Dec 6th, 2016

FKB Successfully Defends an Appeal in First Department

FKB obtains a favorable ruling from the Appellate Division, First Department affirming the dismissal of a legal malpractice case in connection with a defendant-law firm’s representation of a telecommunications company in a maritime action.

In the underlying representation, the plaintiff, a telecommunications company, sought to recover damages against a shipping company for alleged damages when its submarine fiber optical cable was struck and destroyed by an anchor released from the shipping company’s cargo vessel.

The defendant-law firm commenced a maritime action in federal district court against the vessel and the shipping company that owned it alleging that the vessel dropped anchor in an area designated for laying cable, and as a result the vessel and shipping company were liable.  The vessel and shipping company successfully moved for summary judgment and the complaint in the maritime action was dismissed.  In granting summary judgment to the shipping company, the district court found that, inter alia, sonar data evidence submitted by the telecommunications company showed that the vessel was actually outside of the boundaries of the designated cable area, and this was also supported by evidence submitted by the shipping company – specifically, a screen shot of data that pinpointed the location of the vessel to be outside the boundaries of the cable area.  On appeal, the Second Circuit affirmed the decision of the district court holding that the award of summary judgment in favor of the shipping company was proper.

In the malpractice action filed in New York County Supreme, plaintiff alleged that the defendant-law firm failed to preserve objection to the screen shot of data submitted by the shipping company in support of its summary judgment motion and also failed to renew a discovery motion that had been denied without prejudice to renew by the federal district court.  Plaintiff claimed that “but for” these alleged failures by the defendant-law firm, it would have been able to defeat the summary judgment motion in the federal district court and would have ultimately prevailed in the maritime action.

The Appellate Division agreed with FKB’s position that the trial court properly dismissed the malpractice action finding that the Second Circuit’s Order was documentary evidence within the meaning of CPLR 3211(a)(1) and that the Second Circuit’s holding flatly and conclusively contradicted the legal conclusions and factual allegations in the malpractice complaint.  The Appellate Division held that even if the defendant-law firm had successfully challenged the authenticity and admissibility of the data proffered by the shipping company in support of their motion for summary judgment, the district court’s finding that the plaintiff’s own data evidence indicated that the vessel was outside the cable field when the anchor was released conclusively refuted plaintiff’s malpractice allegations that but-for the defendant-attorney’s alleged negligence, it would have prevailed in the maritime action.  The dismissal of the malpractice action was accordingly affirmed.

If you have any questions about this matter or defending legal malpractice cases in general, please contact Andrew Kowlowitz, Izabell Lemkhen, or Bain Loucks