A New York appellate court has reversed a summary judgment granted in favor of an attorney in a legal malpractice action. In Jack Hall Plumbing v. Duffy, a family owned business hired an attorney to advise them on how to properly terminate their chief operating officer (“COO”) in accordance with his employment contract.
The contract specified that the company could fire the COO for cause in writing and he would be given an opportunity to respond. The attorney reviewed the contract and then delivered a letter to the COO informing him that he was terminated, effective immediately. The COO brought an action against the company for violation of his employment contract.
The company prevailed at trial, but an appellate court reversed the judgment, finding that the termination was improper since the COO did not receive sufficient notice and had no opportunity to respond. The company then sued the attorney for legal malpractice. The attorney successfully moved for summary judgment and the client appealed.
In his motion, the attorney had argued that the employment contract was ambiguous, and that immediate termination was consistent with its terms. The appellate court disagreed, finding that the attorney’s conclusion about his own conduct was insufficient and that an expert’s affidavit was necessary to meet his burden of proof. Because the attorney was unable to show that his actions were within the standard of care as a matter of law, the appellate court remanded the case for further proceedings.
Decision: Jack Hall Plumbing v. Duffy