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This case is interesting because it dismisses a legal malpractice claim because the expert did not reveal how the negligence of the attorney caused the injury of the plaintiff. The opinion does not shed as much light on the facts of the case as I would like it to. However, the opinion does explain that although plaintiff had an expert and the expert prepared a report, the expert did not sufficiently explain proximate causation. Proximate causation is a difficult concept for nonlawyers to understand. Indeed, sometimes lawyers do not understand it.

In sum, the expert report said the lawyer was negligent but it failed to explain why the negligence caused the bad result that the plaintiff received. The opinion, though it is based on Minnesota law, is consistent with the modern trend in the cases which requires expert reports to be more complete.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

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The Seventh Circuit has affirmed a decision to dismiss a legal malpractice complaint in which West Bend Insurance alleged that its former counsel committed legal malpractice in connection with the defense of a worker’s compensation claim. The claim set forth numerous deficiencies in the lawyer’s performance in the worker’s compensation case, including his unauthorized decision to admit liability. However, the complaint was dismissed because West Bend never explained why the alleged errors would have made a difference. Put another way, West Bend never alleged how the result would have been different in the absence of the alleged breaches of duty. Judge Ripple’s opinion sets forth the court’s reasoning on proximate causation in some detail and is worth quoting here:

There is no dispute that West Bend has described adequately the duty element in its malpractice claim. Nor is there any disagreement about the adequacy of West Bend’s narrative with respect to the alleged attorney conduct constituting a breach of that duty. In that respect, West Bend alleges that Mr. Schumacher, having assumed responsibility for the defense of the claim, failed to prepare adequately for the hearing, revealed inappropriately the defense theory of the case to Marzano’s counsel, and then, without authorization, conceded liability for Marzano’s workers’ compensation claim.[15]

The allegations with respect to causation and damages present, however, significant concerns. At the outset, we note that the treatment by the Second Amended Complaint of the underlying workers’ compensation claim, which, as we have explained, is central to an assessment of causation and damages, is markedly different from the treatment of Mr. Schumacher’s alleged litigation conduct. While the complaint describes the conduct in some detail, it describes the underlying workers’ compensation claim in rather summary fashion. Specifically, while the complaint identifies the injured party as John Marzano, it tells us nothing about his claimed injury or his claim against his employer. Instead, it summarily states that “[p]rior to August 2006, there existed certain factual defenses and a medical causation defense to the Marzano claim.”[16]

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This is an unpublished case which had an interesting result. Plaintiff was represented by the Defendant attorney in her divorce case. Her husband, David Whittlemore, was apparently in financial difficulties. David Whittlemore offered an unusual settlement term to his soon to be ex-wife. He claimed that his wealthy brother Harvey would guarantee his maintenance obligations to her. In 2011, David filed for bankruptcy and the plaintiff contacted her lawyer who, after some correspondence, revealed that the wealthy brother had never signed the guarantee. Plaintiff then brought a legal malpractice claim against her former attorney.

The court set forth the facts as follows:

On October 11, 2007, Ms. Whittemore and her husband, Mr. David Whittemore, placed a settlement agreement on the record. Under the agreement, David Whittemore agreed to make monthly alimony payments until December 2021. He also agreed to procure a guaranty for his alimony payments from his wealthy brother, Mr. Harvey Whittemore.

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It is very common that someone will come into my office and explain that he is a victim of legal malpractice. Often, for reasons I don’t understand, the person waits more than two years after the underlying judgment before they contact me. By waiting this long, the statute of limitations has run and there is absolutely nothing we can do to help the plaintiff.

In Illinois the plaintiff has two years to file suit from whenever the plaintiff discovers the injury. Where there is litigation, discovery occurs when the underlying case reaches judgment.

In Belden v. Emmerman, the Illinois Appellate Court held that the statute of limitations begins to run when there is an adverse judgment against the injured party. The defendant moved to dismiss and the plaintiff argued that, because he filed an appeal of the adverse judgment, the statute of limitations did not start to run until the appeal was decided.

