Where former client sues for legal malpractice but previously filed for bankruptcy

Where the former client sues for legal malpractice but has previously filed for bankruptcy, there must be an evaluation as to whether the legal malpractice claim is part of the bankruptcy estate or if the former client may pursue the action, as held in Gobindram v Ruskin Moscou Faltischek, P.C., 2019 NY Slip Op 06190 [2d Dept Aug. 21, 2019]:

We find unpersuasive the defendants’ additional alternative contention that the legal malpractice cause of action was properly dismissed pursuant to CPLR 3211(a)(3) because that cause of action belongs to the bankruptcy estate and the plaintiff lacked standing to assert it. “ On a defendant’s motion to dismiss the complaint based upon the plaintiff’s alleged lack of standing, the burden is on the moving defendant to establish, prima facie, the plaintiff’s lack of standing ” (BAC Home Loans Servicing, LP v. Rychik, 161 A.D.3d 924, 925, 77 N.Y.S.3d 522; see CPLR 3211[a][3]; MLB Sub I, LLC v. Bains, 148 A.D.3d 881, 881–882). “ [T]he motion will be defeated if the plaintiff’s submissions raise a question of fact as to its standing ” (U.S. Bank N.A. v. Clement, 163 A.D.3d 742, 743, 81 N.Y.S.3d 116 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see MLB Sub I, LLC v. Bains, 148 A.D.3d at 882, 50 N.Y.S.3d 410).

Here, in response to the defendants’ prima facie showing that the plaintiff’s legal malpractice cause of action was the property of the bankruptcy estate (see Wright v. Meyers & Spencer, LLP, 46 A.D.3d 805, 849 N.Y.S.2d 274; Williams v. Stein, 6 A.D.3d 197, 198, 775 N.Y.S.2d 255; In re Strada Design Assoc., Inc., 326 B.R. 229, 237–240 [S.D. N.Y.]), the plaintiff raised a question of fact as to whether the bankruptcy trustee had abandoned the cause of action in accordance with Bankruptcy Code (11 USC) § 554(a) and had authorized the plaintiff to pursue it. Accordingly, dismissal of the legal malpractice cause of action for lack of standing is not available at this juncture.

R. A. Klass
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If attorney has violated a disciplinary rule…

If an attorney has been determined to have violated a disciplinary rule, the client may seek to have the attorney’s fees forfeited. In Baugher v Cullen and Dykman, LLP, 173 AD3d 959 [2d Dept 2019], court held:

“ An attorney who violates a disciplinary rule may be discharged for cause and is not entitled to fees for any services rendered ” (Jay Deitz & Assoc. of Nassau County, Ltd. v. Breslow & Walker, LLP, 153 A.D.3d 503, 506, 59 N.Y.S.3d 443; see Matter of Montgomery, 272 N.Y. 323, 326, 6 N.E.2d 40; Saint Annes Dev. Co. v. Batista, 165 A.D.3d 997, 998, 85 N.Y.S.3d 145; Doviak v. Finkelstein & Partners, LLP, 90 A.D.3d 696, 699, 934 N.Y.S.2d 467; Quinn v. Walsh, 18 A.D.3d 638, 795 N.Y.S.2d 647; Brill v. Friends World Coll., 133 A.D.2d 729, 520 N.Y.S.2d 160). A cause of action for forfeiture of legal fees based on an attorney’s discharge for cause due to ethical violations may be maintained independent of a cause of action alleging legal malpractice or breach of fiduciary duty, and does not require proof or allegations of damages (see Jay Deitz & Assoc. of Nassau County, Ltd. v. Breslow & Walker, LLP, 153 A.D.3d at 506, 59 N.Y.S.3d 443; Ulico Cas. Co. v. Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker, 56 A.D.3d 1, 865 N.Y.S.2d 14).

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Court can sometimes hold attorney who brings “frivolous” causes of action liable for sanctions

Sometimes, a court can hold an attorney who brings or continues causes of action deemed “frivolous” or without merit liable for costs and/or sanctions. In Boye v. Rubin & Bailin, LLP, 152 AD3d 1 [1 Dept. 2017], the First Department held that the attorney for the client-plaintiff in a legal malpractice action ought to be sanctioned for frivolous conduct, mainly due to the attorney’s pursuit of a meritless claim. In remanding the case to the lower court, the appellate court held that,…

~ ~ ~

After a careful review of the appellate record and the parties’ briefs, we draw the only conclusion such record permits—the bases for the legal malpractice claim have been without merit in law or fact since their inception. More concerning, however, is that despite it having been apparent from the record that successor counsel was the one who withdrew the conversion and breach of contract claims in the federal action and not defendants, and despite being alerted to this fact by the record of this case and Supreme Court on multiple occasions, counsel persists in repeating a materially false claim to this Court.

