Jonns v Fischbarg  2018 NY Slip Op 32353(U)  September 18, 2018  Supreme Court, New York  County  Docket Number: 150729/2017 Judge: Kathryn E. Freed which we discussed yesterday for its lesson on the statute of limitations is also worthwhile to read for how litigation costs can be part of legal malpractice damages.  In short, those damages can include litigation expenses incurred in an attempt to avoid, minimize or reduce the damage caused by the attorney’s wrongful conduct.

“To prevail on a claim for legal malpractice, a plaintiff must establish three elements: (1) that the attorney failed to exercise the degree of care, skill, and diligence commonly possessed and exercised by a member of the legal community, (2) that such negligent failure was a proximate cause of the loss in question, and (3) that the plaintiff sustained actual and ascertainable damages. (See Barbara King Family Trust v Voluto Ventures LLC, 46 AD3d 423, 424 [1st Dept 2007].)

The plaintiffs burden of proof in a legal malpractice action is a heavy one. (See Lindenman v Kreitzer, 7 AD3d 30, 34 [1st Dept 2004].) In regard to the element of proximate causation, an “attorney’s conduct or inaction is the proximate cause of a plaintiffs damages if but for the attorney’s negligence the plaintiff would have succeeded on the merits of the underlying action, or would not have sustained actual and ascertainable damages.” (Gallet, Dreyer & Berkey. LLP v Basile, 141AD3d405, 405 [1st Dept 2016].) A plaintiffs damages in connection with such a claim may include “litigation expenses incurred in an attempt to avoid, minimize, or reduce the damage caused by the attorney’s wrongful conduct.” (Rudolf v Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 NY3d 438, 443 [2007] (quotations omitted).) But mere “speculation of a loss resulting from an attorney’s alleged omissions … is insufficient to sustain a claim for legal malpractice.” (Gallet, _Dreyer & Berkey, LLP, 141 AD3d at 405-06 (quotations omitted).)”

“Here, Fischbarg argues that the purchase agreement that he drafted obligated Dorsia to assign the lease for the business premises to Jonns and to transfer the Charles Restaurant’s liquor license to Jonns. (Docs. 6 at 8, 23 at 2.) He argues that, because it was Dorsia’s responsibility to fulfill those obligations, Jonns’ complaint fails to state a legal malpractice cause of action against him. (Id. at 8-10.) Viewing the pleadings in a light favorable to plaintiff and affording him the benefit of every inference, which this Court must do on a motion to dismiss (see Leon, 84 NY2d at 87-88), this Court finds that the amended complaint sets forth sufficient factual allegations that Fischbarg did not use the reasonable degree of care, skill, and diligence commonly exercised by one in the legal community. Specifically, Jonns alleges in his amended complaint that Fischbarg failed to properly act as his attorney by, inter alia, allowing Jonns to sign the purchase agreement in his personal capacity, representing the investors and Dorsia during the business transactions, and by failing to file the necessary papers and applications for a liquor license with the SLA. (Doc. 21 at 9.) The amended complaint therefore alleges the first element of a professional malpractice claim. ”

“Because the underlying Dorsia action is still pending, Jonns cannot conclusively establish that he would have prevailed in that action but for Fischbarg’s negligence. However, Jonns claims in the amended complaint that he has suffered damages as a result of Fischbarg’s failure to draft the purchase agreement as being between Dorsia and an LLC because this caused Jonns to have to defend himself in the Dorsia action. (See Rudo([, 8 NY3d at 443 (litigation expenses to mitigate an
attorney’s negligence satisfy the element of actual damages in legal malpractice actions).)
Contrary to Fischbarg’s assertion, Jonns’ litigation costs in the Dorsia action are not speculative.
(Doc. 29 at 8-9.) Proximate causation is sufficiently alleged since Jonns would not have incurred
those litigation costs if he did not sign the purchase agreement in his personal capacity, i.e., if
Fischbarg had drafted the purchase agreement as being between Dorsia and an LLC, such as
Crazy Asylum. Therefore, this Court finds that Jonns’ amended complaint adequately alleges the
elements of proximate causation and actual 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…

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.