U.S. Court of Appeals Rules in Favor of Attorney in Legal Malpractice Case


The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit has affirmed two rulings in favor of an attorney in a legal malpractice case. In Lyon v. Aguilar, a married couple sued their former attorney for malpractice arising from his representation during two cases filed in New Mexico state court. During the proceedings, the attorney filed two summary judgment motions: the first on claims not covered by his malpractice insurance, and the second on all remaining claims. The trial court granted both motions. The couple appealed both.

When the malpractice complaints were filed, the attorney was in a personal bankruptcy proceeding. Consequently, the couple’s case was automatically stayed. The couple then filed an adversary proceeding in bankruptcy court, seeking a ruling that their claims were not dischargeable. Alternatively, they sought to lift the stay on those claims covered by the insurance policy. The bankruptcy court lifted the stay, resulting in dismissal of the adversary proceeding. However, the bankruptcy court ultimately discharged all of the attorney’s debts.

In the appeal, the couple argued that the trial court had usurped the bankruptcy court’s authority by granting the two summary judgment motions. The court rejected this theory, finding that the trial court acted properly, since all of the attorney’s debts, including the insured claims, had been discharged.

The couple had also challenged the summary judgment granted on the uninsured claims. The trial court had ruled that the couple failed to demonstrate that the attorney’s conduct was the proximate cause of their injuries. The appellate court upheld the lower court ruling, finding that the couple’s expert had failed to specify in his written report how the attorney had committed malpractice.

Decision: Lyon v. Aguilar

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