Shan Yun Lin v Lau 2022 NY Slip Op 06279 Decided on November 9, 2022 Appellate Division, Second Department gives a concise description of a good breach of fiduciary duty claim.
“The Supreme Court also properly denied dismissal of the breach of fidiciary duty cause of action as duplicative of the legal malpractice cause of action. “An attorney holding funds in escrow owes a fiduciary duty to anyone with a beneficial interest in the trust” (Baquerizo v Monasterio, 90 AD3d 587, 587 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Levit v Allstate Ins. Co., 308 AD2d 475, 477; Takayama v Schaefer, 240 AD2d 21, 25). An escrow agent has a duty not to deliver the escrow funds to anyone except upon strict compliance with the conditions imposed (see Sasidharan v Piverger, 145 AD3d 814, 815; Baquerizo v Monasterio, 90 AD3d at 587; Matter of Ginzburg, 89 AD3d 938, 941). Here, the complaint sufficiently pleaded the existence of an oral escrow agreement (see Gargano v Morey, 165 AD3d 889, 891), invoking fiduciary duties even in the absence of an attorney-client relationship. Therefore, as the court correctly determined, the breach of fiduciary duty cause of action was properly pleaded in the alternative, in the event that it is ultimately determined that no attorney-client relationship existed or that the Lau defendants’ conduct related to the escrow funds was not within the scope of any such relationship.
Finally, contrary to the Lau defendants’ contention, an exculpatory clause in the limited liability company agreement of WRE I did not conclusively establish a defense to the breach of fiduciary duty cause of action as a matter of law. Insofar as the exculpatory clause is applicable to the Lau defendants’ actions taken in good faith as an escrow agent (cf. Baquerizo v Monasterio, 90 AD3d at 587), the complaint sufficiently alleges that the challenged disbursement was not made in good faith or was the result of the Lau defendants’ gross negligence, and the documentary evidence did not conclusively defeat those allegations (see Elbayoumi v TD Bank, N.A., 185 AD3d 786, 789; Lenoci v Secure Alarm Installations, LLC, 97 AD3d 800, 801).”