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S.C. Legal Malpractice: No Guarantee for Underlying Arbitration Outcome

Harris Teeter, Inc. v. Moore & Van Allen, PLLC, 390 S.C. 275, 701 S.E. 2d 742 (2010)

S.C. Underlying arbitration/breach of lease

Student Contributor: Nicholas Seabrooks

Facts:  Harris Teeter was a supermarket that leased property from a company that later sold the property to Eastbay Venture LLC. In the lease renewal contract Eastbay decided to amend the contract with new terms that Harris Teeter would  not  agree to. Harris Teeter refused to pay the extra expenses in the lease, over a period of time, after which Eastbay sent Harris a letter terminating the lease. During the arbitration to  determine if Harris Teeter  breached the lease and owed Eastbay the defaulted expenses, they retained the respondents Moore & Van Allen to represent them in the arbitration. The arbitrator found for Eastbay and the plaintiffs fired the respondents and eventually negotiated a settlement  with Eastbay. Harris Teeter then filed a complaint against Moore & Van Allen alleging that respondents committed malpractice by failing to (1) introduce any evidence in regards to two "Kiriakides"  factors; (2) advise Harris Teeter of the risk of lease termination; and (3) settle the case prior to arbitration.

Issue: Did Moore & Van Allen commit malpractice by failing to introduce case law evidence, advise the plaintiff of the risk of lease termination, and settle the case prior to arbitration?

Ruling: No. The respondents clearly introduced evidence of the Kiriakides case in the arbitration and advised the plaintiff that his case wasn’t going to be an easy one to win warning that termination may be the result of the arbitration. Lastly the respondents tried to negotiate on the behalf of the plaintiffs but the plaintiffs refused the offer from Eastbay.

Lesson: To prove malpractice there has to be a breach of the standard care  by the attorney. A bad outcome in arbitration is not proof that there was malpractice. Furthermore under the judgmental immunity rule attorneys are not liable for acts and omissions in the conduct of litigation, which are based on honest exercise of professional judgment. 

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Posted in: Real Estate, South Carolina