Potter v. Pierce, CA NO. 31,595. Court of Appeals of New Mexico Affirms Summary Judgment for Attorney in Legal Malpractice Action on the Basis of Issue Preclusion

Under Massachusetts law, issues that have already been decided in a court of competent jurisdiction cannot be re-litigated in a subsequent action considering the same issue. Jarosz v. Palmer, 436 Mass. 526, 530 n.3 (2002). This holds true in most jurisdictions, including New Mexico, as summarized below.

A New Mexico appellate court has affirmed a lower court’s ruling that a client was precluded from bringing a legal malpractice action against his former attorney. In Potter v. Pierce, a client hired an attorney to represent him with respect to his bankruptcy proceedings. One year later, the client fired the attorney citing “a fundamental disagreement”. The attorney then filed an application in the bankruptcy court seeking his fees.

The client opposed the petition arguing that the attorney had committed legal malpractice. After hearing, the bankruptcy court ruled in favor of the attorney.

Ten months later, the client filed a legal malpractice suit against the attorney. The attorney moved for summary judgment, arguing that the client’s suit was precluded because the bankruptcy court had already decided the issue. The trial court agreed and the client appealed.

The appellate court affirmed, reasoning that the bankruptcy court had already assessed the nature and quality of the attorney’s representation. The court had impliedly determined that the attorney had exercised the skill or a reasonable lawyer and thus client could not re-litigate the issue.

Decision: Potter v. Pierce


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