Property Law Across the Seas
A French artist wants to buy an apartment in New York for a studio and living space. So far, this could be the start of a fairy tale in which the artist comes to NY, works hard, triumphs, etc. But, this real estate transaction soon turned to legal malpractice litigation. One reason for the problems is that the artist nominated another to take care of the transaction, a second reason is that the attorney seems to have done not much work.
In Ehrenhalt v Kinder; 2011 NY Slip Op 30375(U); February 15, 2011; Supreme Court, New York County ;Judge: Martin Shulman we see how things went bad:
"At the time she signed the contract, Shapolsky tendered the contract deposit of $85,000 directly to Kinder. Paragraph 3(i) of the contract confirms the foregoing and provides for plaintiff to pay an additional $20,000 on July 20, 2008, which she did, for a total contract deposit of $1 05,000. The unit required extensive renovation and/or repairs as reflected in a work rider attached to the contract. Kinder undertook to perform such work prior to closing. To finance this work, the contract provides for the immediate release of the contract deposit to defendant Max Management LLC (“Max LLC”).’ Thereafter, pursuant to a separate oral agreement of unspecified date, Ehrenhalt paid additional funds to Kinder- and/or Max LLC in the total amount of $28,597.45 for further renovations not indicated in the contract and not included in the purchase price (the “additional work”).‘ It appears Mehl ordered a title report pertaining to the unit on or about July 11 , 2008 and received it on or about July 24, 2008 (see Exh. 8 to Motion). The title report revealed that co-defendant Maxcine Holder (“Holder”) owned the unit, rather than Kinder, and further revealed the existence of two outstanding mortgages; an outstanding judgment of foreclosure; a lien for unpaid common charges; tax liens; and a certificate of occupancy designating the unit as a doctor’s office (hereinafter collectively referred to as the “title defects” or “title issues”). The total amount of liens exceeded the balance of the purchase price due,
Understandably, the foregoing title defects delayed any possible closing."
"Turning to defendant's conduct after he learned of the title defects, as stated in Logalbo v Plishkiii, Rubano & Baum, supra: While the issue of whether certain conduct constitutes legal malpractice
normally requires a factual determination to be made by a jury . . , , a plaintiff will be entitled to summary judgment in a case where there is no conflict at all in the evidence, the defendant's conduct fell below any permissible standard of due care, and the plaintiff's conduct was not really
involved (citations omitted). Here, once he learned of the title defects, Mehl alleges only that he spoke to Kinder's closing attorney about these issues and was assured they would be resolved prior to closing. He also vaguely alleges he spoke to plaintiff numerous times about the title
defects and she repeatedly indicated her willingness to proceed to closing once title was clear. However, Mehl gives no indication when he spoke to plaintiff or what he claims to have told her, nor does he refute plaintiffs claim that the earliest correspondence documenting such discussions is dated December 2008 (Exh. 15 to Motion), months after plaintiff had already paid $1 33,597.45 to Kinder As to this claim, defendant does not meet his burden of refuting plaintiff's entitlement to summary judgment as to liability. This court finds that defendant's failure to advise plaintiff of the title defects immediately upon learning of same was a breach of his professional duty as a matter of law and that this negligence was a proximate cause of at least a portion of plaintiffs' damages, the amount of which will be determined at trial."