There can be no good faith basis for the repetition of this materially false claim on appeal, and we find that counsel’s behavior would satisfy any of the criteria necessary to deem conduct frivolous. In fact, the only fair conclusion is that the prosecution of this appeal and knowing pursuit of a materially false and meritless claim was meant to delay or prolong the litigation or to harass respondents.

“Among the factors we are directed to consider is whether the conduct was continued when it became apparent, or should have been apparent, that the conduct was frivolous, or when such was brought to the attention of the parties or to counsel (22 NYCRR 130-1.1 [c]), circumstances that are replete in this record as noted above” (Levy v Carol Mgt. Corp., 260 AD2d 27, 34 [1st Dept 1999]).

We also consider that sanctions serve to deter future frivolous conduct “not only by the particular parties, but also by the Bar at large” (id. at 34). The goals include preventing the waste of judicial resources, and deterring vexatious litigation and dilatory or malicious litigation tactics.

Here, counsel was ethically obligated to withdraw any baseless and false claims, if not upon his own review of the record, certainly by the time Supreme Court advised him of this fact. Instead, counsel continued to repeat a knowingly false claim in what could only be described as a purposeful attempt to mislead this Court, and pursued claims which were completely without merit in law or fact.

The appropriate remedy for maintaining a frivolous appeal is the award of sanctions in the amount of the reasonable expenses and costs including attorneys’ fees incurred in defending the appeal (see Matter of Levine, 82 AD3d 524, 527 [1st Dept 2011]). Thus, we remand the matter to Supreme Court for a determination of the amount of expenses and costs including attorneys’ fees incurred by defendants in defending this appeal, and for entry of an appropriate judgment as against plaintiff’s attorney.

R. A. Klass
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Pay the Worker on the Day He (or She) Works

We can do it!, ca. 1942 - ca. 1943; Creator(s): Office for Emergency Management. War Production Board.

This guiding principle is so important that it is laid out in several passages throughout the Bible. It is incumbent upon an employer to pay the wages of its employees on a timely basis. If the employer does not pay its employees, New York State law provides employees with significant remedies, including an entitlement to monetary penalties against the employer over and above the unpaid wages and the recovery of attorney’s fees.

Some teachers in a private religious school were not paid their salaries for several months. The school’s administration claimed that, due to the nonpayment of tuition by a large number of the parent body, the school could not pay these teachers. In the meantime, however, the school continued to pay some of its teachers, business-as-usual. One of the teachers who was not paid her salary hired Richard A. Klass, Your Court Street Lawyer, to help recover her unpaid wages.

100% liquidated damages under NY’s labor law

An action was brought on behalf of the teacher against the private religious school for the unpaid wages. The complaint also sought the additional amount of liquidated damages that may be awarded to an employee for wages owed by an employer on an unpaid wage claim. The entitlement to this additional element of damages (“equal to 100% of the total amount of the wages found to be due”) and reasonable attorney’s fees are provided for in New York State Labor Law §198(1-a). Specifically, Labor Law §198(1-a) provides, in relevant part:

In any action instituted in the courts upon a wage claim by an employee or the commissioner in which the employee prevails, the court shall allow such employee to recover the full amount of any underpayment, all reasonable attorney’s fees, prejudgment interest as required under the civil practice law and rules, and, unless the employer proves a good faith basis to believe that its underpayment of wages was in compliance with the law, an additional amount as liquidated damages equal to one hundred percent of the total amount of the wages found to be due.

Under the above statute, an employer must be able to prove that it had a “good faith basis” to believe that its failure to pay its employees was in compliance with the law in order to avoid an award of liquidated damages. In this case, it was urged that the school had no valid basis for not paying its teachers.

Religious school can be sued in secular court

The religious school argued that the Establishment Clause of the United States Constitution (separation of church and state) barred the government’s excessive entanglement in religion—in essence, stating that this dispute belonged in a rabbinical court. In response to this argument, it was urged that this case was not about religion; it was squarely and fundamentally about the breach of an employment contract.

