Whether it’s social policy, whether it’s an attempt to prevent every case from turning into a legal malpractice coda, the rule is simple:  absent fraud, collusion, malice or other special circumstances you just cannot successfully sue the other guy’s attorney.  The alternative?  Every case would then proceed to a legal malpractice case.  So says Hinnant v Carrington Mtge. Servs., LLC  2019 NY Slip Op 03575  Decided on May 8, 2019  Appellate Division, Second Department along with hundreds of other cases.

“In March 2015, the plaintiffs executed a consolidated note in favor of the defendant Carrington Mortgage Services, LLC (hereinafter Carrington), in the sum of $715,533, which was secured by a consolidated mortgage on the plaintiffs’ property in Brooklyn. In March 2016, the plaintiffs commenced this action against, among others, the defendant Jeffrey Leavitt, the settlement agent for Carrington, seeking to recover damages for fraud and professional negligence. The plaintiffs alleged that while the consolidated note stated that their monthly mortgage payment would be $3,364.70, their monthly mortgage payment was, in fact, approximately $4,500. The plaintiffs alleged, among other things, that Leavitt ignored the fact that “the monthly mortgage payments expected from the Plaintiffs [were] not consistent with the principal as it appeared on the initial monthly mortgage obligation and the subsequent . . . Consolidated Agreement,” and that Leavitt failed to point out these inconsistencies to the plaintiffs. Leavitt moved pursuant to CPLR 3211(a) to dismiss the complaint insofar as asserted against him. The Supreme Court denied Leavitt’s motion, and Leavitt appeals.”

“Absent fraud, collusion, malicious acts, or other special circumstances, an attorney is not liable to third parties not in privity, or near-privity, for harm caused by professional negligence (see AG Capital Funding Partners, L.P. v State St. Bank & Trust Co., 5 NY3d 582, 595; Fredriksen v Fredriksen, 30 AD3d 370, 372; Rovello v Klein, 304 AD2d 638; Conti v Polizzotto, 243 AD2d 672). Here, even accepting the facts alleged in the complaint as true, the complaint fails to allege the existence of an attorney-client relationship, privity, or a relationship that otherwise closely resembles privity between the plaintiffs and Leavitt (see DeMartino v Golden, 150 AD3d 1200, 1201; Fredriksen v Fredriksen, 30 AD3d at 371-372; Goldfarb v Schwartz, 26 AD3d 462, 463; Rovello v Klein, 304 AD2d at 638-639). Furthermore, the complaint does not contain specific allegations that would place the plaintiffs within an exception to the privity requirement (see AG Capital Funding Partners, L.P. v State St. Bank & Trust Co., 5 NY3d at 595; Fredriksen v Fredriksen, 30 AD3d at 372). The complaint fails to set forth evidentiary facts demonstrating that Leavitt was a participant with Carrington in a common scheme or plan to defraud the plaintiffs, or otherwise aided and abetted Carrington in the commission of fraud (see Fredriksen v Fredriksen, 30 AD3d at 372; Goldfarb v Schwartz, 26 AD3d at 463-464).

Furthermore, the documentary evidence submitted by Leavitt in support his motion utterly refuted the plaintiffs’ factual allegations, and conclusively established a defense as a matter of law (see Goshen v Mutual Life Ins. Co. of N.Y., 98 NY2d at 326). Specifically, Leavitt submitted an acknowledgment dated March 14, 2015, signed by the plaintiffs in connection with the consolidated mortgage transaction, which stated: “The undersigned further acknowledge that Jeffrey H. Leavitt, Esq., P.C. represents the Lender in this transaction, that the parties have not been given nor are relying on any legal advice given by Jeffrey Leavitt, Esq. and that no attorney/client relationship exists between the Borrowers and Jeffrey H. Leavitt, Esq., P.C.” Additionally, Leavitt submitted, among other things, the consolidated note and consolidated mortgage, which both stated that the monthly payment of principal and interest, in the amount of $3,364.70, would be just part of a larger monthly payment required by the security instrument, which would include taxes, insurance, and other charges.”

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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.