On a motion to dismiss a complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7)…

In Alexim Holdings, LLC v McAuliffe, 2023 NY Slip Op 05581 [2d Dept Nov. 8, 2023], the court affirmed the dismissal of a client’s legal malpractice case, holding:

On a motion to dismiss a complaint pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) for failure to state a cause of action, the court must accept the facts alleged in the pleading as true, accord the plaintiff the benefit of every favorable inference, and determine only whether the facts as alleged fit within any cognizable legal theory (see Leon v. Martinez, 84 N.Y.2d 83, 87–88, 614 N.Y.S.2d 972, 638 N.E.2d 511; Marinelli v. Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo, P.C., 205 A.D.3d 714, 715, 169 N.Y.S.3d 90).

Here, the Supreme Court properly granted those branches of McAuliffe Law’s motion which were pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss the causes of action alleging legal malpractice, breach of contract, and breach of fiduciary duty insofar as asserted against it. The complaint failed to allege the existence of an attorney-client relationship, contractual relationship, or fiduciary relationship between the plaintiff and McAuliffe Law, which was not a party to the subject legal services agreement and did not even exist at the time of the misconduct alleged in the complaint. Thus, the complaint failed to state a cause of action sounding in, inter alia, legal malpractice or breach of fiduciary duty insofar as asserted against McAuliffe Law (see Keness v. Feldman, Kramer & Monaco, P.C., 105 A.D.3d 812, 813, 963 N.Y.S.2d 313).

The Supreme Court also properly granted those branches of the Tarbet defendants’ motion which were pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(7) to dismiss the causes of action alleging legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty, and breach of contract insofar as asserted against them. “To state a cause of action to recover damages for legal malpractice, a plaintiff must allege: (1) that the attorney failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession; and (2) that the attorney’s breach of the duty proximately caused the plaintiff actual and ascertainable damages” (Dempster v. Liotti, 86 A.D.3d 169, 176, 924 N.Y.S.2d 484 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Keness v. Feldman, Kramer & Monaco, P.C., 105 A.D.3d at 812, 963 N.Y.S.2d 313). “A claim for legal malpractice is viable, despite settlement of the underlying action, if it is alleged that settlement of the action was effectively compelled by the mistakes of counsel” (Katsoris v. Bodnar & Milone, LLP, 186 A.D.3d 1504, 1505, 131 N.Y.S.3d 89 [internal quotation marks omitted]). “The plaintiff is required to plead actual, ascertainable damages that resulted from the attorneys’ negligence” (Bua v. Purcell & Ingrao, P.C., 99 A.D.3d 843, 847, 952 N.Y.S.2d 592; see Marinelli v. Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo, P.C., 205 A.D.3d at 716, 169 N.Y.S.3d 90; Katsoris v. Bodnar & Milone, LLP, 186 A.D.3d at 1506, 131 N.Y.S.3d 89). “Conclusory allegations of damages or injuries predicated on speculation cannot suffice for a malpractice action, and dismissal is warranted where the allegations in the complaint are merely conclusory and speculative” (Bua v. Purcell & Ingrao, P.C., 99 A.D.3d at 848, 952 N.Y.S.2d 592 [citations omitted]; see Marinelli v. Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo, P.C., 205 A.D.3d at 716, 169 N.Y.S.3d 90).

Here, the complaint failed to adequately allege that the Tarbet defendants’ breach of their professional duty proximately caused the plaintiff to sustain actual and ascertainable damages (see Marinelli v. Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo, P.C., 205 A.D.3d at 716, 169 N.Y.S.3d 90; Bua v. Purcell & Ingrao, P.C., 99 A.D.3d at 848, 952 N.Y.S.2d 592; Wald v. Berwitz, 62 A.D.3d 786, 787, 880 N.Y.S.2d 293). The plaintiff’s allegations that, but for the Tarbet defendants’ alleged negligence, the plaintiff would have received a more favorable settlement offer or outcome in the underlying action were conclusory and speculative (see Katsoris v. Bodnar & Milone, LLP, 186 A.D.3d at 1506, 131 N.Y.S.3d 89; Janker v. Silver, Forrester & Lesser, P.C., 135 A.D.3d 908, 910, 24 N.Y.S.3d 182). Accordingly, the complaint failed to state a cause of action to recover damages for legal malpractice insofar as asserted against the Tarbet defendants. Further, since the causes of action alleging breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract insofar as asserted against the Tarbet defendants arose from the same operative facts as the legal malpractice cause of action and did not allege distinct damages, they were duplicative of the legal malpractice cause of action and thus, also subject to dismissal (see Cali v. Maio, 189 A.D.3d 1337, 1339, 134 N.Y.S.3d 806; Keness v. Feldman, Kramer & Monaco, P.C., 105 A.D.3d at 813, 963 N.Y.S.2d 313).


