Getty v Schiavetta 2024 NY Slip Op 50697(U) Decided on May 18, 2024 Supreme Court, Westchester County Ondrovic, J. is a factually simple pro-se legal malpractice litigation with an interesting procedural twist. The legal malpractice claim comes after a mediated settlement. The issue is whether the attorney misled the client into thinking that the settlement provided a cash payment as well as promised repairs to a water-damaged apartment.

“In an action to recover damages for alleged legal malpractice, pro se plaintiff moves for an order granting default judgment against Russo & Gould LLP and Russo & Toner LLP (collectively, Russo defendants) (Motion Seq. 1), Russo defendants cross-move for an order extending their time to appear in the action (Motion Seq. 2), and Daniel M. Schiavetta, Jr and Murphy Higgins & Schiavetta, PLLC (collectively, Schiavetta defendants) cross-move to dismiss the complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) and (a)(7) (Motion Seq. 3).”

“By way of background, pro se plaintiff commenced this action by filing a summons and complaint on September 24, 2023, to recover damages for alleged legal malpractice. The complaint asserts claims for legal malpractice and violation of Judicial Law § 487. Plaintiff alleges that defendants committed legal malpractice in their representation of plaintiff in prior litigations for damages stemming from mold contamination in plaintiff’s cooperative unit located in Port Chester, New York.[FN1] The parties in the underlying litigations participated in private mediation and the litigations were settled by agreement in October 2020 (Settlement Agreement). Plaintiff alleges that he agreed to settlement terms on August 11, 2020, but defendants had “put plaintiff against a wall” and left “him with no choice but to agree to a different settlement” (i.e., the Settlement Agreement) (complaint at 4-5 [NYSCEF Doc. 1]).”

“Here, the complaint fails to allege facts establishing proximate cause, namely, that the defendants in the prior litigations would have executed an agreement requiring them to pay more than what was agreed to in the Settlement Agreement or to additionally repair plaintiff’s cooperative unit at their own expense. Moreover, the complaint fails to allege fraud with any particularity (see CPLR 3016[b]; see Browne v Lyft, Inc., 219 AD3d 445, 447 [2d Dept 2023]; Shah v Mitra, 171 ADed 971, 976 [2d Dept 2019]). These deficiencies warrant dismissal of the legal malpractice claim pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7), but the latter deficiency is also fatal to plaintiff’s opposition to relief pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) premised on plaintiff’s execution of the Settlement Agreement.

The Settlement Agreement, signed by plaintiff, includes the following representation attributed to plaintiff as the releasor:

Releasor hereby declares that the terms of this Release have been completely read and are fully understood and voluntarily accepted for the purpose of making a full and final settlement of any and all claims (exhibit B to Oxenburg affirmation, Settlement Agreement at 3 [NYSCEF Doc. 49] [emphasis added]).

Given that the Settlement Agreement declares plaintiff “voluntarily accepted” the terms of the agreement, absent a sufficient pleading of fraud, coercion, or inducement, the Settlement Agreement utterly refutes plaintiff’s factual allegations (Miller v Brunner, 164 AD3d 1228, 1231 [2d Dept 2018] [“A signed release shifts the burden of going forward . . . to the plaintiff to show that there has been fraud, duress or some other fact which will be sufficient to void the release” [internal quotation marks, brackets, and citation omitted]).”

“Accordingly, Schiavetta defendants’ cross-motion for an order dismissing the complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(1) and (a)(7) is GRANTED, but as the dismissal is due to deficiencies in the pleading, the dismissal will be without prejudice (see Cadet-Duval v Gursim Holding, Inc., 147 AD3d 718, 720 [2d Dept 2017]).”

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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.