that the court in the Queens County action decided any issue that would cause reversal in the Appellate Division; and b) the complaint fails to allege that, but for the alleged negligence of the defendants, plaintiff would have prevailed on the appeal.

Plaintiff was represented by defendants in a case brought against her by her grandmother Sylvia Ann Rosenblatt in Queens County. Following a non-jury trial  before a referee, the referee issued a twenty-two page Decision, finding for the  grandmother and denying plaintiffs counterclaims for libel and abuse of process.  At the conclusion of the Decision, the referee directed the plaintiff in that case (Sylvia Ann Rosenblatt) to "Settle Judgment on Notice," and to "Settle Judgment."  Pursuant to the referee's direction, a judgment was settled on notice between the parties and their counsel. The judgment was signed by the Court on June 29, 2011, and entered on July 22, 2011.
The complaint alleges that the defendants advised plaintiff to appeal the referee's Decision, which she agreed to do. However, defendants failed to advise the plaintiff that an appeal should have been filed from the judgment, and that it is settled law that no appeal may be taken from a Decision. The complaint alleges further that defendants improperly filed a Notice of Appeal with the Appellate Division from the referee's Decision, but not the judgment. According to the complaint, there were numerous meritorious issues raised by defendants on appeal from the referee's Decision, and if these issues had been properly raised on an appeal of the judgment, it is probable that such an appeal would have been successful. Subsequently, the Second Department, on its own motion, issued a decision and order, directing that the appeal be dismissed "on the ground that no appeal lies from a decision."
Finally, the complaint alleges that defendants' failure to pursue an appeal of the judgment, as well as their negligent handling of proceedings before two referees, constituted legal malpractice; that such malpractice caused financial damages; and that "but for" such malpractice, "it likely, and indeed probable, that plaintiff would have succeeded on her appeal of the judgment."

"Viewing the allegations in the light most favorable to plaintiff, as we must at this early stage of the litigation, the Court finds that the complaint sufficiently states a cause of action for legal  malpractice."

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