Whether there has been legal malpractice in a real estate development setting, or no malpractice at all depends on at least four elements.  The least interesting of these elements is the departure.  In almost every legal malpractice case there is a definite departure.  It’s the “proximate cause” and the “but for” portions of the equation that are much more interesting.  In Bauhouse Group I, Inc. v Kalikow  2018 NY Slip Op 33055(U)  December 4, 2018  Supreme Court, New York County
Docket Number: 158277/2017 Judge: Saliann Scarpulla which we discussed last week, not only was collateral estoppel a problem, but the Court found that there was no proximate cause connection between the alleged wrongs and the bad outcome.  Put another way an unwaivable conflict without more is insufficient.

“The remaining allegations in the complaint underlying the malpractice claim are that: Defendants had unwaivable conflicts of interest while representing Plaintiffs because Kalikow was related to Lenders and because Defendants’ represented Lenders in other, unrelated matters; these conflicts were not adequately explained or waived; and Defendants coerced Bauhouse to sign the inadequate Waiver Letter.

To state a claim for legal malpractice, the plaintiff must allege: “the negligence of the attorney; that the negligence was the proximate cause of the loss sustained; and proof of actual damages.” Between The Bread Realty Corp. v Salans Hertzfeld Heilbronn Christy & Viener, 290 AD2d 380, 380 (1st Dept 2002) (internal citations omitted). In order to adequately allege proximate cause, the plaintiff “must plead specific factual allegations establishing that but for counsel’s deficient representation, there would have been a more favorable outcome to the underlying matter,” Dweck Law Firm, LLP v Mann, 283 AD2d 292, 293 (1st Dept 2001) (citation omitted), or that “plaintiff would have prevailed in the matter at issue or would not have sustained any damages.” Between
The Bread Realty Corp., 290 AD2d at 380 (citations omitted).

Here, the complaint does not contain factual allegations sufficient to establish that the purportedly ill-explained unwaivable conflicts of interest were the proximate cause of any alleged harm to Plaintiffs. See Schafrann v NV Famka, Inc., 14 AD3d 363, 364 (1st Dept 2005) (“A conflict of interest, even if a violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility, does not by itself support a legal malpractice cause of action.” (citation omitted)); Coleman v Fox Horan & Camerini, LLP, 274 AD2d 308, 309 (1st Dept 2000); see also Kodsi v Gee, 100 AD3d 437, 438 (1st Dept 2012) (citations omitted).

Moreover, the complaint is devoid of any factual allegations to support the Plaintiffs’ contention that Defendants coerced Bauhouse into executing the Waiver Letter. See generally Rau v Borenkojf, 262 AD2d 388, 388 (2d Dept 1999) (complaint containing conclusory allegations, “unsupported by any factual allegations, that the defendants negligently advised and coerced [plaintiff] to settle his claim, and that he would have obtained a higher settlement or judgment but for their negligence” failed to state claim for malpractice).

In sum, to the extent that Plaintiffs’ allegations survive the application of collateral estoppel, they nevertheless fail to state a cause of action for malpractice.”

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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.