This multi-million dollar fraud led to convictions and a claim against Katten Muchin.  Nevertheless, too much time has gone by and Katten is off the hook.  Wimbledon Financing Master Fund, Ltd. v Hallac  2019 NY Slip Op 33281(U)  November 4, 2019  Supreme Court, New York County
Docket Number: 652769/2018 Judge: Saliann Scarpulla discusses two interesting issues:  continuous representation and whether concealing malpractice is a separate claim for fraud.

“This action is one of several stemming from a massive fraud involving
Wimbledon’s investment advisor, Weston Capital Asset Management, LLC (“Weston”), and its related affiliates, which resulted in guilty pleas by defendant Albert Hallac (“Hallac”), Weston’s founder and president, and Keith Wellner (“Wellner”), Weston’s general counsel. In addition, Hallac’s and Wellner’s co-conspirators – David Bergstein (“Bergstein”), Gary Hirst (“Hirst”) and Jason Galanis (“Galanis”) – have been convicted or pleaded guilty for their roles in the schemes. ”

“The statute of limitations for claims of legal malpractice is three years. CPLR 214(6); see also Duane Morris LLP v. Astor Holdings Inc., 61 A.D.3d418, 420 (1st Dept. 2009). A legal malpractice cause of action accrues “when the malpractice is committed, not when the client learns of it.” Palmeri v. Willkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, 156 A.D.3d 564, 567 (1st Dept. 2017) (citation omitted); see also DeStaso v. Condon Resnick, LLP,
90 A.D.3d 809, 812 (2d Dept. 2011).

Notably, the New York legislature amended CPLR 214 (6) in 1996 to “make clear that ‘where the underlying complaint is one which essentially claims that there was failure to utilize reasonable care or where acts of omission or negligence are alleged or claimed, the statute of limitations shall be three years if the case comes within the purview of CPLR Section 214 ( 6), regardless of whether the theory is based in tort or in a breach of contract.”‘ In re R.M Kliment & Frances Hals band, Architects (McKinsey & Co., Inc.), 3 N.Y.3d 538, 541-542 (2004) (citation omitted). Further, CPLR 214 (6) “was enacted to prevent plaintiffs from circumventing the three-year statute of limitations for professional malpractice claims by characterizing a defendant’s failure to meet professional standards as something else.” Johnson v. Proskauer Rose LLP, 129 A.D.3d 59, 68 (1st Dept. 2015). To determine whether a claim is duplicative of a malpractice claim, a court must “discern[] the essence of each claim.” Id. ”

“Additionally, Wimbledon’s allegations that Katten engaged in continuing concealment by failing to disclose information about Gerova and Arius Libra to the board amount to allegations that Katten failed to disclose its own malpractice, and do not furnish support for fraud claims. See White of Lake George v. Bell, 251 A.D.2d 777, 778 (3d Dept. 1998) (finding that where “a fraud claim is asserted in connection with charges of professional malpractice, it is sustainable only to the extent that it is premised upon … something more egregious than mere ‘concealment or failure to disclose [one’s] own malpractice.”‘) (citations omitted). ”

“The continuous representation doctrine “tolls the Statute of Limitations only where the continuing representation pertains specifically to the matter in which the attorney committed the alleged malpractice.” Shumsky v. Eisenstein, 96 N.Y.2d 164, 168 (2001). The doctrine, however, “is limited ‘to the course of representation  concerning a specific legal matter,’ and is not applicable to the client’s ‘continuing general relationship with a lawyer. .. involving only routine contact for miscellaneous legal representation … unrelated to the matter upon which the allegations of malpractice are predicated.”‘
Encalada v. McCarthy, Chachanover & Rosado, LLP, 160 A.D.3d 475, 476 (1st Dept. 2018) (citation omitted).

Wimbledon has not demonstrated that the continuous representation doctrine applies, nor can it, as the last action by Katten detailed in the complaint occurred in July 2012. See 860 Fifth Ave. Corp. v. Superstructures-Eng’rs & Architects, 15 A.D.3d 213, 213 (I st Dept. 2005), (noting that “plaintiff [has] the burden of demonstrating that the
continuous representation doctrine applied”). The fact that Katten was still retained as attorney for Wimbledon and Partners II until 2014 is insufficient to establish applicability of the continuous representation doctrine because such representation is not related to the transactions giving rise to the claims. See Zaref v. Berk & Michaels, 192 A.D.2d at 348
(1st Dept. 1993) (stating that a “pleading must assert more than simply an extended general relationship between the professional and client … in that the facts are required to demonstrate continued representation in the specific matter directly under dispute”) (internal citations omitted).

In additions, I find Wimbledon’s remaining arguments unavailing. “

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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…

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.