Richard A. Klass, Esq.
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Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation at 16 Court Street, 28th Floor, Brooklyn, New York. He may be reached at (718) COURT●ST or RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.com with any questions.

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

© 2023 Richard A. Klass

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Conclusory allegations of damages or injuries predicated on speculation cannot suffice for a malpractice action.

In Marinelli v Sullivan Papain Block McGrath & Cannavo, P.C., 205 AD3d 714, 716 [2d Dept 2022], the court held:

In an action to recover damages for legal malpractice, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the attorney failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession and that the attorney’s breach of this duty proximately caused the plaintiff to sustain actual and ascertainable damages (see Rudolf v. Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 N.Y.3d 438, 442, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385; Bells v. Foster, 83 A.D.3d 876, 877, 922 N.Y.S.2d 124). Damages in a legal malpractice action are designed “to make the injured client whole” (Campagnola v. Mulholland, Minion & Roe, 76 N.Y.2d 38, 42, 556 N.Y.S.2d 239, 555 N.E.2d 611). “The plaintiff is required to plead actual, ascertainable damages that resulted from the attorneys’ negligence” (Bua v. Purcell & Ingrao, P.C., 99 A.D.3d 843, 847–848, 952 N.Y.S.2d 592; see Dempster v. Liotti, 86 A.D.3d 169, 176, 924 N.Y.S.2d 484). “Conclusory allegations of damages or injuries predicated on speculation cannot suffice for a malpractice action” (Bua v. Purcell & Ingrao, P.C., 99 A.D.3d at 848, 952 N.Y.S.2d 592; see Wald v. Berwitz, 62 A.D.3d 786, 787, 880 N.Y.S.2d 293; Holschauer v. Fisher, 5 A.D.3d 553, 554, 772 N.Y.S.2d 836), and “dismissal is warranted where the allegations in the complaint are merely conclusory and speculative” (Bua v. Purcell & Ingrao, P.C., 99 A.D.3d at 848, 952 N.Y.S.2d 592; see Hashmi v. Messiha, 65 A.D.3d 1193, 1195, 886 N.Y.S.2d 712; Riback v. Margulis, 43 A.D.3d 1023, 1023, 842 N.Y.S.2d 54).


Richard A. Klass, Esq.
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Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation at 16 Court Street, 28th Floor, Brooklyn, New York. He may be reached at (718) COURT●ST or RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.com with any questions.

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

© 2022 Richard A. Klass

Scales of justice illustrating article about legal malpractice.

Sanctions against attorneys for failing to notify the court that an appeal has been withdrawn

The Appellate Division made a decision regarding the request for sanctions against attorneys for failing to notify the court that an appeal has been withdrawn as moot. The court reminded counsel of the obligation to monitor the status of cases and keep the Appellate Division informed of developments in cases that may affect a pending appeal. In Guo-Bang Chen v Caesar and Napoli, P.C., 179 AD3d 46, 49-52 [2d Dept 2019], the court held:

This subdivision, by its plain language, imposes a continuing obligation on counsel to monitor the status of the case and to apprise the Appellate Division of certain developments that might affect a pending appeal (see 22 NYCRR 1250.2[c] ). Although, pursuant to this section, only one attorney needs to notify the Court of the relevant developments, all of the attorneys are independently responsible for ensuring that a timely notification actually takes place (see 22 NYCRR 1250.2[c] ). Where, as here, a timely notification is not given by any of the attorneys, they may each be held independently responsible and, absent a showing of good cause for the failure to ensure a timely notification, sanctioned for their respective conduct (see id.; Bank of N.Y. Mellon v. Smith, 176 A.D.3d 83, 108 N.Y.S.3d 193).

Here, the record demonstrates that the underlying action was settled on March 1, 2019, as confirmed in an email exchange between the Fixler firm, representing the appellants, and the Sim firm, representing the respondent. In one of those emails, an attorney from the Sim firm expressed his understanding that the Fixler firm would, among other things, withdraw the appeal pending in this Court. By email of March 5, 2019, to the Sim firm, an attorney with the Fixler firm stated that he would advise the appellants and their appellate counsel of the settlement and direct them to withdraw the appeal. However, the Fixler firm did not advise the appellants’ appellate counsel, the Mischel firm, of the settlement until March 26, 2019, at 4:55 p.m.

