Lee v Leifer  2022 NY Slip Op 05793  Decided on October 18, 2022  Appellate Division, First Department is the startling story of an attorney who told his client that it was better and more efficient not to answer a complaint.  The strategy worked well, until it didn’t.

“The Leifer defendants (Leifer) represented Lee in a lawsuit against him, which arose out of Lee’s ownership of a restaurant. Lee alleges that Leifer erroneously informed him that the damages sought were limited to an agreed-upon purchase price, although the plaintiff in that case actually sought significantly more in punitive damages. Lee further alleges that, on Leifer’s advice, he did not file an answer. The court found that Lee had failed to assert a meritorious defense to the punitive damages claim and entered a default judgment for the plaintiff. At an inquest, the court awarded punitive damages of $700,000, as well as compensatory damages, interest, and attorneys’ fees. Lee has appealed to the Second Department. Lee sued for legal malpractice. The motion court denied Leifer’s motion to dismiss.

Lee’s legal malpractice complaint adequately alleges that Leifer’s failure to advise him of the punitive damages claim asserted against him in the underlying action and failure to file a responsive pleading, “proximately caused plaintiff to sustain actual and ascertainable damages,” i.e., that he would not have incurred the punitive damages award but for Leifer’s negligence (Rudolf v Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 NY3d 438, 442 [2007]). Lee claims that he would have avoided the punitive damages award by asserting a meritorious defense in his responsive pleading. However, Lee’s default required the court to accept as true all allegations against him as to liability (see Amusement Bus. Underwriters v American Intl. Group, 66 NY2d 878, 880 [1985]). While Lee had the opportunity to contest the punitive damages claim at the subsequent damages inquest, he was not permitted to introduce evidence to counter the underlying cause of action (Suburban Graphics Supply Corp. v Nagle, 5 AD3d 663, 665 [2d Dept 2004]).

Although the inquest court rejected the substance of Lee’s purportedly meritorious defense, it did so on a limited record. “[W]hile [defaulting] defendants are entitled to present testimony and evidence and cross-examine the plaintiff’s witnesses at the inquest on damages, they may not conduct discovery” (Rudra v Friedman, 123 AD3d 1104, 1005 [2d Dept 2014] [internal quotation marks omitted]). Because Lee, having defaulted, forfeited the right to discovery, he was deprived of the opportunity to amass a record on which the inquest court might have credited his defense to the punitive damages claim.”

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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.