Attorneys from Collins Einhorn Farrell’s professional liability and appellate departments prevailed in a contentious multi-million dollar legal malpractice and fraud claim filed in 2010 against their clients. The Michigan Court of Appeals opinion in the case sends a strong message to those plaintiffs who attempt to raise new theories at the eleventh-hour or rely on generalized pleadings.
The case began as a business dispute between the members of a Michigan limited liability company in the business of owning, developing, managing, and leasing commercial real estate. It eventually grew to include legal malpractice and fraud claims filed against CEF’s clients, a Livingston County attorney/businessman and his law firm. No fewer than eight law firms were involved in over two years of trial level litigation.
The legal malpractice claim was defended in the trial court by CEF lawyers Theresa Asoklis and Melissa Graves. A motion for summary disposition was filed after extensive discovery, including over 30 full days of deposition testimony from key witnesses. In response to the dispositive motion, the opposing parties effectively abandoned most of their original claims and attempted to inject entirely new theories into the case. Asoklis and Graves were successful in foiling this eleventh-hour attempt to plead new malpractice theories and obtained a summary disposition/dismissal of the legal malpractice claim in the Livingston County Circuit Court.
CEF appellate veteran Noreen Slank defended the appeal of both the fraud and malpractice claims. Slank secured a complete win in the Court of Appeals. The opinion affirmed the dismissal of the legal malpractice claim and found that the pleadings failed to reasonably inform CEF’s clients of theories raised for the first time in response to the summary disposition motion. As to the legal malpractice allegations actually pled, the Court of Appeals agreed that most of the allegations were conclusory and failed to state a claim. As to a claim that there was a conflict of interest regarding the CEF clients’ representation of their client, the appellate court agreed that any such conflict had been waived.
The opinion also affirmed the trial court’s dismissal of the fraud claim. The Court of Appeals found that all but one of the fraud allegations were not contained in the pleadings and that the single claim that was included was not pled with sufficient particularity regarding the circumstances of the alleged fraud and was barred by the statute of limitations and by a merger clause in the parties’ operating agreement. Click here to read the opinion.