Courts can apply ‘neutral principles of law’ to dispute

Respecting the place of religion in American society, courts will generally decline to involve themselves in disputes involving religious institutions except under limited circumstances. New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, in Congregation Yetev Lev D’Satmar, Inc. v. Kahan, held that where the matter to be decided does not involve questions of discipline and doctrine but is a temporal matter, a court may inquire and consider the same in the light of the civil contractual rights and obligations of the parties. The Court of Appeals stated, “Civil disputes involving religious parties or institutions may be adjudicated without offending the First Amendment as long as neutral principles of law are the basis for their resolution (see First Presbyterian Church of Schenectady v. United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America). The “neutral principles of law” approach requires the court to apply objective, well-established principles of secular law to the issues.”
In Saffra v. Rockwood Park Jewish Center, Inc., the court held that issues surrounding a rabbi’s employment agreement with a synagogue were not an ecclesiastical matter but rather a matter dealing with a “mundane” contract to be construed by a court. New York law recognizes that “a religious corporation is liable on its contracts the same as any other corporation and, generally, questions concerning the contractual liability of a religious corporation are controlled by the principles governing the contractual powers and liability of corporations generally.” See, 92 N.Y. Jur.2d Religious Organizations, §16. Accordingly, the fact that the school was a religious school would be irrelevant to its liability for breaching its contractual obligations to its teachers for unpaid wages.
There were no religious issues or doctrines presented in this case; the action was brought solely to enforce the teacher’s contract rights to recover her unpaid wages for the period of time that she had already performed under her teaching contract. Faced with the arguments put forth by the teacher, the school relented and paid over $23,000 of back wages owed to the teacher, along with all of her legal fees and expenses.

copyr. 2014 Richard A. Klass, Esq.
The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com
Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation in Brooklyn Heights, New York.
He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.comcreate new email with any questions.
Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

Credits: Photo of Richard Klass by Robert Matson, copyr. Richard A. Klass, 2011.
Marketing services by The Innovation Works, Inc. www.TheInnovationWorks.com.

Image on page one: We can do it!, ca. 1942 – ca. 1943; Creator(s): Office for Emergency Management. War Production Board.

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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Seminar Announcement: “Nuts and Bolts of Collection Law”

In early November, Richard Klass will help present a seminar entitled The Nuts and Bolts of Collection Law. This seminar, presented by the National Business Institute, will take place at the Hyatt Place Garden City, in Garden City, New York. Information follows.

Nuts and Bolts of Collection Law

Date: Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Time: 9:00 am-4:30 pm

Location:

Hyatt Place Garden City
5 North Avenue
Garden City, NY

Facility Phone: 516-222-6277

NBI Product ID#: 57049ER

Program Description

Ensure Your Clients Get Paid
Winning a judgment against a bad debt doesn’t necessarily mean cash in hand. Do you have a firm grasp of the procedures for legally collecting that debt? Are your recovery actions in compliance with the strict guidelines governing collection? Don’t rush in unprepared. Maximize your chances for recovery with the practical steps provided in this strategic seminar. Enroll today!

  • Avoid collection activities that violate the FDCPA and/or state laws.
  • Learn best practices for discovering debtor assets both pre- and post-judgment.
  • Recognize what provisional and final remedies are available to creditors to collect what is owed.
  • Walk through the procedural steps for executing wage garnishments, judgment liens, attachments and other methods of collection.
  • Know the creditor’s rights when collecting debt and when the debtor files for bankruptcy.

Who Should Attend

This basic-to-intermediate level seminar is primarily designed for attorneys and other legal professionals. Those who may also benefit from the collection techniques provided include: collection and loan officers, accounts receivable personnel, credit managers, bankers and controllers.

Course Content

  1. The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (FDCPA) and State Collection Laws
  2. Ethical Issues in Collection
  3. How to Find Debtors and Their Assets
  4. Obtaining a Judgment: A Procedural Guide
  5. Collecting a Judgment: A Procedural Guide
  6. Creditors’ Rights When a Debtor Files Bankruptcy
Continuing Education Credits:

