On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Bergen County, Docket No. L-3817-09.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted October 12, 2010
Before Judges A. A. Rodriguez, C. L. Miniman and LeWinn.
Defendant, Anna Manos, appeals from the January 7, 2010 summary judgment dismissing her legal malpractice action against her former attorneys Schepisi & McLaughlin (Schepisi); and denying her motion for summary judgment against Schepisi. We affirm the denial of Manos' motion for summary judgment and the grant of Schepisi's cross-motion. However, we reverse the sua sponte entry of a judgment for $31,733.94 in Schepisi's favor.
The legal malpractice action arose out of Schepisi's representation of Manos in litigation brought against her in the Chancery Division by her neighbors Eugene Takhtovich and Natalya Takhtovich, the owners of a contiguous property. The Takhtovichs alleged willful breach of an easement agreement.
Manos initially retained Robert M. Jacobs, Esq. of the law firm of Winne Banta to represent her. After a period of discovery, both parties moved for summary judgment. Judge Robert P. Contillo denied both motions. Manos became dissatisfied with Jacob's representation. She terminated him and retained Schepisi to represent her.
Schepisi and Aline Grossman, Esq., prepared extensively for trial of the matter. On November 17, 2008, the day set for trial, the attorneys for both parties conducted a settlement conference with Judge Contillo. Then counsel discussed the details of a proposed settlement with their respective clients. The parties agreed to the proposed terms of the settlement. When the settlement was placed on the record in the presence of all parties, the following exchange occurred:
MR. SCHEPISI: And Mrs. Manos is here. Mrs. Manos, is this acceptable to you?
Judge Contillo entered an order on the same day, dismissing the matter pursuant to the settlement. Manos never appealed that order.
Two days later, Schepisi sent Manos a draft of the settlement agreement. He asked Manos to "please review the Agreement and send us your comments." Manos did not respond and did not sign the Agreement. Two months later, Schepisi sent Manos the bill for his services. She did not respond.
In February 2009, Schepisi filed this action against Manos for payment of outstanding legal fees in the amount of $31,733.94. Six and a half months later, in July 2009, Manos answered and counterclaimed, alleging legal malpractice. In paragraphs 1 to 17, she set out her version of the facts, procedural history and allegedly deficient representation by Jacobs, although she did not name Jacobs as a party. In paragraphs 18 to 42, Manos set out her malpractice allegation against Schepisi. Most of those allegations were based either on her view of how the attorney should have proceeded, or the fact that Schepisi ...