An attorney may not be held liable for failing to act outside the scope of a retainer

In Natl. Air Cargo, Inc. v Jenner & Block, LLP, 203 AD3d 1655 [4th Dept 2022], the court dismissed the legal malpractice action based on the following basis:

A motion to dismiss a complaint based on documentary evidence “may be appropriately granted only where the documentary evidence utterly refutes [the] plaintiff’s factual allegations, conclusively establishing a defense as a matter of law” (Goshen v. Mutual Life Ins. Co. of N.Y., 98 N.Y.2d 314, 326, 746 N.Y.S.2d 858, 774 N.E.2d 1190 [2002]). In support of its motion, HSE submitted the engagement letter between HSE and NAC. “An attorney may not be held liable for failing to act outside the scope of a retainer” (Attallah v. Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, LLP, 168 A.D.3d 1026, 1028, 93 N.Y.S.3d 353 [2d Dept. 2019]; see AmBase Corp. v. Davis Polk & Wardwell, 8 N.Y.3d 428, 435, 834 N.Y.S.2d 705, 866 N.E.2d 1033 [2007]). Here, HSE met its burden of establishing by documentary evidence that the scope of its legal representation did not include a review of the insurance policies for possible coverage of the judgment in the underlying action. The engagement letter stated that HSE’s engagement did “not include responsibility either for review of [NAC’s] insurance policies to determine the possibility of coverage for any … claims that have [been] or may be asserted against [NAC] or for notification of [NAC’s] insurance carriers concerning the matter.” Because review of NAC’s liability insurance policies to determine their potential applicability to the judgment in the underlying action fell outside the scope of HSE’s engagement, the court properly granted HSE’s motion with respect to the professional negligence/legal malpractice cause of action against HSE insofar as asserted by NAC (see Turner v. Irving Finkelstein & Meirowitz, LLP, 61 A.D.3d 849, 850, 879 N.Y.S.2d 145 [2d Dept. 2009]).

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