Herbin v. Hoeffel

806 A.2d 186 (D.C. 2002)

 

RULE:

Appellate courts review a grant of summary judgment de novo to ensure that there is no genuine issue of material fact and that the prevailing party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In ascertaining whether any material facts are in dispute, appellate courts view the entire record and do so in the light most favorable to the party opposing the motion.

FACTS:

Appellant former client sued appellees, an attorney and officers and members of the board of the District of Columbia Public Defender Service. The client appealed the trial court's grant of summary judgment to the attorney on a claim of spoliation of evidence, and the trial court's order of dismissal for failure to state a claim of the client's complaint based on a breach of client confidences. The appellate court found the client had no evidence of a proximate relationship between the unavailability of allegedly destroyed documents and an impairment of his insanity defense. The appellate court reversed and remanded for a second time the dismissal of the client's complaint.

 
 

ISSUE:

Did the trial court err in its order of dismissal for failure to state a claim of the client's complaint based on a breach of client confidences?

ANSWER:

Yes.

CONCLUSION:

The client could not establish a necessary element of the tort of spoliation of evidence. The client's federal claims were precluded by res judicata, but not his state law claims. The complaint did not allege that, but for the attorney's disclosure, a search warrant would not have been issued; nor did it claim that without evidence seized during the search the client would not have been charged, or would have fared better in his criminal trial, or that there would have been a different trial outcome. The allegations that the attorney breached client confidences and that she did so to assist in the client's prosecution, if true, were extremely serious misconduct on the part of an attorney. Given the high value placed on an attorney's duty of loyalty and to preserve client confidences, the court was unwilling to state that the conduct alleged, if true, was not extreme and outrageous. Summary judgment was not proper where the attorney may have breached confidentiality.

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