A Louisiana appellate court has affirmed a summary judgment in favor of an attorney in a legal malpractice case. In Leonard v. Reeves, a client brought a legal malpractice claim against his former attorney as the result of his settling a dispute concerning his child support obligations. The support order had provided that the client make monthly child support payments, provide medical insurance for his two children, and pay 75% of the any uninsured medical expenses.
Several years later, the client’s ex-wife petitioned for an increase in the amount of the support payments and sought reimbursement for prior unpaid support and medical expense payments. However, when the wife failed to properly serve the client with notice of a hearing on her petition, and the client failed to appear, the court entered a default judgment against him.
The client learned of the judgment when the ex-wife sought to enforce it against him in Mississippi, where he was then residing. The client then hired the attorney, seeking to vacate the judgment in the Louisiana probate court.
A hearing took place on the client’s motion to vacate, and because the he was not present, his attorney and the wife’s attorney negotiated a settlement agreement, which the client later signed. The agreement called for the client to pay an amount for past due support and medical expenses. The client eventually defaulted, and then sued his attorney for advising him to settle the dispute.
The attorney successfully moved for summary judgment and the client appealed. The appellate court affirmed the trial court’s ruling. The court relied on the fact that there was a genuine dispute at the time of the settlement as to whether the client was current in his obligations under the original order, and the wife’s representation that she would have sought payment of funds allegedly owed under the original order even if there had been no settlement. Under these circumstances, the appeals court ruled that it was not unreasonable for the attorney to recommend settlement and his advice did not constitute malpractice.
Decision: Leonard v. Reeves