Judiciary Law § 487 is the oldest statute in the US common law, dating from medieval English law. It’s purpose is to regulate and punish deceit by attorneys. The First Department looks at the purpose of Judiciary Law § 487 damages in Jean v Chinitz 2018 NY Slip Op 05521 [163 AD3d 497] July 26, 2018 Appellate Division, First Department.
“Plaintiff argues that the amended verified complaint added allegations of intentional deceit on the part of defendants, as manifested in the form of email communications from defendants to plaintiff falsely assuring him that his medical malpractice case was still active when, in fact, it had been dismissed due to defendants’ failure to comply with three discovery orders of the motion court. Plaintiff further alleges that defendants’ deceit injured him by depriving him of the opportunity to take steps to remedy or vacate the dismissal. Plaintiff’s theory presumes that the trial court justice presiding in the medical malpractice action would have vacated the dismissal and reinstated the action had plaintiff moved for such relief. Given the circumstances under which the medical malpractice action was dismissed, however, involving three separate discovery orders for provision of medical authorizations and physician reports, each of which was disregarded by plaintiff’s attorney, it is, at best, purely speculative that the medical malpractice court would have granted such relief. Thus, plaintiff’s claim of injury lacks sufficient support to sustain his claim that defendants’ false email communications were the proximate cause of any injury to him (see Pellegrino v File, 291 AD2d 60, 64 [1st Dept 2002], lv denied 98 NY2d 606  [dismissing legal malpractice claim where plaintiffs’ allegations did not, on their face, establish that but for their medical malpractice attorney’s conduct in failing to inform them of the dismissal of their medical malpractice action, they would not have sustained the actual ascertainable harm]).
Moreover, “[t]reble damages awarded under Judiciary Law § 487 are not designed to compensate a plaintiff for injury to property or pecuniary interests” (Specialized Indus. Servs. Corp. v Carter, 99 AD3d 692, 693 [2d Dept 2012] [internal quotations marks omitted]). Rather, “they are designed to punish attorneys who violate the statute and to deter them from betraying their ‘special obligation to protect the integrity of the courts and foster their truth-seeking function’ ” (id., quoting Amalfitano v Rosenberg, 12 NY3d 8, 14 ). Thus, plaintiff’s advancement of a section 487 cause of action in this case is inconsistent with the purpose of the statute, and dismissal of that cause of action was warranted for that additional reason.”