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NY: Privity. Alive and Well (Investment Losses)

Rechberger v. Scolaro, Shulman, Cohen, Fetter & Burstein, P.C., 45 A.D.3d 1453, 848 N.Y.S.2d 459 (2007)

NY: Business losses allegedly attributed to malpractice.

Student Contributor: Michael Park

Facts: Plaintiff was a shareholder in a corporation represented by an attorney. Through the course of business, the plaintiff lost money in his investment in the corporation. The plaintiff then brought a legal malpractice suit against attorney alleging that the attorney’s conduct was the cause of the investment loss. The attorney moved to dismiss the complaint on the grounds of no attorney-client relationship and the trial court denied the motion. The attorney then appealed.

Issue: Did the trial court err in denying the motion to dismiss for lack of attorney-client relationship?

Ruling: Yes. In reversing the ruling by the Supreme Court, Wyoming County, the Appellate Division, Fourth Department held for the attorney for the following reasons:
1) An individual’s belief that he had an attorney-client relationship with a lawyer does not necessarily “confer upon him the status of a client”. In a legal malpractice action, an attorney-client relationship must be established.
2) Furthermore, while the plaintiff was a shareholder in the corporation represented by attorney this does not necessarily mean they had an attorney-client relationship. The plaintiff failed to produce documentary evidence that the relationship with the attorney rose to the level of an attorney-client relationship.

Lesson: A shareholder in a corporation does not necessarily enjoy an attorney-client relationship with a lawyer who represents that corporation because that person is a shareholder. Furthermore, more than a mere belief by the client that they have an attorney-client relationship with a lawyer is needed to prove the existence of that relationship.

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Posted in: Commercial, New York, Privity