Summary Judgment in High-Stakes Legal Malpractice Case
Obtained summary judgment in a legal malpractice case seeking in excess of $2 million stemming from a trial court judge’s determination in underlying litigation that our lawyer-clients had waived, on behalf of their former clients, challenges to the sufficiency of the evidence supporting the verdict. The underlying litigation arose from the events of 9/11. On the day of the terrorist attacks, a property manager of an apartment complex entered the residence of a Muslim tenant under the pretext of changing furnace filters, snooped through his apartment, and then reported to police the residence as containing items suspicious of terroristic activities. The tenant, a physician, was then arrested and interrogated by the FBI, terminated from his job, and subject to national publicity. The FBI uncovered no evidence of terrorist activity, and no charges were ultimately pursued. The tenant sued in federal court for violations of his civil rights and invasion of privacy. Our lawyer-clients defended the property manager and apartment complex at trial. The jury found in favor of the tenant on the invasion of privacy claims, entering a verdict for the plaintiff for $2.45 million. On a post-trial Rule 50 motion, the trial judge found that the defendants failed to file a motion during trial specific to the invasion of privacy claims and, therefore, waived such issues for post-trial consideration. In the subsequent legal malpractice lawsuit, the court granted summary judgment on the basis that the plaintiffs, the former clients, were unable to establish that our lawyer-clients were the proximate cause of their claimed loss. The court agreed with our analysis that the issue of causation—whether the verdict in the underlying litigation would have been overturned post-trial or on appeal "but for" the attorney’s waiver—was a question of law for the court to decide alone, not a jury, and that consideration of expert testimony offered by either side was inappropriate. The court also agreed that, upon review of the trial court record, and applying the standard of review applicable in the underlying action, the evidence was sufficient to have supported the jury’s verdict on both invasion of privacy theories of recovery. Because the plaintiffs could not establish that the verdict would have been overturned had a "proper" Rule 50 motion been made during trial, the plaintiffs could not establish that our lawyer-clients were the cause of actual loss to plaintiffs.