Megan C. Deluhery persuaded the Supreme Judicial Court to overturn summary judgment for a law firm and grant summary judgment to her client which had sued for legal malpractice.
The SJC for the first time ruled that a judicial error of law does not bar recovery in a legal malpractice case where a defendant law firm was negligent for failing to prevent or mitigate the legal error.
In an unusual step, the court not only overturned summary judgment granted to the law firm below, but on the record alone also awarded summary judgment to Ms. Deluhery's client. The case has been remanded for further proceedings.
Ms. Deluhery represents Kiribati Seafood Company, which sued its former law firm, Dechert LLP, for negligently failing to produce evidence it had in its possession that a Tahitian appellate court deemed necessary for Kiribati to prevail on a portion of its underlying claim.
Kiribati was seeking to preserve an assigned subrogation interest from its insurer of nearly $1.8 million. The appellate court had notified the parties of the nature of the evidence it needed to see to uphold this portion of the award under applicable French law.
Dechert had the evidence, but it did not supply it to the court. As a result, the court reduced the award by the $1.8 million.
Kiribati filed a malpractice claim against its French lawyers with Dechert. A Massachusetts Superior Court judge granted summary judgment to Dechert denying the legal malpractice claim on the basis that the Tahitian court's error of law in requiring the evidence in question was a superseding cause of the adverse decision, and that if the correct law had been applied, Dechert’s arguments would have prevailed.
However, the SJC determined the judicial error was a concurrent, not a superseding, proximate cause of Kiribati's damages, particularly where Dechert had the evidence the Tahitian court was seeking, but failed to submit it to the court.
"[W]here the client can still prevail on the facts even if the court errs as to the law," the court wrote, "the attorney is negligent where he or she fails to take reasonable steps to demonstrate to the court why the client still wins under the court's erroneous, but foreseeable, view of the law."
The court added: "[W]here a court has indicated that it has a different view of the law from that of the attorney, and where the client can prevail on the facts even under that different view, an attorney is negligent if he or she forfeits that opportunity by failing to argue in the alternative."
Ms. Deluhery, a partner at the firm, concentrates her practice on commercial litigation, including legal malpractice matters related to underlying business disputes.
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