A fair segment of legal malpractice dismissal are determined upon the assertion that the subject “error” was actually a strategic choice which went sour. In general, a good legal malpractice case cannot be based upon an “error in judgment” or a “strategic trial decision.” The underlying understanding is that trial and litigation decisions may often be more art than science.
In Smith, Gambrell & Russell, LLP v Telecommunications Sys., Inc. 2017 NY Slip Op 07954 Decided on November 14, 2017 Appellate Division, First Department we see the relatively rare case in which the AD points to actual reasoning in finding a “strategic decision” rather than simply deciding that a sour outcome was strategy without any supporting language.
“On appeal, defendant argues that plaintiff’s filing of a sanctions motion, instead of a motion for attorneys’ fees as the prevailing party pursuant to 35 USC § 285, constitutes malpractice. We may entertain this new legal argument because it appears on the face of the record, involves no new facts, and is determinative (Vanship Holdings Ltd. v Energy Infrastructure Acquisition Corp., 65 AD3d 405, 408 [1st Dept 2009]). However, the argument does not avail defendant.
The record shows that plaintiff had contemplated filing a motion pursuant to 35 USC § 285 and decided against it. The statute provides that the court may award attorneys’ fees to the prevailing party “in exceptional cases” (see Octane Fitness, LLC v Icon Health & Fitness, Inc., __ US __, __, 134 S Ct 1749, 1756 ). Plaintiff advised defendant that it would be a “stretch” to argue prevailing party under § 285. Thus, defendant’s theory that plaintiff breached a duty of care to it by choosing to apply for attorneys’ fees via a sanctions motion instead of a motion under § 285 amounts to no more than an allegation that plaintiff made an error in judgment, which does not state a cause of action for malpractice (see Rosner v Paley, 65 NY2d 736, 738 ; Sitomer v Goldweber Epstein, LLP, 139 AD3d 642 [1st Dept 2016], lv denied 28 NY3d 906 ).”