After reviewing an interlocutory order, a Pennsylvania appellate court has ruled in favor of a client in a legal malpractice action. In Epstein v. Saul Ewing, LLP., a client sued his former attorney for negligently handling his appeal of an adverse judgment.
The underlying case involved a fee dispute between a client, her attorney and a referred attorney handling a civil rights case. The referring attorney was the guardian ad litem for a foster child who had been placed in an abusive foster home. The civil rights resulted in a settlement and a legal fee of nearly 1.3 million dollars. The referring attorney claimed that she was entitled to 1/3 of the fee. A trial judge ruled in favor of the referring attorney, and ordered the client to pay $430,000 in legal fees, and an additional $645,000 in punitive damages.
The client appealed and hired another attorney who submitted a brief, containing 104 separate issues on appeal. The appellate court dismissed the appeal due to the “preposterous number of issued identified”, which significantly impeded the court’s ability to assess the case, also finding that most of the issues had been waived.
The client then commenced a legal malpractice action against her appellate counsel. The case was submitted to the judge on agreed facts, resulting in an interlocutory order in favor of the client, finding that the appeal would have resulted in reversal of the decision in favor of the referring attorney.
The appellate court affirmed the lower court order, finding that the referral agreement was unenforceable and no legal fee was appropriate. The court reasoned that the referring attorney, as the child’s guardian ad litem, had a conflict of interest, which barred her from receiving any fees from the child’s case. The court also held that no punitive damages were appropriate under the circumstances.
Decision: Epstein v. Saul Ewing, LLP