On appeal from the Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-4984-08.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Fisher and Grall.
Plaintiffs Froom Development Corp. and Ronald J. Froom (hereafter collectively "FDC") appeal the summary judgment entered in favor of E. Leo Milonas, Esq., and Pillsbury Winthrop, LLP (hereafter collectively "Milonas"), and the later summary judgment entered in favor of Maran & Maran, Joseph Maran, Esq., and David Maran, Esq. (hereafter collectively "the Maran defendants"). This legal malpractice action and the dispositions in favor of Milonas and the Maran defendants were preceded by an earlier suit, which included a claim of legal malpractice asserted by FDC against other attorneys.
In the prior suit, FDC sued entities that he claimed were obligated to provide him with 50% of the profits of a land development project; he also asserted a claim of legal practice against Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, and one of its members (hereafter "the Wilentz defendants"), who FDC alleged had breached an obligation to advocate and vindicate its position in the project. The jury agreed with FDC and rendered a verdict in its favor against the other parties to the transaction and the Wilentz defendants.
In reversing as to the Wilentz defendants, we first recognized that "in cases involving transactional legal malpractice, there must be evidence to establish that the negligence was a substantial factor in bringing about the loss of a gain or benefit from the transaction." Froom v. Perel, 377 N.J. Super. 298, 315 (App. Div.), certif. denied, 185 N.J. 267 (2005). We found the evidence adduced during the course of the trial was insufficient to support a finding by the jury that any negligence on the part of the Wilentz defendants was a proximate cause of FDC's loss of its purported interest in the project. Based on the evidence presented by FDC, a rational jury could not find that, even had the Wilentz defendants acted to protect FDC's interest, the other parties to the transaction would have agreed to give FDC a 50% ownership interest in the project even though FDC made no financial contribution to acquisition of the property or its development. [Id. at 315-16.]
Seizing on our comments about the lack of expert testimony on the issue of causation, FDC commenced this action against professionals he had retained in Froom v. Perel, namely, his lead counsel, Anderson, St. Denis & Glenn and some of its members ("the Anderson defendants"), his expert, Milonas, and his local counsel, the Maran defendants. The Anderson defendants settled. Milonas and the Maran defendants obtained summary judgment dismissing the complaint.
FDC appeals, presenting the following arguments regarding the relief obtained by Milonas and the Maran firm:
I. THE MARAN DEFENDANTS WERE NOT ENTITLED TO SUMMARY JUDGMENT AS THE UNDISPUTED FACTS AND THE REPORTS OF FDC'S EXPERTS ESTABLISH ALL OF THE ELEMENTS OF A CAUSE OF ACTION FOR LEGAL MALPRACTICE.
II. THE TRIAL COURT BASED ITS DECISION UPON AN INCORRECT STATEMENT OF FDC'S LEGAL THEORY.
III. ON THE FACTS OF THIS CASE, THE MARAN DEFENDANTS HAD A DUTY TO FDC.
IV. AN EXPERT OWES A DUTY TO THE CLIENT AND MAY BE HELD LIABLE FOR A BREACH OF THAT DUTY.
We affirm the summary judgment entered in favor of Milonas substantially for the reasons set forth by Judge Patricia K. Costello in her well-reasoned written opinion. We also affirm the summary judgment entered in favor of the Maran defendants substantially for the reasons set forth by Judge James S. ...