Continuous representation was once determined almost solely by the date of transfer of representation. Either a consent to change attorney or a court order determined the last day of representation and hence the end of continuous representation. Then came Aaron v. Roemer which held that communications showing a total breakdown of the attorney-client relationship marked the end of continuous representation, even though the order came days later. Those few days made a great difference.
Consolidated Edison Co. of N.Y., Inc. v Armienti, Debellis & Whiten, LLP 2019 NY Slip Op 31123(U) April 17, 2019 Supreme Court, New York County Docket Number: 152730/2018
Judge: William Franc Perry reaches a similar conclusion, and, sub rosa holds that Con Ed would have lost for many other reasons as well.
“Under CPLR 214(6), a plaintiff must commence an action to recover damages for legal malpractice within three years from the date of the alleged malpractice. “The period of limitations in a legal malpractice action begins to run when the malprac~ice is committed … , not when the client discovers the injury/’ (Wells Fargo Home Mortgage, Inc. v Zeichner, Ellman & Krause, LLP, 5 AD3d 128, 128-29 [1st Dept 2004] [internal citation omitted]). “A legal malpractice Claim accrues ‘when all the facts necessary to the cause of action have occurred and an injured party can obtain relief in court'” (McCoy v. Feinman, 99 N.Y.2d 295, 301 , quoting Ackerman v. Price Waterhouse, 84 NY2d 535, 541 ). “[W]hat is important is when the malpractice was committed, not when the client discovered it” (Hahn v Dewey & .LeBoeuf Liquidation Tr., 143 AD3d 547, 547 [1st Dept 2016] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]).
Here, the actions giving rise to Con Edison’s claims for legal malpractice occurred in 2005 and 2006. Accordingly, to survive dismissal, Con Edison must establish that the statute of limitations was tolled pursuant to the continuous representation doctrine until at least March 27, 2015, which date is three years prior to Con Edison’s commencement of this action. The “continuous representation doctrine tolls the statute of limitations … where there is a mutual understanding of the need for further representation on the specific subject matter underlying the malpractice claim” (Zorn v Gilbert, 8 NY3d 933, 934 , quoting McCoy v Feinman, 99 NY2d 295, 306 ; see also Shumsky v Eisenstein, 96 NY2d 164, 167-168 [2001J). The purpose of the continuous representation doctrine is to avoid forcing a client to jeopardize the relationship with the attorney handling his or her case during the period that the attorney continues to represent them (Waggoner v Caruso, 68 AD3d 1, 7 [1st Dept 2009], af(d, 14 NY3d 874 ). “An attorney-client relationship would certainly be jeopardized by a client’s allegation that his or her attorney committed malpractice while representing the client” (id. [citation omitted]). The application of the continuous representation doctrine in an action for attorney malpractice “envisions a relationship between the parties that is marked with trust and confidence. It is a relationship which is not sporadic but developing and involves a continuity of the professional services from which the alleged malpractice stems” (Frenchman v Queller, Fisher, Dienst, Serrins, Washor & Kool, LLP, 24 Misc 3d 486, 498 [Sup Ct New York Cnty 2009], quoting Muller v Sturman, 79 AD2d 482, 486 [4th Dept 1981]; see Henry v Leeds & Morelli, 4 AD3d 229 [1st Dept 2004]). For the continuous representation doctrine to apply, “there must be clear indicia of an ongoing, continuous, developing, and dependent relationship between the client and the attorney which often includes an attempt by the attorney to rectify an alleged act of malpractice” (Luk Lamellen U Kupplungbau GmbH v Lerner, 166 AD2d 505, 507 [2d Dept 1990]).
Here, Armienti argues that Con Edison’s claims accrued, at the !atest, on March 24, 2015, three years after Everest and Con Edison directed Armienti to transfer the Casas file to Heidell and notified Armienti that Heidell would be taking over the defense of Con Edison in the Casas Action. Armienti further argues that a breakdown in the relationship of trust and confidence between Con Edison and Armienti is demonstrated by the two letters from Con Edison’s in-house counsel to Armienti in December of 2014, which letters requested all documents regarding the alleged acts constituting legal malpractice in this action, and challenged the propriety of Armienti’s discontinuance of the third-party action against Nelson in 2005. In opposition, Con Edison argues that Armienti’ s representation of Con Edison for purposes of the continuous representation doctrine continued until the execution of their Consent to Change Attorneys on April 13, 2015 (Complaint,
In a given case, the Consent to Change Attorney may reflect the erid date of an attorneyclient relationship, in the absence of other evidence that establishes an earlier date (see Louzoun v. Kroll Moss & Kroll, LLP, 113 A.D~3d at 602, 979 N.Y.S.2d 94 [2d Dept 2014]). While, “from the standpoint of adverse parties, counsel’s authority as an attorney of record in a civil action continues unabated until the [attorney’s] withdrawal, substitution, or discharge is formalized” in accordance with CPLR 321, “[a ]n affirmative discharge of an attorney by the client is immediate” (Farage v Ehrenberg, 124 AD3d 159, 165 [2d Dept 2014] [citations omitted]). Thus, where evidence establishes that a client affirmatively discharged their attorneys prior to the
execution of a Consent to Change Attorney, the Consent to Change Attorney does not, in and of itself, serve as a basis to toll the statute of limitations (see Frenchman v Queller, Fisher, Dienst, Serrins, Washor & Kool, LLP, 24 Misc 3d 486, 504-05 [Sup Ct New York Cnty 2009] [holding notice of substitution, signed by defendant on December 17, 2004, did not, in and of itself, serve as a basis to toll the statute of limitations under the continuous representation doctrine, where plaintiffs own letter to defendant in August of 2004 made clear that defendant was being replaced by other counsel]).”