On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Mercer County, L-0837-05.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 16, 2007
Before Judges Grall and Chambers.
Plaintiff, Martin Greenblatt, appeals from the order entered on December 1, 2006, dismissing his legal malpractice case against his wife's former attorney, defendant Aron Schwartz.
Defendant, an attorney at law, was retained by plaintiff's wife, Martha Greenblatt and her company, Jay's Jewelers, to represent them in the seizure of jewelry from her business by the Sheriff of Somerset County pursuant to a writ of execution.
The assets were seized on behalf of judgment creditors of Mrs. Greenblatt's husband, plaintiff herein. The seizure of the jewelry led to litigation between the judgment creditors on one hand and Mrs. Greenblatt and her corporation on the other.
Plaintiff was not a party to that litigation. Eventually a settlement of the litigation was reached whereby half of the jewelry was returned to Mrs. Greenblatt and the other half went to satisfy plaintiff's judgment creditors. Plaintiff has brought this legal malpractice action against defendant alleging various mistakes he purportedly made in the course of representing Mrs. Greenblatt and her corporation. Defendant never represented plaintiff in any of the proceedings noted above.
Defendant's first motion for summary judgment based on plaintiff's failure to supply an affidavit of merit was denied without prejudice on March 31, 2006, in order to allow further discovery. At the close of discovery, defendant again moved for summary judgment, and that motion was granted.
In granting the motion, the trial judge explained that plaintiff has no legal malpractice claim against the defendant because no attorney client relationship existed between them nor did defendant have any independent duty to plaintiff, stating:
To assert a claim for legal malpractice, a plaintiff must demonstrate the existence of an attorney-client relationship creating the duty of care upon the attorney; two, the breach of that duty; and proximate causation. That's Conklin v. Hannoch Weisman, 145 N.J. 395, 416 of our state's Supreme Court decision, the seminal decision regarding the current law on obligations of an attorney to his client. That was issued in 1996.
See also the decision in McGrogan v. Till, 167 N.J. [414,] 425, again, a New Jersey State Supreme Court decision issued in the year 2001.
In the present matter it is clear that there was no attorney-client relationship between plaintiff and defendant during the course of the underlying litigation. Defendant had a duty as Martha Greenblatt's attorney to protect her interests, not plaintiff's interest; therefore, plaintiff cannot establish a prima facie case for legal malpractice.
Moreover, plaintiff cannot establish a basis for an independent duty because the core of the defendant's representation of Martha Greenblatt was in conflict with the plaintiff's interests. Specifically, defendant sought to recover Martha Greenblatt's assets, which necessarily left plaintiff's judgment unsatisfied. Without an attorney-client relationship between the plaintiff and the defendant during the underlying litigation, and no ...