Moran Enters., Inc. v Hurst 2018 NY Slip Op 02321 Decided on April 4, 2018 Appellate Division, Second Department illustrates why secondary issues may lead to dismissal. Here, the failure to list a claim on a bankruptcy schedule along with the failure to pay franchise taxes doomed a variety of legal malpractice claims.
“The plaintiff retained attorney Margaret Hurst to represent it in certain matters, including filing a second Chapter 11 petition for bankruptcy on its behalf. A few months later, Hurst left active practice and transferred her clients to another attorney. The bankruptcy proceeding was subsequently dismissed. The plaintiff thereafter retained new attorneys, who filed a third Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition on its behalf. The asset schedules filed with the plaintiff’s third bankruptcy petition stated that the plaintiff’s only asset was certain real property, and failed to list any causes of action against Hurst. After the mortgagee of the real property sought to vacate the bankruptcy stay, the bankruptcy court dismissed the plaintiff’s third bankruptcy petition based upon the lack of equity in the property or other assets with which to pay the creditors.”
“The doctrine of judicial estoppel precludes a party from taking a position in one legal proceeding which is contrary to that which it took in a prior proceeding, simply because its interests have changed (see Davis v Citibank, N.A., 116 AD3d 819, 820; Festinger v Edrich, 32 AD3d 412, 413). “The twin purposes of the doctrine are to protect the integrity of the judicial process and to protect judicial integrity by avoiding the risk of inconsistent results in two proceedings'” (Davis v Citibank, N.A., 116 AD3d at 821, quoting Bates v Long Is. R.R. Co., 997 F2d 1028, 1038 [2d Cir] [citation omitted]). “[T]he integrity of the bankruptcy system depends on full and honest disclosure by debtors of all of their assets” (Rosenshein v Kleban, 918 F Supp 98, 104 [SD NY]). By failing to list causes of action on bankruptcy schedules of assets, the debtor represents that it has no such claims (see Crawford v Franklin Credit Mgt. Corp., 758 F3d 473, 486 [2d Cir]). Thus, the doctrine of judicial estoppel may bar a party from pursuing claims which were not listed in a previous bankruptcy proceeding (see B.N. Realty Assoc. v Lichtenstein, 21 AD3d 793, 798; McIntosh Bldrs. v Ball, 264 AD2d 869, 870; Cafferty v Thompson, 223 AD2d 99, 102).
For the doctrine to apply, there must be “a final determination in the bankruptcy proceeding endorsing the party’s inconsistent position concerning his or her assets” (Koch v National Basketball Assn., 245 AD2d 230, 231). However, a discharge from bankruptcy is not required for the application of the doctrine. “The bankruptcy court may accept’ the debtor’s assertions by relying on the debtor’s nondisclosure of potential claims in many other ways” (Hamilton v State Farm Fire & Cas. Co., 270 F3d 778, 784 [9th Cir]; see In re Coastal Plains, Inc., 179 F3d 197, 210 [5th Cir]).”
“The plaintiff further contends that leave to amend the answer should have been denied because Hurst’s delay in asserting the defense would prejudice it due to the expiration of the statute of limitations for a legal malpractice cause of action against its subsequent bankruptcy attorneys who failed to list the claims against Hurst in the bankruptcy schedules. However, the plaintiff asserted a timely legal malpractice cause of action against the subsequent bankruptcy attorneys, which was dismissed because the plaintiff was dissolved by the Secretary of State for failure to pay franchise taxes, and the plaintiff lacked the capacity to enforce obligations arising out of the representation until it secured retroactive de jure status by payment of delinquent franchise taxes (see Moran Enters., Inc. v Hurst, 66 AD3d at 976). Thus, the plaintiff’s loss of any claims against those attorneys was due to its own failure to pay the delinquent franchise taxes and to timely recommence the action against those attorneys (see CPLR 205[a]), and was not the result of Hurst’s delay in asserting the defense (see generally CPLR 203[f]; Pendleton v City of New York, 44 AD3d 733, 736; [*3]cf. Daughtry v Rosegarten, 180 Misc 2d 102, 103-104 [App Term 2d Dept]).”