On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Ocean County, Docket No. L-1709-07.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Chambers and Kestin.
Plaintiff, Geoffrey Wiesing, appeals from an order entered following a three-day bench trial that dismissed, with prejudice, his claims against defendants, Freundlich & Reisen, LLP and Lawrence J. Freundlich. Judge Peterson stated his findings and conclusions in a comprehensive and well-reasoned oral opinion. We affirm.
The causes of action framed in the three-count complaint were summarized by the judge as sounding in legal malpractice, conversion, breach of a fiduciary duty and breach of a contractual duty. The complaint itself, filed in 2007, referred to breach of "a duty of care and/or duty of good faith and fair dealing [owing] to plaintiff"; misrepresentation; and unauthorized release of escrowed funds. The claims arose from a 2005 transaction regarding the sale and purchase of a restaurant business. Defendants represented the sellers; plaintiff chose not to be represented by counsel in the transaction.
The trial court found that plaintiff had not established the bases for any recognizable cause of action against defendants, and that there had been no adequate proof of proximate causation or damages suffered by plaintiff attributable to any actions allegedly undertaken by defendants. Specifically, the judge concluded that, to the extent the complaint alleged legal malpractice, plaintiff's claim was deficient because it lacked adequate basis in the evidence, because there had been no attorney-client relationship between defendants and plaintiff, and because the claim was not supported by the affidavit of merit required by N.J.S.A. 2A:53A- 27. As respects a claim for conversion, the court found no such cause of action to have been properly pled. With regard to the contention that funds had been inappropriately disbursed, the court found a "total lack of facts or evidence in support of [that position]." The court noted that "any and all claims or causes of action or potential for damages proximately caused by [other] individuals certainly cannot be transposed onto or converted into claims against [defendants]." The court summarized its findings and conclusions thusly:
The logic and the trail of events is so attenuated and remote herein as to defy common sense. There's no evidence whatsoever that the release of the monies suggested by [defendant] Freundlich himself caused any damage to the plaintiff herein.
Sum total, there's certainly no proofs before the Court of damages . . . proximately caused . . . by the action or inaction of the defendant lawyer.
We are required to defer to a trial court's findings and conclusions that are supported by substantial evidence. See Rova Farms Resort v. Investors Ins. Co., 65 N.J. 474, 483-84 (1974).
[O]ur appellate function is a limited one: we do not disturb the factual findings and legal conclusions of the trial judge unless we are convinced that they are so manifestly unsupported by or inconsistent with the competent, relevant and reasonably credible evidence as to offend the interests of justice. [Fagliarone v. Township of North Bergen, 78 N.J. Super. 154, 155 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 40 N.J. 221 (1963).]
Our review of the record in all its detail discloses that the trial judge in this matter fully analyzed all the proofs submitted, made appropriate record-supported findings, and correctly applied legal principles.
Accordingly, substantially for the reasons reflected in Judge Peterson's exhaustive ...