Deep v Boies 2014 NY Slip Op 07215 Decided on October 23, 2014 Appellate Division, Third Department is the story of a plaintiff who lost an early start-up web site/application called "Aimster." His claim is that it was taken from him by his attorney, the very powerful David Boies.
When Plaintiff sued Boies and the firm, litigation ensued over missing documents, many missing documents. How is a plaintiff to prove that the law firm was representing him when they no longer have any of the necessary documents?
"As detailed in our prior decision in this matter (53 AD3d 948 ), plaintiff commenced this action in October 2005 alleging that defendant David Boies, defendant Boies, Schiller & Flexner, LLP (hereinafter BSF) and defendant Straus & Boies LLP engaged in certain acts of legal malpractice. Pertinent here, plaintiff alleged that Boies, BSF and Straus & Boies (hereinafter collectively referred to as defendants) misappropriated plaintiff’s file sharing software, known as Aimster, while serving as his counsel with regard to myriad transactions involving the different corporate entities established to develop and market the software. In our prior decision, we affirmed Supreme Court’s rulings that the cause of action for malpractice based on the misappropriation was asserted outside of the applicable three-year statute of limitations (see CPLR 214 ), but questions of fact existed with regard to whether the time to commence the action was tolled by the continuous representation doctrine (53 AD3d at 952). We observed that "after appropriate discovery, the trial court [could] elect to order an immediate trial on this issue as it could expeditiously dispose of the entire action" (id. at 952). With the [*2]parties’ consent, Supreme Court oversaw what became protracted discovery before scheduling a trial pursuant to CPLR 3212 (c). Following the trial, the court dismissed plaintiff’s complaint and, thereafter, denied plaintiff’s motions for a new trial and/or to renew or reargue (see CPLR 2221, 4404). This Court denied plaintiff’s motion to vacate our July 2008 decision and for expedited consideration and sanctions. Plaintiff now appeals from the judgment dismissing his complaint, as well as from the order denying plaintiff’s posttrial motions.[FN1]
Although we previously denied defendants’ request for summary judgment because the scope of the legal relationship between the parties was unclear, there is no dispute that BSF represented plaintiff in the copyright litigation and that their legal relationship in that litigation had terminated by November 4, 2002. According to plaintiff, defendants misappropriated software, at the latest, on June 25, 2002 (53 AD3d at 950). Since this action was not commenced until October 28, 2005, outside of the three-year statute of limitations (see CPLR 214 ), plaintiff’s burden of proof at trial was to establish that the copyright litigation was part of a "continuing, interconnected representation" (53 AD3d at 952) by defendants. If so, the statute would have been tolled through November 4, 2002 and the action would have been commenced on a timely basis.
"The continuous representation doctrine tolls the statute of limitations . . . where there is a mutual understanding of the need for further representation on the specific subject matter underlying the malpractice claim" (McCoy v Feinman, 99 NY2d 295, 306 ). It requires more than a continuing, general, professional relationship; it "tolls the [s]tatute of [l]imitations only where the continuous representation pertains specifically to the matter in which the attorney committed the alleged malpractice" (Shumsky v Eisenstein, 96 NY2d 164, 168 ). Plaintiff concedes that there was no retainer agreement or letter of engagement detailing the scope of the relationship between plaintiff and defendants. Rather, his claim of continuous representation stems from unsigned correspondence dated November 8, 2000, wherein an entity known as Datamine LLC, purportedly controlled by Boies and/or members of his family, outlined the advisory services it would provide to Buddy USA Inc., an entity controlled by plaintiff and created to market and develop the Aimster service, and correspondence dated November 15, 2000 from Boies addressed to plaintiff as chief executive officer of Buddy USA, wherein Boies stated that his son had agreed to serve on Buddy USA’s board of directors to represent Datamine’s 15% equity interest in the company. According to plaintiff, the November 15, 2000 letter confirmed an oral agreement reached between Boies, plaintiff and defendant William Duker during a meeting that they had in October 2000."
‘We recognize that, although plaintiff claims that certain documents should exist, defendants produced more than 5,000 pages of documents during disclosure and have consistently maintained and affirmed that they do not possess any more documents responsive to plaintiff’s demands. In this regard, plaintiff cannot show a clear abuse of discretion because Supreme Court could not compel defendants to produce documents that do not exist (see Mary Imogene Bassett Hosp. v Cannon Design, Inc., 97 AD3d 1030, 1032 ). On this record, we find that Supreme Court properly exercised its discretion by accepting defendants’ affirmation that they had produced all records related to their representation of plaintiff (see Matter of Scaccia, 66 AD3d 1247, 1249-1250 ).
We also perceive no error by Supreme Court with regard to defendants’ "lost" emails. When plaintiff first raised the issue, defendants affirmed that, even if the files could be restored, it would be at great expense. In March 2011, Supreme Court directed defendants to cooperate with an expert retained by plaintiff to investigate whether emails generated during 2000 and 2001 could be restored and produced. The court emphasized, without objection from plaintiff, that such investigation was to be done at plaintiff’s expense. After plaintiff failed to conduct the permitted investigation, Supreme Court issued a letter order in June 2011 confirming that the parties would endeavor to find a computer forensics expert to examine the computer, again at plaintiff’s expense [FN7]. Plaintiff chose not to avail himself of this opportunity, and we cannot conclude that Supreme Court abused its discretion by conducting the hearing without the "lost" emails.
We also reject plaintiff’s claim that Supreme Court erred by conducting the hearing pursuant to CPLR 3212 (c) and that it should have conducted a trial on the merits of his misappropriation claim. Supreme Court could not decide the merits of plaintiff’s claim until it resolved the statute of limitations issue (53 AD3d at 950). The record confirms that plaintiff repeatedly acknowledged this, and urged the court to conduct the immediate trial."