Continuing Legal Education
CLE 7.20 – NJ
CLE 7.00 – NY*

Continuing Professional Education for Accountants
CPE for Accountants: 7.00

Institute of Certified Bankers

ICB: 6.75*

* denotes specialty credits

Agenda

THE FAIR DEBT COLLECTION PRACTICES ACT (FDCPA) AND STATE COLLECTION LAWS

9:00 – 9:45, Richard A. Klass
Scope of the FDCPA
Understanding the Actions Permitted or Restricted by the Act
Demand Letters: Pitfalls to Avoid
Liability and Defenses
State Collection Laws and Their Application/Preemption
ETHICAL ISSUES IN COLLECTION
9:45 – 10:45, Richard A. Klass
Communication With Clients and Other Parties
Disclosure Issues
Aggressive Collection Practices
Unauthorized Practice of Law
Reporting Professional Misconduct
HOW TO FIND DEBTORS AND THEIR ASSETS
11:00 – 12:00, Michael Cardello III
Prejudgment Discovery Methods
Personal vs. Business Assets
Replevin/Self-Help Repossession Considerations
OBTAINING A JUDGMENT: A PROCEDURAL GUIDE
1:00 – 2:00, Michael Cardello III
Filing the Lawsuit
Service of Process
Affirmative Defenses and Counterclaims
Judgments (Default, Summary, etc.)
COLLECTING A JUDGMENT: A PROCEDURAL GUIDE
2:15 – 3:15, Kenneth H. Wurman
Post-Judgment Discovery
Judgment Liens
Wage and Bank Account Garnishment
Attachments
Writ of Execution/Seize and Sale by Sheriff
Charging Orders
Debtor Slow-Pay Motions
Turnover/Receivership
Exemptions by Debtors
Dealing With Fraudulent Transfers
CREDITORS’ RIGHTS WHEN A DEBTOR FILES BANKRUPTCY

3:15 – 4:30, Michael D. Brofman

Speakers

RICHARD A. KLASS is an attorney in the Brooklyn office of Your Court Street Lawyer. Mr. Klass is an arbitrator for the small claims part of the civil court of the City of New York, County of Kings. He practices in the areas of collections, bankruptcy, debtor and creditor, commercial litigation, legal malpractice, medical malpractice, personal injury, real estate condominium law, family law, divorce, child custody and private placement adoption law, wills, probate, trusts and estates. Mr. Klass has written numerous articles and has lectured frequently for the Brooklyn Bar Association and New York County Lawyers Association, as well as other professional groups and organizations. Mr. Klass is a member of The American Association for Justice, the New York State Bar Association, the New York County Lawyers Association (chair, The Mentoring Program, Group Mentoring Program) and the Brooklyn Volunteer Lawyers Project (Pro Bono Counsel). He earned his B.A. degree from Hofstra University and his J.D. degree from New York Law School.

MICHAEL D. BROFMAN is a member in the New Hyde Park law firm of Weiss & Zarett P.C., where he practices in the areas of bankruptcy law, debtor/creditor rights, non-judicial workouts and commercial litigation. He has lectured for the Nassau County and New York State bar associations on topics relating to his areas of practice, and is a frequent lecturer for National Business Institute on bankruptcy and secured creditor topics. He is a member of the Nassau County (member, Bankruptcy and Bank sections) and the New York State (member, Committee on Bankruptcy Law and General Practice Section) bar associations, the American Bankruptcy Institute and the Volunteer Lawyer’s Project Pro Bono Bankruptcy Panel. Mr. Brofman earned his B.A. degree from the State University of New York at Binghamton and his J.D. degree from Fordham University.

MICHAEL CARDELLO III is a partner in the Litigation Department of Moritt Hock & Hamroff LLP, concentrating in business and commercial litigation. Mr. Cardello represents large and small businesses, financial institutions and individuals in federal and state courts. He has a wide range of experience that includes trials and appellate work in the areas of corporate disputes, shareholder derivative actions, dissolutions, construction disputes, equipment and vehicle leasing disputes and other complex commercial and business disputes. Mr. Cardello earned his B.A. degree in marketing, his M.B.A. degree in finance and his J.D. degree from Hofstra University. While in law school, he was associate editor of the Hofstra Law Review. Mr. Cardello is the current vice-chairman of the Commercial Litigation Committee of the Nassau County Bar Association and also is a member of the Alternative Dispute Resolution and Securities Committee of the Nassau County Bar Association. He lectures on discovery, trial practice, equipment and vehicle leasing issues and e-discovery.

KENNETH H. WURMAN is a partner in the law firm of Naidich Wurman Birnbaum & Maday, LLP, where his practice areas, for more than 30 years, include collections and real estate. Mr. Wurman is a lecturer for National Business Institute on collection matters. He earned his B.S. degree from the State University of New York at Albany and his J.D. degree from New England School of Law. Mr. Wurman is a member of the Nassau County and New York State bar associations.

copyr. 2011 Richard A. Klass, Esq.

The firm’s website: www.CourtStreetLaw.com

Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation at 16 Court Street, 28th Floor, Brooklyn Heights, New York.

He may be reached at (718) COURT-ST or e-ml to RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.comcreate new email with any questions.

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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