On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Union County.
Approved for Publication October 28, 1997.
Before Judges Shebell, A.a. Rodriguez and Coburn. The opinion of the court was delivered by Shebell, P.j.a.d.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Shebell
The opinion of the court was delivered by
On December 15, 1995, plaintiff, Frank Lanziano, filed a six-count complaint against defendants, Peter Cocoziello and Chris A. Samaras, trading as PeterChris Associates (PeterChris), the law firm of Podvey, Sachs, Meanor, Catenacci, Hildner & Cocoziello (Podvey), and J. Barry Cocoziello, Esquire. The first four counts made allegations against the PeterChris defendants, and the fifth and sixth counts related to the Podvey defendants.
Plaintiff alleged that after PeterChris had conveyed a gas station to him in September 1986, plaintiff "discovered that discharges of hazardous substances which occurred during Peter Chris's ownership of the property in the years 1983 to 1986" had "substantially contaminated the ground and groundwater beneath the property," causing him to spend "large sums of money to clean up the property." Plaintiff alleged that the discharges of hazardous substances which occurred during Peter Chris's ownership of the property in the years 1983 to 1986 were among other things "in violation of the Spill Compensation and Control Act, N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11 to-50 (Spill Act). Plaintiff demanded "statutory contribution" from PeterChris, pursuant to N.J.S.A. 58:10-23.11(f)(a)(2) of the Spill Act.
With regard to Podvey, plaintiff alleged a "conflict of interest" resulting from Podvey's "dual representation" of plaintiff and PeterChris of which he was never advised. *fn1 He further argues there was malpractice in Podvey's handling of the transaction because Podvey did not properly protect his rights in the contract and failed to recommend that he have an "environmental consultant review the site for any potential environmental deficiencies prior to [plaintiff's] purchase of the property." Finally, even though Podvey continued to represent plaintiff after PeterChris had conveyed the gasoline station to him on September 17, 1986, Podvey never disclosed that "he had any potential causes of action to recoup the money which he has spent" for clean up, and "as a result of such failure" he "has lost valuable legal causes of action and remedies against Peter Cocoziello and others."
In lieu of filing an answer, PeterChris moved for summary judgment "pursuant to the entire controversy doctrine." Likewise, Podvey also filed a motion for summary judgment "pursuant to the entire controversy doctrine" or "pursuant to the [six-year] statute of limitations."
Plaintiff filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment against Podvey and J. Barry Cocoziello, demanding a judgment adjudicating the "breach of their duty to plaintiff" due to their "numerous conflicts of interest in regard to their representation of him and their dealing with the PeterChris defendants," thereby "leaving only the issue of damages as to the Podvey defendants."
The motions were argued, and on June 21, 1996, the Judge rendered an oral decision granting the motions of PeterChris and Podvey, while denying plaintiff's cross-motion. On June 24, 1996, an appropriate order was entered. Plaintiff appeals from all aspects of that order.
Plaintiff contends that the Judge erred in dismissing all his legal malpractice claims against Podvey based on the six-year statute of limitations in N.J.S.A. 2A:14-1, because the prior claims of malpractice relating to the handling of the litigation against the tenants, Joseph Totten and Diane Totten (the Tottens), by Podvey did not accrue until the Totten litigation was settled in 1991.
Plaintiff, represented by Podvey, had purchased the gas station in September 1986 and thereby assumed a five-year lease running from March 1, 1984 to February 28, 1989, under which lease the Tottens operated the gas station. The Tottens had either purchased or leased the station's three underground gasoline storage tanks from plaintiff's predecessor in title. In any event, paragraph 6 of the addendum to the lease reads:
6. Tenants agree to maintain, repair and/or replace all leased equipment, less any reasonable depreciation on said equipment to be adjusted between the parties. Landlord shall remain responsible for repair and/or replacement of the 3 underground gasoline storage ...