Legal Malpractice Claim Arising From Criminal Representation Barred By Collateral Estoppel

In Johnson v. Sullivan, the Court dismissed a legal malpractice claim arising out of prior criminal representation, based in part on the doctrine of defensive collateral estoppel.

The plaintiff brought a legal malpractice action against his former criminal attorneys, who had represented him at trial and in post-trial proceedings. Among other things, the defendants moved to dismiss on the ground that the plaintiff could not demonstrate that, but for the alleged negligence, the outcome of the plaintiff's post-conviction application for relief would have concluded in his favor. The defense argued that the plaintiff was collaterally estopped from litigating one element of his negligence claim -- that the alleged negligence in the post-trial proceedings resulted in or was the proximate cause of the plaintiff's loss.

The district court agreed:

Because the doctrine of collateral estoppel bars relitigation of the adequacy of Blitzer's representation, the plaintiff cannot show that Blitzer breached a duty owed to him or that the outcome of his post-conviction proceedings would have been favorable. And where, as here, the plaintiff's breach of fiduciary duty, fraud and breach of contract claims are indistinguishable from his legal malpractice claim, his inability to prove the malpractice claim renders these other claims unsustainable. See Hinton, 2010 WL 2710603, at *1 ("[A]ppellant cannot recast his malpractice claim as a breach of fiduciary duty claim . . . and he has not shown that his claims of negligence, breach of care, breach of trust, and bad faith are distinguishable from his malpractice claim."); Macktal v. Garde, 111 F. Supp. 2d 18, 23 (D.D.C. 2000) ("f plaintiff is unable to prove his professional negligence claim, contract and tort claims which are essentially restatements of the failed malpractice claim must also fail."); Biomet, 967 A.2d at 670 n.4 (rejecting appellant's "attempt to recast its malpractice argument as also breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duty"). The Court will therefore grant Blitzer's motion to dismiss.

John Tremain May, Esq., of Jordan Coyne & Savits, LLP, represented one of the defendants in this matter.