McCann v. Manheimer, New York Supreme, Nassau County, January 10, 2011.
Facts: Plaintiff filed suit for legal malpractice against her former attorneys. Defendant attorneys moved for summary judgment on the basis that the suit was barred by the applicable statute of limitations because it had been filed more than three years after the termination of the attorney-client relationship.
Defendants alleged that the attorney-client relationship ended on October 28, 2005, at or around the time when they mailed a letter to plaintiff terminating the attorney-client relationship. Plaintiff, however, alleged that she never received the letter, and that she understood the attorney-client relationship continued through March, 2007.
Issue: Was Defendants’ disengagement letter enough to establish the termination of the attorney-client relationship?
Ruling: Not necessarily.
Defendants presented evidence from their paralegal who testified that she had mailed the disengagement letter out in or about October, 2005, and the testimony of a representative of the Defendants’ case management software program who stated that the letter had been created, modified, and printed in or around that time period.
Plaintiff testified that she never received the letter, and had her mother testify that the letter never came to the address to which it was sent. She also produced an affidavit from a "certified Microsoft Windows IT specialist" who opined that document properties could be manipulated to create the appearance that the document was drafted on an earlier date.
Despite New York law providing that a letter that has been mailed is presumed to have been received, the Court held that plaintiff had raised a triable issue of fact, since "the credibility of the parties [was] central to the determination of the [issue]."
Lesson: The decision alerts attorneys to the importance of disengagement letters, and quite possibly, the need to deliver them by courier who can confirm delivery and signature.