The Court of Appeals addresses Judiciary Law 487 questions infrequently, and each of its decisions tends to be broadly transformative. Urias v Daniel P. Buttafuoco & Assoc., PLLC 2024 NY Slip Op 01497 Decided on March 19, 2024 Court of Appeals Halligan, J. is no exception. It harmonizes and simplifies one of the major embellishments that have been woven into the statute over the years, and permits plenary actions for any Judiciary Law 487 claim going forward.

“Judiciary Law § 487 provides that “[a]n attorney or counselor[ ] . . . guilty of any deceit or collusion, . . . with intent to deceive the court or any party[,] . . . forfeits to the party injured treble damages, to be recovered in a civil action.” This appeal presents the question of whether a Judiciary Law § 487 claim may be brought in a plenary civil action where a plaintiff alleges that attorney deceit led to an adverse judgment or order. Given the unique concerns addressed by this statute, we hold that such a plenary action lies. We nevertheless affirm the Appellate Division’s order on alternative grounds.”

“”We begin with the question of whether Judiciary Law § 487 permits a plenary action. We thus turn to the “plain language of the statute” as “the clearest indicator of legislative intent” (Matter of T-Mobile Northeast, LLC v DeBellis, 32 NY3d 594, 607 [2018]). Section 487 provides that:

“An attorney or counselor who:

Is guilty of any deceit or collusion, or consents to any deceit or collusion, with intent to deceive the court or any party; or,

Wilfully delays his client’s suit with a view to his own gain; or, wilfully receives any money or allowance for or on account of any money which he has not laid out, or becomes answerable for,

Is guilty of a misdemeanor, and in addition to the punishment prescribed therefor by the penal law, he forfeits to the party injured treble damages, to be recovered in a civil action.”

This provision is “the modern-day counterpart of a statute dating from the first decades after Magna Carta; its language virtually (and remarkably) unchanged from that of a law adopted by New York’s Legislature two years before the United States Constitution was ratified” (Amalfitano v Rosenberg, 12 NY3d 8, 14 [2009]). Recognizing that “[o]ur legal system depends on the integrity of attorneys who fulfill the role of officers of the court, furthering its truth-seeking function,” the statute creates a cause of action for attorney deceit that is distinct from common law fraud or legal malpractice (Bill Birds, Inc. v Stein Law Firm, P.C., 35 NY3d 173, 178 [2020]). Given the importance of safeguarding the integrity of the judicial system, section 487 allows for both criminal liability and a civil remedy in the form of treble damages (see id. at 179).

We recognize, of course, that common law has long shielded a final judgment from collateral attack in a subsequent action (see e.g. Smith v Lewis, 3 Johns. 157, 168 [NY Sup Ct 1808] [Kent, Ch. J., concurring]; Crouse v McVickar, 207 NY 213, 219 [1912]). Although subsequent actions have been permitted for fraud that is extrinsic to the underlying proceeding (see e.g. Mayor of City of New York v Brady, 115 NY 599, 617 [1889]; United States v Throckmorton, 98 US 61, 68 [1878]), or part of a “larger fraudulent scheme” (Newin Corp. v Hartford Acc. & Indem. Co., 37 NY2d 211, 217 [1975]), the interest in finality of judgments generally constrains a court’s authority to revisit a final judgment in a collateral action (see Crouse, 207 NY at 219). Such a challenge may instead be brought under CPLR 5015, which authorizes “[t]he court which rendered a judgment or order” to “relieve a party from it upon such terms as may be just . . . upon the ground of[,]” among others, “fraud, misrepresentation, or other misconduct of an adverse party” (CPLR 5015 [a] [3]).”

“We appreciate that it might be more efficient to require a plaintiff who either directly or effectively challenges a judgment to return to the court that issued it and seek vacatur under CPLR 5015, and we note that transfer of a plenary action to the court that handled the underlying proceedings may be desirable where consistent with the CPLR’s venue provisions. Nor do we take lightly the interest in preserving the finality of judgments. But the legislature has singled out the specific type of claim here—an allegation of attorney deceit on the court or a party—and determined that recovery of treble damages should be available in a civil action. We conclude that section 487 must be read to allow a plenary action for deceit, even where success on that claim might undermine a separate final judgment.”

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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.