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Source: Davidson v. GUREWITZ, Ill: Appellate Court, 2nd Dist. 2015 – Google Scholar

In recent years, there have been several attempts by dissatisfied family law litigants to sue lawyers appointed by the courts to serve various roles. This case involves an attempt to sue a court-appointed child’s representative for legal malpractice. This is now the third decision holding that the child’s representative has absolute immunity from a legal malpractice lawsuit. The court reasoned that the child’s representative was appointed by the court and was therefore immune.

The policy reason to grant absolute immunity is to protect the court’s ability to appoint a child’s representative. The child’s representative is appointed by statute and must confer with the child and make evidence based legal arguments on behalf of the child. Were the court to allow everyone who lost a custody case to sue the child’s representative, so the theory goes, it would make it difficult to have a child’s representative appointed.  Slippery Slope arguments are usually rejected by courts because every class of defendant in every case has, at one time or another, made such an argument. Prior decisions in Illinois rejecting similar claims are Vlastelica v. Brend, 2011 IL App (1st) 102587 and Cooney v. Rossiter, 583 F.3d 967 (7th Cir. 2009).

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Source: PARALLEL NETWORKS, LLC v. JENNER & BLOCK LLP, Tex: Court of Appeals, 5th Dist. 2015 – Google Scholar

This is a decision affirming an arbitrator’s award of legal fees to Jenner & Block. The case is a typical attorney-client fee dispute, but here the Court enforced the parties’ arbitration clause.

The fee dispute arose out of patent litigation handled by Jenner & Block for Parallel Networks. Jenner & Block ultimately withdrew from the litigation after locating successor counsel for Parallel Networks. Jenner & Block cited the client’s failure to pay invoices on a timely basis and its lack of economic resources to continue the litigation.

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Source: IN THE MATTER OF ESTATE OF AMUNDSON, 2015 ND 253 – ND: Supreme Court 2015 – Google Scholar

This appeal dealt with the issue of fees charged to probate estates. The North Dakota Supreme Court affirmed a judgement against a lawyer that he repay $95,000 in legal fees that were excessive.

After Donald Amundson passed away in 2011, two executors were appointed. Donald’s will provided that all of his property was to pass to the Donald G. Amundson Trust. The trial court found that one of the co-executors breached a fiduciary duty owed to the estate by paying John Widdel, Jr.’s fee bills without questioning them. The District Court ordered Widdel to repay $95,000 to the Estate.

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Source: Sheth v. Premier Bank, Dist. Court, WD Wisconsin 2015 – Google Scholar

The plaintiff in this case, Kamlesh Sheth, lost a state court foreclosure case. Sheth then sued a law firm for legal malpractice and the bank that obtained the judgment against him for fraud and other torts.

Sheth claimed that the defendant bank had agreed not to pursue a deficiency judgment against Sheth. Sheth cited an agreement between himself and the bank and drafted by the defendant law firm under which the Bank waived the right to pursue the deficiency if Sheth obtained a buyer for the property and the sales price was $1,100,000 and the buyer agreed to pay off the mortgage note. Sheth claimed that he met his obligations under the agreement and that the Bank had no right to seek a deficiency judgment.

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Source: LAMET v. Levin, Ill: Appellate Court, 1st Dist., 3rd Div. 2015 – Google Scholar

This is a legal malpractice case that the Illinois court held was barred by the six-year statute of repose and also by the two-year statute of limitations. Lamet hired Levin in 1994 to represent him in a dispute with his landlord. Lamet’s landlord claimed that Lamet owed $34,000. Levin fought the litigation for 17 years. (Levin claimed that he was being charged for more square feet than he actually rented). Ultimately, in 2011, Levin recommended that the litigation be settled for the sum of $150,000.

Lamet then sued Levin for legal malpractice “essentially asserting that Levin should have advised him in 1994 to accede to his landlord’s demands and forgo defense of the lawsuit.”