The Mischel firm, relying at the time exclusively upon its appellate printer for notification of the calendaring of the appeal, was unaware, on March 26, 2019, when notice of the settlement of the action was received, that the appeal had actually been calendared. The appellate printer concedes that, due to an error in entering information into its computerized court calendar tracking system, it failed to notify the Mischel firm that the appeal had been calendared. The appellate printer represents that this was the first time such an error had occurred in relation to the multitude of cases it has worked on with the Mischel firm since 1999. The Mischel firm likewise represents that this was the first time it had missed a calendar date in two decades of appellate practice.

Acting on the erroneous assumption that the appeal had not yet been calendared, the Mischel firm mailed a letter to this Court on Tuesday, April 2, 2019, advising this Court of the settlement and requesting withdrawal of the appeal. By letter dated April 9, 2019, this Court advised counsel that, because the appeal had already been on the calendar, a stipulation withdrawing the appeal and the approval of this Court would be required (see 22 NYCRR 670.2[a][3] ).

When counsel in the underlying action reached a settlement on March 1, 2019, the settlement triggered their mutual obligations to “immediately notify” this Court (22 NYCRR 1250.2[c] ). However, neither the Fixler firm nor the Sim firm ever notified this Court.

The Fixler firm, in its capacity as the appellants’ trial counsel during the pendency of this appeal, had a continuing obligation either to advise this Court directly of the settlement or to ensure that its clients’ appellate counsel, the Mischel firm, advised this Court of the settlement. It is undisputed that, on the very day of the settlement, the Sim firm expressed its understanding that the Fixler firm would take responsibility for securing the withdrawal of the appeal. Within a few days, the Fixler firm confirmed that it would notify its clients’ appellate counsel of the settlement. However, despite this representation, the Fixler firm did not notify the Mischel firm of the settlement until three weeks later.

The Fixler firm asserts that it filed a stipulation of discontinuance with the Supreme Court, on March 29, 2019, after the settlement funds had cleared, and that this Court was notified of the settlement within two business days thereafter. The Fixler firm’s contention that it could await the clearance of the settlement payment and the finalization of other paperwork before notifying this Court of the settlement is unavailing for several reasons.

We note that the Fixler firm committed in its March 5, 2019, email to notify the appellants’ appellate counsel without expressing an intent to delay notification for any period of time or for any reason. More important, 22 NYCRR 1250.2(c) of the statewide Practice Rules of the Appellate Division requires that this Court be notified “immediately” when there has been a settlement of the matter. One of the primary purposes of section 1250.2(c) is to protect the Appellate Courts from spending time reviewing and analyzing matters that have been rendered academic (see Bank of N.Y. Mellon v. Smith, 176 A.D.3d 83, 108 N.Y.S.3d 193). Delayed notification defeats that purpose; providing notification benefits the Court, the Bar, and the public generally by enabling the Court to suspend its review of an appeal that will become academic. There is no adverse impact to the parties and counsel on such an appeal as consideration of the appeal may be readily resumed should the settlement not be implemented.

Precisely in order to alert counsel that their obligation to give immediate notification of a settlement may not be postponed or delayed, this Court adopted its own local rule of practice which states that, for purposes of 22 NYCRR 1250.2(c), settlement includes “any oral or written agreement or understanding which may, once memorialized, render a determination of the cause unnecessary” (22 NYCRR 670.2[b] ). This local rule took effect March 4, 2019, and is thus applicable to the case at hand.

In this case, members of this Court were caused to devote hours of preparation and deliberation on an appeal which, unbeknown to them, had been settled nearly one month earlier. Had this Court been timely advised of the settlement in this case, it could have avoided wasting judicial resources on a settled case and could have redirected those resources to one of the many actual controversies that fill its docket. Since the Fixler firm had an independent obligation to give this Court notice of the settlement and assured the Sim Firm that, as between the attorneys, the Fixler firm would assume responsibility for notification, the imposition of sanctions upon the Fixler firm in the sum of $250 is warranted.

While the Sim firm had its own independent obligation to immediately notify this Court of the settlement, we conclude, under the circumstances, that the Sim firm reasonably relied upon the Fixler firm’s written commitment that the Fixler firm would discharge this obligation on behalf of all counsel. Also, while the Mischel firm did not notify this Court immediately of the settlement, it did act with sufficient promptness that, under the circumstances, renders the imposition of sanctions unwarranted. Accordingly, no sanctions are imposed as against the Sim firm and the Mischel firm.

