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Galate v. Chiarolanza

February 22, 2008

JUANITA GALATE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
v.
LOUIS A. CHIAROLANZA, ESQ., INDIVIDUALLY, AND CHIAROLANZA & DEANGELIS, ESQS., A PARTNERSHIP,*FN1 DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-4375-00.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted January 28, 2008

Before Judges Lintner and Graves.

In this legal malpractice case, plaintiff Juanita Galate (Galate) appeals from an order dated April 27, 2007, denying her motion to reinstate her case, which was dismissed on March 18, 2002. We affirm.

In the underlying action, Galate sought damages for personal injuries she allegedly sustained in a motor vehicle accident on March 26, 1992. Defendant Louis A. Chiarolanza, Esq. (Chiarolanza) represented plaintiff in her personal injury action. On August 13, 1996, following a five-day trial, the jury determined "that although the defendants were 100% liable for the accident, Galate was not entitled to damages." In the present matter, filed on May 5, 2000, plaintiff claimed that Chiarolanza never advised her of settlement offers made by defendants during the course of the personal injury trial.

Chiarolanza filed an answer to plaintiff's complaint dated September 21, 2000, and on October 4, 2000, he filed a counterclaim for court costs and litigation expenses in the amount of $29,548.18, which were allegedly incurred in connection with the institution and prosecution of plaintiff's personal injury action. In her answer to the counterclaim, plaintiff "denied that any money [was] due and owing" to defendant.

After the parties engaged in discovery, the attorneys exchanged correspondence regarding a trial date. In a letter to defendant's attorney dated October 8, 2001, plaintiff's attorney asked for "some potential dates in November 2001 which are in accord with your calendar," and defense counsel advised he was available for trial on November 29 and 30, 2001.

On January 25, 2002, the Essex County, Civil Division, scheduled the case for trial on March 18, 2002. The trial notice stated that any applications for adjournments "must include: consent of parties, [and an] agreed upon date." The trial notice was received by defendant's attorney, but it was not received by plaintiff's attorney. Thus, on February 11, 2002, plaintiff's attorney was unaware that the case was already scheduled for trial, when he sent the following letter to the court, with copies to plaintiff and defendant's attorney:

Dear Judge Codey:

The above-captioned matter has been ready for trial for some time. I would appreciate it if Your Honor would consider giving this matter a trial date during late March or early April 2002. As of this writing, March 25 and April 1 are open dates on my calendar.

Thank you for your cooperation.

In an apparent effort to comply with the trial notice he received, defendant's attorney wrote the following letter to plaintiff's attorney on February 12, 2002:

We agree that this matter requires no further discovery. At this point, we have a very full calendar, including a substantial trial of an agency termination case in Trenton that will ...


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