Law School Case Brief
Michael E. Greene, P.A. v. Leasing Assocs. - 935 So. 2d 21 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 2006)
The general rule in Florida is that a cause of action for legal malpractice may not be assigned or transferred. This rule is predicated upon the unique relationship between the lawyer and client. An injury resulting from an attorney's negligence in the representation of a client is personal to the client. Consequently, a cause of action arising from the breach of a lawyer's duty to a client can only be asserted by the client. The assignment of such claims could relegate the legal malpractice action to the market place and convert it to a commodity to be exploited and transferred to economic bidders who have never had a professional relationship with the attorney and to whom the attorney has never owed a legal duty.
Michael Greene, Leasing Associates, Inc.’s former attorney, advised the latter to pursue litigation and appeals in federal court – the advice led to the federal court’s imposition of monetary sanctions in favor of Berger Singerman. All parties except Greene joined in a settlement of the sanctions issue. As a condition of the settlement, Leasing Associates agreed to pursue a malpractice action against Greene, and accordingly, to pay Singerman proceeds from the suit in an amount sufficient to cover five specified categories of legal fees and costs. The trial court ruled in favor of Leasing Associates. On appeal, Greene argued that the trial court should have dismissed the client's malpractice claims because the settlement agreement it entered into with its former adversary was tantamount to an assignment that made these former adversaries the actual but unnamed plaintiffs in the malpractice lawsuit.
Was the settlement agreement entered into by Leasing Associates and its former adversary tantamount to an assignment of the malpractice claim?
The court noted that as a general rule in Florida, a cause of action for legal malpractice may not be assigned or granted, as such claims could relegate the legal malpractice action to the market place and convert it to a commodity to be exploited. In the case at bar, the court found that due to the assignment, the client was left unable to control the conduct of the malpractice action and to accept or reject any settlement offers. Hence, the cause of action asserted under the agreement was unlawful and could not be maintained. Finally, the court noted that on remand, the attorney would not be able to avoid liability by blaming his co-counsel for the legal errors in the case, and no abuse of discretion resulted in the trial court's granting of a protective order as to any request which sought discovery, directly or indirectly, pertaining to fraud in the bankruptcy matter.
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