Settlements in “open court” are one thing.  They are enforceable just as they are.  Anything else requires a signature.  When the parties settled this matrimonial action using a court reporter in an attorney’s office they did not produce a document that was enforceable.  This might very well be legal malpractice says the Second Department.

Lieberman v Green  2016 NY Slip Op 03717  Decided on May 11, 2016  Appellate Division, Second Department reverses a decision of Supreme Court to dismiss the counterclaim for legal malpractice.

“The defendant retained the plaintiff law firm, Lieberman & LeBovit (hereinafter the law firm), to represent him in an underlying divorce action commenced against him by his now former wife (hereinafter the wife). On March 9, 2012, during the course of the divorce action, the parties agreed to resolve all matters in the action and a stipulation of settlement was read into the record by the plaintiff Mitchell Lieberman, a member of the plaintiff law firm, and transcribed by a court reporter who was present with the parties at the office of the wife’s counsel. According to the transcript, it was the parties’ intention to have the stipulation so-ordered by the Supreme Court at an appearance on March 15, 2012. However, the settlement was not so-ordered by the court on that date, or at any point thereafter. At some point, the wife repudiated the agreement.

In August 2012, the defendant discharged the plaintiffs and retained new counsel. On or about December 3, 2012, the plaintiffs commenced this action to recover unpaid legal fees. The defendant answered and asserted, inter alia, a counterclaim alleging that the plaintiffs committed legal malpractice in that they were negligent in failing to have a written stipulation of settlement signed by the parties and in failing to have the settlement so-ordered by the Supreme Court. The defendant claimed that, as a result, he incurred additional legal fees in having to continue litigating the divorce action. The plaintiffs moved, inter alia, to dismiss that counterclaim pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) and (a)(7). The Supreme Court granted the plaintiffs’ motion. The defendant appeals from so much of the order as granted that branch of the plaintiffs’ motion which was to dismiss the counterclaim to recover damages for legal malpractice.

The Supreme Court improperly granted that branch of the plaintiffs’ motion which was to dismiss the counterclaim to recover damages for legal malpractice. On a motion to dismiss a pleading pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) for failure to state a cause of action, the pleading is afforded a liberal construction and the court must give the party “the benefit of every possible favorable inference, accept the facts alleged in the [pleading] as true, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory” (High Tides, LLC v DeMichele, 88 AD3d 954, 956 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see McDonnell v Bradley, 109 AD3d 592, 593). “CPLR 3211(a)(7) dismissals merely address the adequacy of the [pleading], and do not reach the substantive merits of a [party’s] cause of action” (Hendrickson v Philbor Motors, Inc., 102 AD3d 251, 255). Therefore, whether the pleading will later survive a motion for summary judgment, or whether the party will ultimately prevail on the claims, is not relevant on a pre-discovery motion to dismiss (see Tooma v Grossbarth, 121 AD3d 1093, 1095-1096; Endless Ocean, LLC v Twomey, Latham, Shea, Kelley, Dubin & Quartararo, 113 AD3d 587, 589; Shaya B. Pac., LLC v Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, LLP, 38 AD3d 34, 38).”

“Here, construing the counterclaim liberally, accepting the facts alleged in the counterclaim as true, and according the defendant the benefit of every possible inference, the defendant has stated a cause of action alleging legal malpractice (see Leon v Martinez, 84 NY2d 83, 87-88; Tooma v Grossbarth, 121 AD3d at 1095). The counterclaim alleged that the plaintiffs were negligent in failing to ensure that the settlement was enforceable by having the parties sign a written stipulation of settlement or in having the settlement so-ordered by the Supreme Court, and that this negligence was a proximate cause of the defendant’s damages.”

 

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Andrew Lavoott Bluestone

Andrew Lavoott Bluestone has been an attorney for 40 years, with a career that spans criminal prosecution, civil litigation and appellate litigation. Mr. Bluestone became an Assistant District Attorney in Kings County in 1978, entered private practice in 1984 and in 1989 opened his private law office and took his first legal malpractice case.

Since 1989, Bluestone has become a leader in the New York Plaintiff’s Legal Malpractice bar, handling a wide array of plaintiff’s legal malpractice cases arising from catastrophic personal injury, contracts, patents, commercial litigation, securities, matrimonial and custody issues, medical malpractice, insurance, product liability, real estate, landlord-tenant, foreclosures and has defended attorneys in a limited number of legal malpractice cases.

 

Bluestone also took an academic role in field, publishing the New York Attorney Malpractice Report from 2002-2004.  He started the “New York Attorney Malpractice Blog” in 2004, where he has published more than 4500 entries.

Mr. Bluestone has written 38 scholarly peer-reviewed articles concerning legal malpractice, many in the Outside Counsel column of the New York Law Journal. He has appeared as an Expert witness in multiple legal malpractice litigations.

Mr. Bluestone is an adjunct professor of law at St. John’s University College of Law, teaching Legal Malpractice.  Mr. Bluestone has argued legal malpractice cases in the Second Circuit, in the New York State Court of Appeals, each of the four New York Appellate Divisions, in all four of  the U.S. District Courts of New York and in Supreme Courts all over the state.  He has also been admitted pro haec vice in the states of Connecticut, New Jersey and Florida and was formally admitted to the US District Court of Connecticut and to its Bankruptcy Court all for legal malpractice matters. He has been retained by U.S. Trustees in legal malpractice cases from Bankruptcy Courts, and has represented municipalities, insurance companies, hedge funds, communications companies and international manufacturing firms. Mr. Bluestone regularly lectures in CLEs on legal malpractice.

Based upon his professional experience Bluestone was named a Diplomate and was Board Certified by the American Board of Professional Liability Attorneys in 2008 in Legal Malpractice. He remains Board Certified.  He was admitted to The Best Lawyers in America from 2012-2019.  He has been featured in Who’s Who in Law since 1993.

In the last years, Mr. Bluestone has been featured for two particularly noteworthy legal malpractice cases.  The first was a settlement of an $11.9 million dollar default legal malpractice case of Yeo v. Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman which was reported in the NYLJ on August 15, 2016. Most recently, Mr. Bluestone obtained a rare plaintiff’s verdict in a legal malpractice case on behalf of the City of White Plains v. Joseph Maria, reported in the NYLJ on February 14, 2017. It was the sole legal malpractice jury verdict in the State of New York for 2017.

Bluestone has been at the forefront of the development of legal malpractice principles and has contributed case law decisions, writing and lecturing which have been recognized by his peers.  He is regularly mentioned in academic writing, and his past cases are often cited in current legal malpractice decisions. He is recognized for his ample writings on Judiciary Law § 487, a 850 year old statute deriving from England which relates to attorney deceit.