Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Beal Bank v. Arter & Hadden PLUS Barak v. The Quisenberry Firm (Cal. Ct. App. - Jan. 10, 2006)

Two cases for the price of one today, both worthy of brief mention. The underlying unifying theme for today is "Lawsuits Against Lawyers".

In Beal Bank, Arter & Hadden gets sued for malpractice by a former client. There are two individual lawyer defendants as well. One is Eric Dean, who Justice Doi Todd claims is a partner at Arter & Hadden; however, it looks like he's actually a former partner at this point. Regardless, Dean was the attorney who was primarily responsible for handling the matter. The second defendant is Steven Gubner, who was an associate at Arter & Hadden and who subsequently left the firm. (Gubner is now with Ezra Brutzkus & Gubner. Here's a somewhat funny-looking picture of Steven, who may want to try a slightly different pose next time.)

Anyway, Beal Bank allegedly gets poor representation, so sues. Gubner (and his subsequent law firms) settle, but Arter & Hadden and Dean claim that the suit against them is barred by the statute of limitations. They win a demurrer on that ground, Beal Bank appeals, and Justice Doi Todd reverses. The Court of Appeals holds that there was tolling pursuant to CCP 340.6 during the period in which Gubner -- after leaving Arter & Hadden -- continued to represent Beal Bank. Justice Doi Todd's opinion in this regard is cogent and well-reasoned, but there are definitely arguments to the contrary, particularly given the facial unfairness of tolling a limitations period against X based upon representation by Y even though Y is no longer with X. Plus, on this issue there's a conflict in the Courts of Appeal, since Justice Doi Todd's opinion conflicts with Crouse v. Brobeck.

My take is that Justice Doi Todd may well be right on the merits. Nonetheless, it's a case -- and split -- that's sufficiently important that the California Supreme Court should take it up. Anyway, Arter & Hadden loses, and -- for now, at least -- is going to have to defend the case on the merits.

By contrast, in Barak, the Quisenberry Law Firm gets sued for malicious prosecution, and responds by filing (of course) an anti-SLAPP motion. Counsel for plaintiff doesn't elect to file an opposition to the motion, and after some procedural wrangling, the court grants the motion and awards costs and attorneys' fees to the defendants. Plaintiff appeals, but Justice Hastings affirms, thereby likely resulting in yet an additional fee award against the plaintiff. All in all, unlike Beal Bank, a darn good result for the defendant law firm. By the way, appellate counsel for plaintiff was Drago Campa, a Southwestern graduate and -- you don't see this often here in sunny Southern California -- a graduate of Simon Fraser University in Canada.

Law firms: 1-1 for the day.