Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

New York Legal Malpractice Standards — Shifting Burdens on Summary Judgment

Valley Ventures, LLC v. Joseph J. Haspel, PLLC, 2013 N.Y. App. Div. LEXIS 466 (2d Dept. Jan. 30, 2013):

"In an action to recover damages for legal malpractice, a plaintiff must demonstrate that the attorney failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession and that the attorney's breach of this duty proximately caused plaintiff to sustain actual and ascertainable damages" (Rudolf v Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 NY3d 438, 442, 867 N.E.2d 385, 835 N.Y.S.2d 534 [internal quotation marks omitted]; see Verdi v Jacoby & Meyers, LLP, 92 AD3d 771, 772, 938 N.Y.S.2d 806; Barnett v Schwartz, 47 AD3d 197, 203, 848 N.Y.S.2d 663). "To establish causation, a plaintiff must show that he or she would have prevailed in the underlying action or would not have incurred any damages, but for the lawyer's negligence" (Rudolf v Shayne, Dachs, Stanisci, Corker & Sauer, 8 NY3d at 442). "To succeed on a motion for summary judgment, the defendant in a legal malpractice action must present evidence in admissible form establishing that the plaintiff is unable to prove at least one of these essential elements" (Verdi v Jacoby & Meyers, LLP, 92 AD3d at 772 [internal quotation marks omitted]). Once a defendant makes this prima facie showing, the burden shifts to the plaintiff to raise an issue of fact requiring a trial (see Siciliano v Forchelli & Forchelli, 17 AD3d 343, 344-345, 793 N.Y.S.2d 102; Schadoff v Russ, 278 AD2d 222, 223, 717 N.Y.S.2d 284).

Here, the defendants established their prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law dismissing the complaint by demonstrating that the plaintiffs would be unable to prove the element of causation (see Marino v Lipsitz, Green, Fahringer, Roll, Salibury & Cambria, LLP, 87 AD3d 566, 567, 928 N.Y.S.2d 462; Pistilli Constr. & Dev. Corp. v Epstein, Rayhill & Frankini, 84 AD3d 913, 914, 921 N.Y.S.2d 887; Markowitz v Kurzman Eisenberg Corbin Lever & Goodman, LLP, 82 AD3d 719, 917 N.Y.S.2d 683). In opposition, the plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue of fact (see generally Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d [*2]557, 562, 404 N.E.2d 718, 427 N.Y.S.2d 595).

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