NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Argued January 30, 2013.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Docket No. L-632-09.
Harmon H. Lookhoff argued the cause for appellant.
Marshall D. Bilder argued the cause for respondents (Sterns & Weinroth, attorneys; Mr. Bilder, of counsel and on the brief; Robert J. McGuire, on the brief).
Before Judges Grall and Accurso.
Plaintiff Gail Lawrence appeals from a February 28, 2012 summary judgment dismissing her complaint for legal malpractice against a lawyer with whom she was not in privity. Because the facts were not in dispute and defendants Schenck Price Smith & King, L.L.P. (Schenck) and Jeremy M. Garlock, Esq. (Garlock) owed no duty to plaintiff, and thus were entitled to judgment as a matter of law, we affirm.
The facts have never been in dispute. Plaintiff's two daughters wanted to buy a business and plaintiff and her late husband agreed to help them do so. Accordingly, in December 2004, plaintiff and her husband borrowed $75, 000 from Valley National Bank (Valley), which they gave to their daughters for that purpose. The daughters, Bonnie and Linda Lawrence, required more money for their purchase, however, and arranged to obtain a small business loan of $160, 000 from Valley in their own names.
Plaintiff's daughters subsequently retained Schenck and Garlock to represent them in connection with their purchase of Buddy's Homemade Ice Cream. Plaintiff acknowledges that Schenck and Garlock did not represent her and that she and her husband had no other relation with the firm or Garlock.
The loan closing took place on February 9, 2005 in the offices of the bank's counsel. Plaintiff was advised by Bonnie that Garlock said it was necessary for plaintiff to attend. Bonnie did not tell her why (Bonnie claims Garlock did not say) and plaintiff assumed, and mentioned to Bonnie, that it must have something to do with the $75, 000 she and her husband had borrowed for their daughters in December. Plaintiff's husband, however, had passed away in January, and she alone attended the closing in the company of her daughters and Bonnie's fiancée.
Plaintiff contends, and defendants accepted her contentions for purpose of summary judgment, that only Garlock understood that plaintiff was there "to incur very substantial financial obligations or exposure to liabilities in addition" to the $75, 000 she and her husband had borrowed for their daughters. The parties agree that Garlock did not discuss the transaction with plaintiff or her role in it. Garlock did not ask plaintiff whether she understood that she would be exposing herself to personal liabilities in excess of $160, 000 and agreeing to a lien on her home to secure those obligations. He did not ask her whether she was represented by an attorney or wished to consult one before proceeding with the closing.
Garlock sat at one end of the closing table with a stack of documents that he said needed to be signed. Plaintiff sat at the other end of the table. Garlock passed all the papers plaintiff signed down the table, including a secured guarantee of the loan and of her daughters' obligations on a lease, with the words "this is 'just' the mortgage or this is 'only' the note." In other words, Garlock identified the documents by reading aloud their titles, and advising who needed to sign which document. Plaintiff does not contend that Garlock said anything else.
The ice cream venture did not turn out as hoped. Plaintiff's daughters defaulted on their obligations and filed for bankruptcy. Plaintiff was forced to borrow additional sums against her home to pay off $133, 000 owed on her guarantee. In addition, an arbitrator determined that plaintiff was ...