A New Jersey appellate court has dismissed a legal malpractice case on the basis that there was no basis for personal jurisdiction over the defendant attorney. In Finley v. Zimmerman, a husband and wife sued their former attorney, a Florida lawyer, for negligence while representing them in the purchase of Florida real property. The clients had purchased the property jointly with their friend as an investment. The couple paid one half of the purchase price in exchange for a 50% interest in the property. The friend paid the other half, but financed a majority of his share.
The attorney represented all three individuals in the purchase and allegedly assured the husband and wife that their interests would be protected. However, the recorded deed named only the friend as the owner. The husband and wife claimed to have made repeated requests for evidence that their interests were protected, but the attorney never furnished any documentation. The friend subsequently gave a second mortgage on the property without giving notice to the couple. The friend eventually defaulted on the loan, resulting in the total loss of the property.
Upon learning of the forfeiture, the couple filed a malpractice claim against the attorney in New Jersey. The attorney moved to dismiss the complaint for lack of personal jurisdiction, but the motion was denied. The attorney then appealed.
The appellate court reversed the trial court, reasoning that the attorney had insufficient contacts with the state of New Jersey necessary to exercise jurisdiction over him. The court relied on the fact that (1) the attorney was only admitted to practice in Florida, (2) the property was located in Florida, (3) the attorney had not solicited the clients in New Jersey, and (4) the attorney’s only connection with New Jersey was his communications with the couple at their residence. This sole connection was insufficient in order for New Jersey courts to exercise jurisdiction over the attorney.
Decision: Finley v. Zimmerman