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NY: Client Barred from Raising Malpractice Claim Twice Because of Res Judicata

Montalbano, Condon, & Frank, PC v. Rodi, 54 A.D.3d 1012 (App. Div. 2d Dept. 2008)

NY: Client subsequently barred from raising issues it failed to raise in first malpractice dispute.

Student Contributor: Jared Levy

Facts: The plaintiff law firm represented the defendant in the underlying matrimonial action. The defendant did not pay for the legal services rendered, so plaintiff sued to recover damages for breach of contract The plaintiff also sought compensation of $16,909.50 for disbursements. The defendant counterclaimed for legal malpractice claiming the plaintiff failed to disclose a conflict of interest prior to representing the client. The law firm moved for summary judgment at the trial level for its monetary damages and also to dismiss the defendant’s counterclaim stating that it was barred by res judicata (plaintiff had previously sued the defendants for legal malpractice unsuccessfully).

Issue:   1) Was the plaintiff entitled to summary judgment with regard to services rendered?

 2) Was the plaintiff entitled to summary judgment on the grounds of res judicata?

Ruling: 1) Yes. The plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment on the compensation for legal services because the defendant accepted and received the legal services from the defendant without objection. The defendant also made partial payment on the invoices sent to him from the firm for those legal services. Since defendant was unable to raise a triable issue of fact with respect to these issues, the plaintiff was entitled to summary judgment.

2) Yes. With regard to the defendant’s counterclaim, the plaintiff is entitled to summary judgment on the defendant’s claims being barred by res judicata as they were able to show that a claim for legal malpractice arising from the same representation was dismissed on the merits. It is irrelevant if the prior action was based on slightly different facts because the subject matter is the same. The defendant should have raised any issues regarding the legal representation in its prior claim.

Lesson: With regard to the res judicata analysis employed by the court, New York uses a “transactional approach” to litigating res judicata claims. While the facts may be different, if the subject matter is the same, then the doctrine of res judicata applies.

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Posted in: Attorneys Fees, Conflicts of Interest, Damages, Family Law, New York