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Law School Case Brief

Jarosz v. Palmer - 436 Mass. 526, 766 N.E.2d 482 (2002)

Rule:

It is improper for a judge to allow a motion to dismiss on the basis of issue preclusion without first examining the record of the prior trial to determine whether issue preclusion is appropriate.

Facts:

Plaintiff hired defendant attorney to assist in the acquisition and financing of the business that he had with his partners. When plaintiff’s relationship with his partners turned sour, plaintiff filed suit against both partners alleging wrongful termination and breach of fiduciary duty. Defendant attorneyrepresented the partners. Plaintiff moved to disqualify defendant due to conflict of interest. The court denied the motion. When plaintiff filed suit for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, legal malpractice, and violations of G.L.c. 93A, defendant argued that the previous ruling precluded plaintiff from relitigating the issue of representing the latter individually.

Issue:

Does the previous ruling in a motion for disqualification preclude plaintiff from filing a separate action against defendant attorney?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Supreme Court of Massachusetts reversed the judgment and remanded the case for further proceedings because the likelihood of obtaining interlocutory review of a motion to disqualify was so remote, it was not sufficient to invoke the doctrine of issue preclusion. The nature of the attorney-client relationship was clearly not essential to a determination on the merits of the client's underlying claim. Therefore, the issue was not essential to the judgment, and issue preclusion did not apply. The court also held that the decision in the prior case did not have the requisite level of finality because the judge's determination was not subject to appellate review.

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