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Michigan Court Rejects Lack of Standing Defense in Legal Malpractice Case

Harkins v. Paxton, Mich: Court of Appeals 2012 – Google Scholar.

 

This is a legal malpractice case. Plaintiffs (referred to as “the Judges”)  claimed that they lost an underlying case (a Section 1983 action) because of the negligence of their attorney.  The attorney, who was retained by an insurance company, moved to dismiss on the ground that the plaintiffs lacked standing.  He argued that there was no attorney-client relationship, apparently because he was retained by the insurance company.

The trial court granted the motion, but the Michigan Court of Appeals reversed.  It explained:

“”The relation of attorney and client is one of confidence based upon the ability, honesty, and integrity of the attorney.” The establishment of an attorney-client relationship is not based on an individual’s obligation to pay. Rather, “the benchmark of an attorney-client relationship” is “[t]he rendering of legal advice and legal services by the attorney and the client’s reliance on that advice or those services[.]

The Judges adequately alleged an attorney-client relationship in their complaint. The complaint indicates that the Judges had an attorney-client relationship with the Attorneys which was “established and reconfirmed through representations and actions of the Defendants.” Specifically, the Judges assert that the attorney-client relationship between the Attorneys and Small was “established and reconfirmed” at a meeting in September 2005, and at her deposition. Additionally, the Judges claim that they met with the Attorneys in preparation for their depositions at which time the Attorneys indicated that they were counsel for the Judges for all purposes related to the Horton matter, that their communications were protected by attorney-client privilege, and discouraged the Judges from retaining separate counsel. The Attorneys also allegedly provided the Judges with their business cards, as well as their home and cellular telephone numbers. The Judges further contend that they did not retain separate counsel in reliance on the Attorneys’ representations.”

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.