Newark Partners Meredith Kaplan Stoma and Jeffrey Leonard secured a significant appellate win on behalf of an attorney in a legal malpractice matter when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit – for a second time – affirmed the dismissal of the case.

As a New Jersey Law Journal (NJLJ) article describes, Lewis Brisbois’ client had represented a plaintiff who was in a dispute with his mother over the administration of his father’s estate. The complaint in that case alleged that the plaintiff’s mother failed to follow the terms of her late husband’s 1999 will. The answer to the complaint sought to remove the 1999 version of will and replace it with a 2009 version for probate. The relationship between Lewis Brisbois’ client and the plaintiff ultimately deteriorated, and Lewis Brisbois’ client successfully moved to be relieved as counsel. Three months later, the probate court admitted the newer version of the will.

The plaintiff subsequently filed suit against Lewis Brisbois’ client, contending that he and his firm “were negligent and/or committed legal malpractice and breached the contract created by the Engagement Letter . . . .” The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of Lewis Brisbois’ client finding he could not establish proximate causation of damages, and the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court finding but remanded for a determination on whether Plaintiff could sustain any of his other claims. On remand, the district court determined that the defendants had not breached a duty of care and that there were no viable theories of proximate causation to establish the malpractice claim. The district court also granted summary judgment in favor of Lewis Brisbois’ client on the plaintiff’s claims of breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, negligence, and negligent supervision. The plaintiff appealed.

During the second appeal of the matter, the Third Circuit explained that because the plaintiff did not challenge the district court’s dismissal of his legal malpractice claim, he forfeited that issue. The court also determined that the plaintiff failed to produce evidence from which a jury could conclude that Lewis Brisbois’ client and his firm breached their duty of care by the timing or manner of withdrawal from the probate dispute. Similarly, according to the court, the plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the actions of Lewis Brisbois’ client had a “material adverse effect on his interests.” The court further held that it could “quickly dispense” with the plaintiff’s challenge to the lower court’s grant of summary judgment on his breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and negligence claims because they arose from the same acts and omissions as the malpractice claim. Accordingly, the Third Circuit affirmed the lower court’s dismissal of these claims.

Notably, in explaining that he was pleased with the outcome of the malpractice case, Lewis Brisbois’ client told NJLJ, “Thankfully, I had excellent counsel, Meredith K. Stoma and Jeffrey Leonard of Lewis Brisbois . . . . I cannot say enough about my insurance carrier and my defense team.”

Ms. Stoma serves as vice-chair of Lewis Brisbois’ Legal Malpractice and Professional Liability Practices. She has substantial and wide-ranging experience in defending professionals – including attorneys, accountants, architects, engineers, insurance producers, and real estate agents and brokers – in professional malpractice actions throughout the New Jersey and New York metropolitan area.

Mr. Leonard is a member of Lewis Brisbois’ Professional Liability Practice. He represents clients in complex commercial, employment, personal injury, and professional liability matters, defending them in the state and federal courts of New Jersey and New York.

Read the full NJLJ article here (subscription may be required).