We have argued that legal malpractice cases are disproportionately subject to early dismissal. Our theory is that Courts have an inherent and innate bias in favor of attorneys.  There is a plethora of academic and real world experience to support this thesis.  Anecdotally, Baugher v Cullen & Dykman, LLP  2019 NY Slip Op 04904  Decided on June 19, 2019  Appellate Division, Second Department is no real surprise.

“The plaintiff commenced this action in 2016 to recover legal fees paid by the plaintiff’s decedent to the defendant, a law firm, for legal services performed between January 2007 and August 2009, on the ground that the defendant’s representation of the decedent, the decedent’s estate, and nonparty W.S. Wilson Corporation (hereinafter Wilson) during that period of time violated rule 1.7 of the Rules of Professional Conduct (22 NYCRR 1200.0). The complaint alleged that the plaintiff’s decedent retained the defendant in 2005 to, among other things, analyze her ownership interest in Wilson, including her right to certain retained earnings in the sum of $20 million. The complaint further alleged that, in January 2007, the defendant began acting as Wilson’s corporate counsel, and, beginning in 2008, performed legal services for Wilson regarding the decedent’s right to those retained earnings. The complaint also alleged that the decedent died in November of 2008, and that in 2009 the plaintiff, represented by the defendant, commenced a turnover proceeding against Wilson on behalf of the decedent’s estate for the retained earnings. The complaint alleged that Wilson moved in that proceeding to disqualify the defendant from acting as counsel for the decedent’s estate, and that, by order dated January 18, 2012, the Surrogate’s Court, inter alia, disqualified the defendant from representing the decedent’s estate in that proceeding on the ground that its prior representation of the decedent was in conflict with its prior representation of Wilson.

The defendant moved pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) and (7) to dismiss the complaint, arguing that the plaintiff could not recoup legal fees absent actual damages sustained as a result of the alleged misconduct. By order entered November 10, 2016, the Supreme Court determined that the complaint failed to state a cause of action, and granted that branch of the defendant’s motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss the complaint. By judgment entered November 14, 2016, the complaint was dismissed. In an order entered April 3, 2017, the court denied the plaintiff’s motion for leave to reargue his opposition to that branch of the defendant’s motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action. The plaintiff appeals.

We disagree with the Supreme Court’s determination granting that branch of the defendant’s motion which was pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action. On a motion to dismiss pursuant to CPLR 3211, the complaint is to be afforded a liberal construction (see CPLR 3026). “In reviewing a motion pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a cause of action, the facts as alleged in the complaint must be accepted as true, the plaintiff is accorded every possible favorable inference, and the court’s function is to determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory” (Mendelovitz v Cohen, 37 AD3d 670, 671; see Belling v City of Long Beach, 168 AD3d 900).

“An attorney who violates a disciplinary rule may be discharged for cause and is not entitled to fees for any services rendered” (Jay Dietz & Assoc. of Nassau County, Ltd. v Breslow & Walker, LLP, 153 AD3d 503, 506; see Matter of Montgomery, 272 NY 323, 326; Saint Annes Dev. Co. v Batista, 165 AD3d 997, 998; Doviak v Finkelstein & Partners, LLP, 90 AD3d 696, 699; Quinn v Walsh, 18 AD3d 638Brill v Friends World Coll., 133 AD2d 729). A cause of action for forfeiture of legal fees based on an attorney’s discharge for cause due to ethical violations may be maintained independent of a cause of action alleging legal malpractice or breach of fiduciary duty, and does not require proof or allegations of damages (see Jay Dietz & Assoc. of Nassau County, Ltd. v Breslow & Walker, LLP, 153 AD3d at 506; Ulico Cas. Co. v Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, 56 AD3d 1).

Here, the complaint seeks forfeiture of legal fees paid to the defendant between January 2007 and August 2009 in connection with the plaintiff’s decedent’s claim against Wilson for retained earnings. The complaint alleges that the decedent retained the defendant in January 2007 to recoup the retained earnings from Wilson, that the defendant also represented and performed legal work for Wilson on that issue between 2008 and 2009, that the interests of the decedent and Wilson on that issue were adverse, and that the dual representation violated rule 1.7 of the Rules of Professional Conduct (22 NYCRR 1200.0). The complaint further alleged that, as a result of its previous dual representation, the defendant was disqualified from representing the decedent’s estate [*2]in a 2009 turnover proceeding against Wilson to collect the retained earnings. Contrary to the determination of the Supreme Court, these allegations are sufficient to state a viable cause of action to disgorge legal fees (see Jay Dietz & Assoc. of Nassau County, Ltd. v Breslow & Walker, LLP, 153 AD3d at 506).”

 

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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.