Spiegel v Hawco 2022 NY Slip Op 32431(U) July 21, 2022 Supreme Court, New York County Docket Number: Index No. 159930/2015 Judge: Shlomo Hagler is a legal malpractice case arising from a landlord-tenant matter which went awry after plaintiff agreed to be bought out of a rent-controlled apartment lease on West Grove Street. Plaintiff loses, basically, because there were too many hands in the settlement of the landlord-tenant.
“In the Complaint, plaintiff alleges that “plaintiff was pressured into signing said stipulation settlement without being given adequate time, and without having fully read it
through” and that Hawco “pressured [her] to settle the lawsuit rather than go to trial” and ”threatened to withdraw as plaintiff’s counsel, and leave plaintiff without representation, if
plaintiff would not agree to settle the proceeding” (Complaint ,r,r 12-15 [NYSCEF Doc. No. 1]). The Complaint alleges that the Stipulation recovered no·damages for plaintiff and would require her to separately litigate for damages, the $60,000 payment was far less than the legal fees plaintiff incurred in defending the subject lease and that the Stipulation failed to include provisions setting forth for events of default (Id. at ,r,r 18-21 ). Plaintiff further contends that Hawco failed to advise her of the tax ramifications of the Stipulation (Id. at ,r 28). At the time plaintiff’s complaint was filed on September 28, 2015, plaintiff alleges that she had never received payment of the $60,000 provided for in the Stipulation. ”
“Here, defendant has established his prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law on grounds that plaintiffs claims against him for legal malpractice have no merit and his
conduct was not the cause of any actual and ascertainable damages to plaintiff. Defendant presents an Affidavit and the subject Stipulation settling the Housing Court Proceeding, which most significantly, is signed by plaintiff (NYSCEF Doc. No. 46). Furthermore, defendant’s Verified Answer, quotes in full a letter, dated October I, 2012, from defendant to plaintiff
informing plaintiff that as a result of the foregoing Settlement, the work defendant was retained to do was complete and seeking costs and expenses (the “October I Letter”). The October 1 Letter also provides that plaintiff”read the Stipulation of Settlement to [her] Supreme Court attorney during a telephone conversation [she] had with him, while [ she was] in Housing Court and before [she] signed it, and … he made some changes to it and then approved it” (Verified Answer at, 28 [NYSCEF Doc. No. 43].4 In addition, defendant proffers the Judge Wendt Order, wherein Judge Wendt directed the parties to fully comply with the Stipulation settling the Housing Court Proceeding (NYSCEF Doc. No. 47). As such, defendant met his prima facie burden establishing lack of negligence.
Moreover, defendant has established prima facie an absence of proximate cause between his conduct and plaintiffs alleged damages (Global Bus. Inst. v Rivkin Radler LLP, 101 AD3d
651, 651-652 [1 st Dept 2012] [internal quotation and citation omitted]); Von Duerring v Hession & Belco.ff, 71 AD3d 760, 760 [2d Dept 2010]; Carrasco v Pena & Kahn, 48 AD3d 395, 396 [2d Dept 2008]). Given that plaintiff knowingly and with legal assistance from another attorney accepted the terms of the Stipulation, plaintiff’s claims that her damages constituting the failure of the landlord to remit the $60,000 and loss of the value of the leased Apartment could be attributable to defendant’s conduct, are entirely conclusory.
In opposition, plaintiff fails to raise an issue of fact. It is uncontroverted that plaintiff signed the Stipulation. “Since plaintiff was competent to execute the settlement agreement, and
no fraud is alleged, he is responsible for his signature and is bound to read and know what he signed” (Beattie v Brown & Wood, 243 AD2d 395, 395 [1 st Dept 1997]). Plaintiff has also
failed to refute the evidence that before she signed the Stipulation, she consulted with her ‘Supreme Court attorney’ by telephone who purportedly made changes to the Stipulation before it was executed. Plaintiffs allegations that somehow Hawco abandoned her in the middle of the case is belied by the fact that there is no evidence in the record that she responded to his letter of October 1, 2012 informing her that his representation was concluded due to the settlement of the matter. Although plaintiff alleges dissatisfaction with the Stipulation, plaintiff never made a motion or otherwise sought to vacate the Stipulation. However, even had plaintiff sought such relief, she would have been unsuccessful in view of Judge Wendt’s determination on October 12,2012 (NYSCEF Doc. No. 47) with respect to Ween’s charging lien, directing the parties to
comply with the Stipulation.
Plaintiff’s allegations that defendant pressured or coerced her into settling, that she was forced to sign, that defendant induced her into forfeiting her lease and that defendant threatened· that he would withdraw as counsel if plaintiff did not settle are entirely conclusory. Plaintiff failed to particularize such allegations of duress, and it is uncontroverted that she signed the Stipulation and even consulted her ‘Supreme Court attorney’.”