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NY: When Proving Legal Malpractice, Get it Right the First Time. No second bites at the Apple!

Maddux v. Schur, 83 A.D.3d 1156, 920 N.Y.S.2d 812 (2011)

NY: Underlying tax assessment proceeding 

Student Contributor: Alexis Trezza

Facts: Defendant represented plaintiff in a tax assessment proceeding that she brought against the Town of Oppenheim. During that action, she claims that the town was held in contempt. In 2003, plaintiff commenced a legal malpractice action against the defendant. Plaintiff alleged that the defendant never filed an order with the Supreme Court memorializing the contempt finding that it issued against the Town of Oppenhem. As such, she claims that defendant was negligent in representing her during the proceeding against the town. Defendant’s motion to dismiss plaintiff’s claim was granted after the plaintiff finished presenting her proof at trial. Plaintiff then filed a motion to renew, claiming that she had new evidence that confirmed that the Town of Oppenheim had been held in contempt in the tax assessment proceeding. The Court found that her motion was actually a motion to be relieved from the effects of a prior judgment and denied it. Plaintiff brought another motion to renew one year later. This time, she claimed that she had new evidence that, had it been admitted at trial, would have proven that the defendant was negligent. The Court once again found this motion to actually be a motion to be relieved from a prior judgment and denied it. Plaintiff now appeals.

Issue: Was plaintiff’s motion properly denied?

Ruling: Yes. A motion to renew is not the proper procedural vehicle to address a final judgment and the Supreme Court properly treated plaintiff’s motion as a motion to be relieved from the prior order of dismissal and its resulting judgment. Furthermore, where a motion to be relieved from the effects of a prior judgment is in regards to the trial court’s discretion, reversal is only proper where there has been a clear abuse of discretion.

Lesson: A motion to renew will only be treated as such where the evidence (in this case, evidence of an attorney’s negligence) upon which such a motion is based is actually new and is so compelling that, had it been introduced at trial, it would have resulted in a different ruling. Here, the plaintiff knew of the underlying contempt finding and should have brought adequate proof of it on her case in chief in the malpractice action. 

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Posted in: New York