Floral Park Ophthalmology, P.C. v Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, LLP 2023 NY Slip Op 2863
Decided on May 31, 2023 Appellate Division, Second Department shows how the courts take a deep dive into attorney defenses to legal malpractice claims. With a vigor not found in other areas of negligence, attorney defenses to legal malpractice are scrutinized and applied against plaintiffs.
“In February 2019, the plaintiffs commenced this action against the defendants, former counsel to the plaintiffs, inter alia, to recover damages for legal malpractice. The plaintiffs alleged, among other things, that the defendants committed legal malpractice in their representation of the plaintiffs in a breach of contract action commenced by the plaintiffs against a nonparty medical billing services provider (hereinafter the underlying action) and, with respect to the plaintiff Lawrence F. Jindra, in a “disability insurance claim matter.” According to the plaintiffs, the defendants pressured the plaintiffs to “drop” the underlying action. The plaintiffs also alleged, inter alia, that the defendants, through legal nonfeasance, caused Jindra’s disability insurance policy to lapse. Thereafter, the defendants moved to dismiss the complaint based on documentary evidence, the expiration of the statute of limitations, and the failure to state a cause of action. As is relevant to the appeal, by order entered December 11, 2019, the Supreme Court granted that branch of the defendants’ motion which was to dismiss the cause of action alleging legal malpractice. The plaintiffs appeal.”
Here, the plaintiffs failed to plead that, but for the defendants’ negligence, they would have prevailed in the underlying action (see Katsoris v Bodnar & Milone, LLP, 186 AD3d at 1506; Keness v Feldman, Kramer & Monaco, P.C., 105 AD3d at 813). To the contrary, as noted by the Supreme Court, it is uncontroverted that the plaintiffs settled the underlying action in order to avoid potential criminal liability for fraud. To the extent that the complaint alleged that the plaintiffs would have fared better at trial or in the settlement, the allegations in the complaint were conclusory and lacked factual support (see Katsoris v Bodnar & Milone, LLP, 186 AD3d at 1506). The plaintiffs’ “hindsight criticism of counsels’ reasonable course of action . . . does not rise to the level of legal malpractice” (Schiller v Bender, Burrows & Rosenthal, LLP, 116 AD3d at 758 [citation and internal quotation marks omitted]).
With respect to so much of the cause of action alleging legal malpractice as it relates to Jinder’s disability insurance claim matter, the plaintiffs also failed to set out the elements of a legal malpractice cause of action, including omitting certain basic factual information such as any allegations that the defendants failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by any member of the legal profession and damages (see Keness v Feldman, Kramer & Monaco, P.C., 105 AD3d at 812). Moreover, the defendants established that, to the extent that the cause of action alleging legal malpractice was predicated upon Jindra’s disability insurance claim matter, it was barred by the applicable statute of limitations (see Webster v Sherman, 165 AD3d 738, 741; Alizio v Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, P.C., 126 AD3d 733, 735).”