Feb 16th, 2013

FKB Wins Appeal in Legal Malpractice Action Arising from an Alleged “Forced Settlement” in an Underlying $5 Million Civil Rights Case.

Furman Kornfeld & Brennan LLP successfully defended an appeal by a wealthy former client who alleged that his lawyer “forced” an improvident settlement on the eve of a civil rights trial in the Eastern District of New York which involved $5 million in claimed damages.

In Bellinson Law LLC, v. Iannucci, 2013 NY Slip Op 00395, __ A.D.3d __ (1st Dept. 2013), Robert Iannucci, the owner of several apartment buildings in proximity of the 84th NYPD Precinct in Brooklyn, had previously sued the City of New York, claiming that a 20 year pattern of illegal parking by NYPD personnel in front of his properties caused over $5 million in diminished rental income. On the eve of trial in November 2008 before the late EDNY Chief Judge Charles Sifton, Iannucci claimed that he was “forced” to settle his claim with the City of New York for a fraction of the total damages. Iannucci claimed that FKB’s client, Robert Bellinson, Esq., a prominent plaintiff’s personal injury lawyer, committed several errors and was “unprepared” for trial. Iannucci claimed that Bellinson lied about his prior federal court trial experience, and that Bellinson was not the “sophisticated commercial federal litigator” that he represented to be when Iannucci retained him.

On appeal, FKB argued that Iannucci’s legal malpractice claims were manufactured in an attempt to avoid payment of legal fees. The Appellate Division, First Department agreed, and affirmed the lower court’s finding that Iannucci failed to demonstrate that he was forced to settle the underlying civil rights action because Bellinson was “incompetent” or “unprepared” on the eve of trial. The First Department recognized that there was sufficient evidence in the record (obtained through depositions and documents) to establish that Iannucci had multiple options besides settling the case. The First Department also recognized that Iannucci’s claimed $5 million damages in lost rental income could not be construed as actual and ascertainable, given that the bulk of the claimed damages in the underlying civil rights action were, at the time of settlement, subject to potential dismissal on a pending motion in limine. The First Department also rejected Iannucci’s claim that he was fraudulently induced to retain Bellinson on the basis of false representation of his prior federal court trial experience.

FKB’s A. Michael Furman represented Bellinson Law LLC at the trial court and on appeal.

Michael Furman’s bio / email