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Chicago Partner Obtains Summary Judgment in Legal Malpractice Matter

On April 20, 2017, Litchfield Cavo LLP’s Chicago Partner Paul A. Ruscheinski obtained summary judgment in the Circuit Court of DeWitt County in a legal malpractice matter. Third-Party Plaintiff sued her former attorney, alleging he breached the standard of care and fiduciary obligations owed to Third Party Plaintiff with respect to the sale of land. The former client, and seller of property, alleged that her attorney was advancing the interests of the buyers ahead of her own interests.

In the underlying matter, Third-Party Plaintiff reached an oral agreement to sell a parcel of land to the buyers. The terms of the sale, including the price, were allegedly agreed upon when Third-Party Plaintiff and the buyers reached the agreement. Third-Party Plaintiff hired the attorney for the purposes of: 1) drafting a contract for sale, including the previously agreed upon terms; and, 2) clearing title for the purpose of proceeding to close. A dispute arose between buyers and seller during a meeting to review and execute the sales contract. Third-Party Plaintiff alleged the attorney made unauthorized changes to key contract terms, and Third-Party Plaintiff then refused to proceed with the sale. The buyers filed suit against Third-Party Plaintiff for specific performance of the real estate sale. Third-Party Plaintiff, in turn, filed a third party lawsuit against the attorney alleging legal malpractice.

In a classic case of “he-said, she said,” Paul Ruscheinski persuasively and successfully argued to the court that it should give great weight to certain deposition testimony that negated the factual dispute and that the other statements by Third-Party Plaintiff were inadmissible, and should not be considered for the summary judgment motion. In the summary judgment motion and at oral arguments, Paul Ruscheinski argued that the attorney did not owe any duties to Third-Party Plaintiff regarding the contract negotiations (i.e., price of the land) because it was beyond the scope of representation. The defense also argued that the attorney could not have breached any duty of undivided fidelity and loyalty, because he never represented the buyers.

In granting summary judgment, the Court reasoned that the attorney did not owe any duties beyond the drafting of the sales agreement and clearing title. The Court held that there were no issues of genuine material facts and that the attorney did not breach any of his duties to his former client.