Mistakes May Be Shown But That's Just The First Step

Albany:  The Third Department decided the matter of Hyman v Schwartz 2014 NY Slip Op 01362 [114 AD3d 1110] February 27, 2014 Appellate Division, Third Department and found that although a plethora of mistakes could be pled in the complaint, no prima facie case of legal malpractice could be stated.  Why?  The complaint simply could not allege that but for the failures, plaintiff would have been ultimately successful.  This portion of the case is the bete noir for plaintiffs in legal malpractice.  Plaintiff's trouble at Cornell were independent of the attorney's work, and the court found them unaffected by it.

"In August 2007, plaintiff—then a Cornell University graduate student—was charged with violating the University's Campus Code of Conduct by allegedly harassing a professor. Following disciplinary proceedings, the University's Hearing Board sustained the harassment charge and issued a penalty, which was, apart from a slight modification, affirmed by the University's Review Board. Plaintiff then retained defendant Arthur Schwartz to represent her in a CPLR article 78 proceeding challenging the University's determination. In addition, Schwartz represented plaintiff in a Title IX claim (see 20 USC § 1681 et seq.). After both of those matters were unsuccessful (Matter of Hyman v Cornell Univ., 82 AD3d 1309 [2011]; Hyman v Cornell Univ., 834 F Supp 2d 77 [2011]), plaintiff commenced the instant action against Schwartz, defendant Schwartz, Lichten & Bright, PC (hereinafter the law firm)—Schwartz's former and now dissolved law firm—and defendants Stuart Lichten and Daniel Bright—his former partners—seeking damages for negligent and intentional infliction of emotional distress and legal malpractice. In the same complaint, plaintiff also challenged an arbitration award made in Schwartz's favor in connection with a fee dispute between Schwartz and plaintiff. "

"However, defendants correctly argue that Supreme Court should have granted their motion to dismiss the legal malpractice claim. It is well established that, "[i]n order to sustain a claim for legal malpractice, a plaintiff must establish both that the defendant attorney failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession which results in actual damages to a plaintiff, and that the plaintiff would have succeeded on the merits of the underlying action but for the attorney's negligence" (Leder v Spiegel, 9 NY3d 836, 837 [2007], cert denied sub nom. Spiegel v Rowland, 552 US 1257 [2008] [internal quotation marks and citation omitted]; accord Alaimo v McGeorge, 69 AD3d 1032, [*3]1034 [2010]; see Kreamer v Town of Oxford, 96 AD3d 1128, 1128-1129 [2012]; see also MacDonald v Guttman, 72 AD3d 1452, 1454-1455 [2010]; Bixby v Somerville, 62 AD3d 1137, 1139 [2009]). Here, although the complaint is replete with allegations of Schwartz's alleged failures to use reasonable and ordinary skill in connection with both of plaintiff's underlying claims, it contains no allegation that, but for these alleged failures, plaintiff would have been successful on either claim.[FN2] Therefore, even if we accept the allegations as true and liberally construe the complaint to allege negligent representation by Schwartz (see Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 87-88 [1994]; Moulton v State of New York, 114 AD3d 115, 119 [2013]; Scheffield v Vestal Parkway Plaza, LLC, 102 AD3d 992, 993 [2013]), the allegations are insufficient to make out a prima facie case of legal malpractice (see Kreamer v Town of Oxford, 96 AD3d at 1128; MacDonald v Guttman, 72 AD3d at 1455)."

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