Simmons v Jones Law Group, LLC 2023 NY Slip Op 01316 Decided on March 15, 2023
Appellate Division, Second Department recites some simple and well-settled principles. Nevertheless, interpretation turns on a short and not deeply discussed issue. The client fires you, but the court will not let you go. What to do?

“In February 2014, the plaintiff, Juanita Simmons, retained the defendant Jones Law Group, LLC (hereinafter Jones Law), to defend her and her business in a personal injury action (hereinafter the underlying action). On February 18, 2015, Simmons purportedly discharged Jones Law during a telephone conversation with the defendant Andrew P. Jones. Although a letter dated March 23, 2015, memorializing this discharge was purportedly sent to Simmons for her signature, she never executed it. Jones Law thereafter filed three separate ex parte motions pursuant to CPLR 321 for leave to withdraw as counsel for Simmons and her business. Those motions were all denied.

On September 26, 2016, Simmons failed to appear for trial, either personally or by counsel, and an inquest was held. Subsequently, a judgment was entered against Simmons and her business in the principal sum of $357,460. Although Simmons and her business later moved, inter alia, to vacate the judgment entered upon their default, the Supreme Court denied that branch of the motion in an order dated October 18, 2018, upon determining that Simmons and her business lacked a reasonable excuse for the default.

On July 8, 2019, Simmons commenced the present action against Jones Law and Andrew P. Jones, inter alia, to recover damages for legal malpractice and breach of contract. The defendants moved, among other things, pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(5) to dismiss those causes of action as barred by the doctrines of res judicata and collateral estoppel or, alternatively, to dismiss the legal malpractice cause of action as time-barred. In an order entered June 29, 2021, the Supreme Court, inter alia, denied those branches of the motion. The defendants appeal.”

“The Supreme Court properly determined that the present action was not barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The causes of action asserted by Simmons in the present action do not arise out of the same transaction or series of transactions as those raised in the underlying action, sounding in premises liability (see Cullen v Moschetta, 207 AD3d 699, 700; Vigliotti v North Shore Univ. Hosp., 24 AD3d 752, 754). Moreover, Simmons’s claims could not have been raised in the underlying action, since the defendants were not parties in that action and were not in privity to any of the parties (see Cullen v Moschetta, 207 AD3d at 700; Mosher v Baines, 254 AD2d 467).”

“Contrary to the defendants’ contention, the issue to be resolved in the present action is not identical to the issue decided in the October 18, 2018 order issued in the underlying action (see Weiss v Manfredi, 83 NY2d at 976; Mosher v Baines, 254 AD2d 467, 467). The issue decided in that order was whether Simmons and her business proffered a reasonable excuse for their default in appearing at trial. In contrast, at issue in the present action is whether the defendants were negligent in their representation of Simmons (see Weiss v Manfredi, 83 NY2d at 976). Since there is no identity of issue, Simmons is not collaterally estopped in this action.

“On a motion to dismiss a cause of action pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(5) on the ground that it is barred by the statute of limitations, a defendant bears the initial burden of establishing, prima facie, that the time in which to sue has expired” (Tulino v Hiller, P.C., 202 AD3d 1132, 1134-1135). “‘An action to recover damages arising from legal malpractice must be commenced within three years, computed from the time the cause of action accrued to the time the claim is interposed'” (Joseph v Fensterman, 204 AD3d 766, 769, quoting Schrull v Weis, 166 AD3d 829, 831; see CPLR 214[6]). “Accrual is measured from the commission of the alleged malpractice, when all facts necessary to the cause of action have occurred and the aggrieved party can obtain relief in court” (Farage v Ehrenberg, 124 AD3d 159, 164; see McCoy v Feinman, 99 NY2d 295, 301).

Here, the defendants failed to satisfy their initial burden of demonstrating, prima facie, that the cause of action alleging legal malpractice was untimely. Since the alleged malpractice occurred on September 26, 2016, when the defendants failed to appear for trial on Simmons’s behalf, this action, commenced less than three years later, was timely.”

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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.