R. A. Klass
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…the client must prove that he sustained damages….

Once the defendant-law firm has moved for summary judgment to dismiss the complaint, the client must prove that he sustained damages. See, Nill v Schneider, 173 AD3d 753 [2d Dept 2019]:

A plaintiff in an action alleging legal malpractice must prove that the defendant attorney’s failure to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession proximately caused the plaintiff to sustain actual and ascertainable damages (see Rudolf v. Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 N.Y.3d 438, 442, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534, 867 N.E.2d 385; Sang Seok NA v. Schietroma, 163 A.D.3d 597, 598, 79 N.Y.S.3d 636). “ An attorney’s conduct or inaction is the proximate cause of a plaintiff’s damages if but for the attorney’s negligence, the plaintiff would have succeeded on the merits of the underlying action, or would not have sustained actual and ascertainable damages ” (Nomura Asset Capital Corp. v. Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, 26 N.Y.3d 40, 50, 19 N.Y.S.3d 488, 41 N.E.3d 353 [citation and internal quotation marks omitted]; see Richmond Holdings, LLC v. David S. Frankel, P.C., 150 A.D.3d 1168, 1168, 52 N.Y.S.3d 672).

“ It is a defendant’s burden, when it is the party moving for summary judgment, to demonstrate affirmatively the merits of a defense, which cannot be sustained by pointing out gaps in the plaintiff’s proof ” (Quantum Corporate Funding, Ltd. v. Ellis, 126 A.D.3d 866, 871, 6 N.Y.S.3d 255). Once a defendant makes a prima facie showing, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to raise a triable issue of fact (see Iannucci v. Kucker & Bruh, LLP, 161 A.D.3d 959, 960, 77 N.Y.S.3d 118; Valley Ventures, LLC v. Joseph J. Haspel, PLLC, 102 A.D.3d 955, 956, 958 N.Y.S.2d 604).

Here, the defendant met her prima facie burden of demonstrating that the plaintiff did not sustain actual and ascertainable damages proximately caused by the defendant’s alleged negligent representation (see Harris v. Barbera, 163 A.D.3d 534, 536, 79 N.Y.S.3d 643; Panos v. Eisen, 160 A.D.3d 759, 760, 75 N.Y.S.3d 69; Kaloakas Mgt. Corp. v. Lawrence & Walsh, P.C., 157 A.D.3d at 779, 66 N.Y.S.3d 897). The evidentiary submissions established that the proximate cause of the plaintiff’s damages was the occurrence of a tree falling on the subject property during Hurricane Sandy, and not any claimed failure on the part of the defendant to discover, prior to the closing, any alleged discrepancy between the certificate of existing use and the 2007 survey of the subject property (see Excelsior Capitol LLC v. K & L Gates LLP, 138 A.D.3d 492, 492, 29 N.Y.S.3d 320; cf. Esposito v. Noto, 132 A.D.3d 944, 946, 19 N.Y.S.3d 300). In opposition, the plaintiff failed to raise a triable issue of fact. Accordingly, we agree with the Supreme Court’s determination granting the defendant’s cross motion for summary judgment dismissing the amended complaint insofar as asserted against her. For these same reasons, we agree with the court’s determination denying the plaintiff’s motion, inter alia, for summary judgment on the issue of liability.

R. A. Klass
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Legal malpractice case could not proceed since damages claim was speculative.

In Miami Capital, LLC v Hurwitz, 101 NYS3d 598 [1st Dept 2019], the court determined that the client’s legal malpractice case could not proceed since the damages claim was speculative, holding:

Defendant’s motion was properly granted because while plaintiff anticipates that it could be subject to a rescission claim at some point in the future, such alleged damages are purely speculative and not yet ripe. Since damages in a legal malpractice case are designed “ to make the injured client whole ” (Campagnola v. Mulholland, Minion & Roe, 76 N.Y.2d 38, 42, 556 N.Y.S.2d 239, 555 N.E.2d 611 [1990] ), having failed to plead actual damages, plaintiff’s complaint fails to state a claim (see Heritage Partners, LLC v. Stroock & Stroock & Lavan LLP, 133 A.D.3d 428, 19 N.Y.S.3d 511 [1st Dept. 2015], lv denied 27 N.Y.3d 904, 2016 WL 1692057 [2016]; Lavanant v. General Acc. Ins. Co. of Am., 212 A.D.2d 450, 622 N.Y.S.2d 726 [1st Dept. 1995] ).

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