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Alabama Court Holds Law Firm Liable Where Associate Concealed Facts From Client

This is a legal malpractice case in which the plaintiff, Juakeishia Pruitt retained the Cockrell & Cockrell firm to pursue employment claims against Spillman College and other claims against other parties. According to the opinion, the firm failed to file the claims in timely fashion and an associate concealed that fact from Pruitt. The associate, Byron House, made further false representations as to the status of those cases in an effort to conceal from Pruitt that the cases had not been filed in timely fashion. The associate told Pruitt that her cases had settled and made payments to her from the firm’s operating account. The opinion states:

Subsequently, Pruitt met with another attorney, Delaine Mountain. During that meeting, House called Pruitt on her cellular telephone, and Mountain listened to that conversation. On January 18, 2012, Mountain made two telephone calls to Cockrell to discuss Mountain’s concerns regarding House’s handling of Pruitt’s discrimination cases. Cockrell twice confronted House in light of the information he had received from Mountain. Eventually, House told Cockrell that he had missed the statute of limitations on both discrimination cases; that there was no structured settlement in the Stillman College case; and that he had taken money for the alleged settlement payments from the Cockrell law firm’s general business account and trust accounts. The Cockrell law firm immediately terminated his association with the firm.

When Pruitt learned that her claims had not been filed on time, she sued for legal malpractice. The law firm defended on the ground that the legal malpractice statute of limitations had run. The trial court denied the law firm’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that the law firm had made fraudulent representations to Ms. Pruitt. The Alabama Supreme Court upheld the denial of summary judgment on the ground that the fraudulent actions by the associate were a separate basis for liability under Alabama’s Legal Services Act.

Comment: given the outrageous facts apparently proved by Pruitt, it is understandable that the courts would find a way to hold the law firm liable. Ultimately, because House was employed by the Cockrell firm, the firm is responsible for his actions and failures to act.

Source: Cockrell v. Pruitt :: 2016 :: Supreme Court of Alabama Decisions :: Alabama Case Law :: Alabama Law :: U.S. Law :: Justia