I.M.P. Plumbing & Heating Corp. v Munzer & Saunders, LLP 2021 NY Slip Op 06544 Decided on November 23, 2021 Appellate Division, First Department stands for the unremarkable proposition that it is a departure from good practice if an attorney fails to answer a complaint and fails to seek additional time to answer the complaint. it also finds that the failure to return $ 200,000 held in escrow when promised can be a breach of contract. However, these clear findings are well composed and clear.
“Defendants’ failure to interpose answers on behalf of plaintiffs in the A.M. Concrete Action and the A.M. Concrete Proceeding or to seek an extension of time to answer constitutes a breach of the standard of professional care (Shapiro v Butler, 273 AD2d 657, 658 [3d Dept 2000]). Plaintiffs may seek to recover from defendants any legal fees they paid to oppose the resulting contempt motion and to seek vacatur of the default judgment in the A.M. Concrete Proceeding, and to oppose the motion for a default judgment, seek vacatur of the default judgment, and appeal from the order granting a default judgment in the A.M. Concrete Action. In this connection we note that, “[d]amages in a legal malpractice case are designed to make the injured client whole” (Rudolf v Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 NY3d 438, 443  [internal quotation marks omitted]). Therefore, a legal malpractice “plaintiff’s damages may include litigation expenses incurred in an attempt to avoid, minimize, or reduce the damage caused by the attorney’s wrongful conduct” (id.[internal quotation marks omitted]). Issues of fact exist as to the amounts, if any, that plaintiffs paid for the above noted services.
With respect to defendants’ representation of plaintiffs in two other actions, titled Impagliazzo v Heena Hotel, LLC (NY County index No. 155403/14) and Impagliazzo v Shivbhakti LLC (NY County index No. 652437/14), the only negligence that plaintiffs claim on appeal is defendants’ failure to oppose the motion to dismiss [*2]in the Heena action. However, any negligence on defendants’ part in failing to oppose that motion was not a proximate cause of damages to plaintiffs since the Heena complaint failed to state a cause of action and was refuted by documentary evidence, and plaintiffs do not contend that this was a “remediable defect” (see Dempster v Liotti, 86 AD3d 169, 179-180 [2d Dept 2011]).
Insofar as the breach of contract cause of action is based on alleged overbilling, described as billing for legal services that defendants allegedly performed negligently, it is duplicative of the legal malpractice cause of action (see Courtney v McDonald, 176 AD3d 645, 645-646 [1st Dept 2019]). However, a cause of action for breach of contract is stated by the allegations that defendants retained $200,000 held in escrow for the purchase of real property in violation of an agreement to return the money if the purchase did not go through (see Postiglione v Castro, 119 AD3d 920, 922 [2d Dept 2014]). Contrary to defendants’ contention that the complaint does not allege a breach of contract based on their alleged retention of the $200,000 held in escrow, the breach of contract cause of action incorporates all the previous factual allegations in the complaint. The breach of fiduciary duty cause of action based on defendants’ retention of the funds held in escrow must be dismissed as duplicative of the breach of contract cause of action (see William Kaufman Org. v Graham & James, 269 AD2d 171, 173 [1st Dept 2000]).”