Articles Posted in Professional Malpractice & Ethics

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Moonlight Enterprises LLC filed a legal malpractice action against attorneys Francis Mroz and Stephen Zachary. The circuit court granted the attorneys’ pleas in bar and dismissed them both on statute of limitations grounds and, alternatively, dismissing Mroz on the basis of res judicata. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that, on the statute of limitations grounds, the circuit court incorrectly found that the continuous-representation rule did not toll Moonlight’s malpractice claims against Zachary but correctly found that the rule did not toll Moonlight’s claims against Mroz. Remanded. View "Moonlight Enterprises, LLC v. Mroz" on Justia Law

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In 2003, Dumville met with attorney Thorsen to prepare her will. Thorsen understood that Dumville wanted a will that would, upon her death, convey all of her property to her mother if her mother survived her, and, if her mother predeceased her, to the Richmond Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA). Dumville was 43 and lived with three cats, which she desired to go to the RSPCA upon her death. Thorsen prepared, and Dumville executed, the will. She died in 2008, her mother having predeceased her. Thorsen, as co-executor of the estate, notified the RSPCA that it was the sole beneficiary of Dumville’s estate. Thorsen was informed that, in the opinion of the title insurance company, the will left only the tangible estate, not real estate, to the RSPCA. Thorsen brought suit in a collateral proceeding to correct this “scrivener’s error” based on Dumville’s clear original intent. The court found the language unambiguously limited the RSPCA bequest to tangible personal property, while the intangible estate passed intestate to Dumville’s heirs at law. The RSPCA received $72,015.60, but the bequest, less expenses, would have totaled $675,425.50 absent the error. RSPCA sued Thorsen for negligence, as a third-party beneficiary of his contract with Dumville. The court found for the RSPCA. The Supreme Court of Virginia affirmed: RSPCA was a clearly and definitely identified third-party beneficiary. View "Thorsen v. Richmond Soc'y for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff retained Defendant to represent her in a criminal matter. After a trial, Plaintiff was found guilty of felony assault and battery. Plaintiff subsequently filed a petition for writ of habeas corpus alleging that she was deprived of her constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel. The habeas court granted the petition and vacated Plaintiff’s conviction, concluding that Defendant’s representation was constitutionally deficient. Plaintiff subsequently pled guilty to misdemeanor assault and battery. Thereafter, Plaintiff filed a legal malpractice claim against Defendant alleging that Defendant’s actions during the original criminal matter constituted malpractice. The circuit court sustained Defendant’s demurrer to the complaint, concluding that Plaintiff failed to state a claim because she was not actually innocent of the criminal act of assault that gave rise to the criminal matter in which the alleged malpractice occurred. The Supreme Court affirmed, holding that Plaintiff failed to satisfy her burden of pleading that the pecuniary injury she sought to recover was proximately caused by Defendant’s legal malpractice, rather than being proximately caused by her criminal actions. View "Desetti v. Chester" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff sought to bring a legal malpractice claim against his criminal defense attorneys and their respective law firms. The circuit court dismissed the criminal malpractice claim on the grounds that the settlement and release of some defendants by way of a release agreement was a release of all defendants. Plaintiff subsequently filed a legal malpractice suit against the law firm that represented him in the criminal malpractice claim (Defendant), arguing that the firm breached its duty to him. A jury found Defendant liable to Plaintiff and awarded judgment in the amount of $5.75 million. The Supreme Court reversed the circuit court’s denial of Defendant’s second plea in bar, reversed the circuit court’s order affirming the jury award, vacated the jury award, and remanded the case, holding that the circuit court erred in refusing to sustain Defendant’s second plea in bar in which Defendant argued that Plaintiff was barred from recovering on his legal malpractice claim because, as a matter of law, Defendant did not breach its duty by failing to correctly anticipate a judicial ruling on an unsettled legal issue. View "Smith v. McLaughlin" on Justia Law

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Plaintiff Fox Rest Associates (Fox Rest) was formed to purchase Fox Rest Apartments. Defendants in this case were George Little, Fox Rest's legal counsel through his law firm, George B. Little and Associates (GBL&A), George Little's wife, and GBL&A. This action took place after Mr. Little sold the Apartments without knowledge of Fox Rest and transferred a portion of the proceeds from the sale in an account he held with Mrs. Little. Unable to satisfy a previous judgment finding Mr. Little and GLB&A liable to Fox Rest for, inter alia, malpractice and double billing, Fox Rest filed this action against Defendants, seeking to void various transactions by Mr. Little as fraudulent conveyances and voluntary conveyances. The court granted Defendants' motion to strike, finding that Fox Rest did not present sufficient evidence in its case in chief to establish a prima facie case for its claims. The Supreme Court affirmed in part and reversed in part, holding that, except for a portion of the claims relating to the sale of certain equipment, the circuit court erred in striking Fox Rest's fraudulent conveyance and voluntary conveyance claims. Remanded. View "Fox Rest Assocs., L.P. v. Little" on Justia Law