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Summary Judgment in New Jersey Legal Malpractice Action

July 25, 2013

Lisa Slotkin, managing shareholder of the firm’s Jersey City office, secured the dismissal of a legal malpractice action in Bergen County.  A client sued his lawyer for alleged negligent representation in the purchase of a small business.  The Plaintiff claimed that his lawyer did not perform the appropriate due diligence before allowing the Plaintiff to close on the purchase.  Throughout discovery in the case, Ms. Slotkin maintained the position that her client had not breached the standard of care a lawyer owes to the purchaser of a small business.

After the close of discovery, Ms. Slotkin moved for summary judgment on behalf of her client.  Though Plaintiff had submitted and filed a very detailed Affidavit of Merit in order to comply with the Affidavit of Merit statute, Plaintiff never served an expert report as to the standard of care.  In fact, the only expert report produced by Plaintiff was from an accountant regarding damages, and was served beyond the discovery deadline.  Ms. Slotkin argued that the case was not one which could go to a jury without an expert opining as to the appropriate standard of care and whether her attorney client had breached that standard.  She further argued that though much more detailed than most, the Affidavit of Merit submitted by Plaintiff was not sufficient to qualify as an expert report.
Faced with the summary judgment motion, Plaintiff’s counsel made a last ditch effort to have discovery reopened in order that he might submit an expert report.  Lisa Slotkin argued vehemently that an extension of discovery at this juncture would be inappropriate.  Zarwin Baum’s client should not be prejudiced by Plaintiff’s counsel’s failure to litigate his case in an efficient and timely manner.

After the submission of briefs and hearing oral argument the court agreed with Ms. Slotkin’s position, denied Plaintiff’s motion to reopen discovery and granted the motion for summary judgment, dismissing all claims against Zarwin Baum’s client with prejudice.  The case proceeded to trial against the seller of the small business and the real estate broker involved in the transaction, neither of whom were represented by Zarwin Baum, and settled early during the trial without any contribution from Zarwin Baum’s client.

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