More Fraud and Legal Malpractice Combos
Yesterday, we started to discuss how fraud and legal malpractice can exist side by side and not be "duplicitive." In Johnson v Rose 2014 NY Slip Op 30262(U) January 23, 2014 Sup Ct, NY County
Docket Number: 652075/2011 Judge: Lawrence K. Marks we saw how plaintiffs claimed both fraud and legal malpractice in the tax shelters they got involved with.
"Defendants seek to dismiss plaintiffs' first cause of action as duplicative of the legal malpractice claim. It is well-settled that failure to disclose one's own malpractice, standing alone, does not give rise to a fraud claim separate from the customary malpractice action. See, e.g., Weiss v. Manfredi, 83 N.Y.2d 974, 977 (1994); Baystone Equities, Inc. v. Handel-Harbour, 27 A.D.3d 231, 231 (1st Dep 't 2006); Roswick v. Mount Sinai Med. Ctr., 22 A.D.3d 409, 410 (1st Dep't 2005). Thus, a fraud claim asserted in connection with a claim for legal malpractice "is sustainable only to the extent that it is premised upon one or more affirmative, intentional misrepresentations -- that is, something more egregious than mere concealment or failure to disclose [one's] own malpractice." White of Lake George v. Bell, 251 A.D.2d 777, 778 (3d Dep't 1998) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); accord Carl v. Cohen, 55 A.D.3d 478, 478-79 (1st Dep't 2008) (fraud claim may be dismissed as duplicative of a malpractice claim if it is '"not based on an allegation of independent, intentionally
tortious' conduct" and "fail[s] to allege 'separate and distinct' damages")"
"The Second Department recently held that an allegation that defendants "committed fraud by misrepresenting that they 'made a motion for a default judgment' when they 'never made, filed, or drafted' such a motion, and that they billed the plaintiff for drafting the motion" was not duplicative or redundant of the allegation that defendants "committed legal malpractice in failing to timely pursue [the] default judgment." Vermont Mut. Ins. Co. v. McCabe & Mack, LLP, 105 A.D.3d 837, 839 (2d Dep't 2013). The court noted that "[ w ]here, as here, tortious conduct independent of the alleged
malpractice is alleged, a motion to dismiss a cause of action as duplicative is properly denied." Id. at 840. Moreover, the apparent overlap in the amount of damages sought on both counts of action did not require dismissal. Id. at 838, 840.3 See also Simcuski v. Saeli, 44 N.Y.2d 442, 451-52 (1978) (determining that fraud claim was distinct from malpractice claim where defendant, knowing it to be untrue yet expecting his patient to rely on his advice, advised her that physiotherapy would produce a cure, in consequence of which fraudulent misrepresentation the patient was deprived of the opportunity for cure of the condition initially caused by the doctor's alleged malpractice"). Particularly instructive is the First Department's decision in Mitschele v. Schultz,
36 A.D.3d 249, 254 (1st Dep't 2006). In that case, the plaintiff retained the accountant defendants to advise her regarding her tax status and tax liability as a United Statescitizen living and working abroad. The defendants advised plaintiff that her employer, whose president had introduced plaintiff to the defendants (one of whom was his cousin), should compensate plaintiff as an "outside contractor" and therefore withhold no taxes. When it was later revealed that this advice was erroneous and plaintiff incurred tax liabilities as a result, plaintiff sued, alleging a number of causes of action including accounting malpractice and fraud. Plaintiffs fraud cause of action alleged that defendants' advice was made not in an effort to serve her interests but for the sole benefit of her employer, to allow it to avoid payroll and other taxes and costs. On these facts, the
First Department rejected the defendants' contention that plaintiffs fraud claim was duplicative of her malpractice claim. As the court stated, "[D]efendants' alleged fraud is not simply the failure to disclose the malpractice based upon accounting errors. Rather, defendants are alleged to have perpetrated a fraud on plaintiff from the time they were retained to provide accounting services, in failing to disclose their concern with protecting the interests of another entity, namely, plaintiffs employer." Id. at 254. "