In Aqua-Trol Corp. v Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, P.A., 197 AD3d 544 [2d Dept 2021], the court reinstated the client’s complaint for legal malpractice against its former attorneys, holding:
To succeed on a motion for summary judgment dismissing a legal malpractice action, a defendant must present evidence in admissible form establishing that at least one of the essential elements of legal malpractice cannot be satisfied (see Buczek v. Dell & Little, LLP, 127 A.D.3d 1121, 1123, 7 N.Y.S.3d 558; Valley Ventures, LLC v. Joseph J. Haspel, PLLC, 102 A.D.3d 955, 956, 958 N.Y.S.2d 604). Those elements require a showing that (1) the attorney failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession and (2) the attorney’s breach of this duty proximately caused the plaintiff to sustain actual and ascertainable damages (see Bells v. Foster, 83 A.D.3d 876, 877, 922 N.Y.S.2d 124; see also Bua v. Purcell & Ingrao, P.C., 99 A.D.3d 843, 845, 952 N.Y.S.2d 592). The causation element requires a showing that the injured party “ ‘would have prevailed in the underlying action or would not have incurred any damages, but for the lawyer’s negligence’ ” (Bells v. Foster, 83 A.D.3d at 877, 922 N.Y.S.2d 124, quoting Kennedy v. H. Bruce Fischer, Esq., P.C., 78 A.D.3d 1016, 1018, 912 N.Y.S.2d 590). The defendant must affirmatively demonstrate the absence of one of the elements of legal malpractice, rather than merely pointing out gaps in the plaintiff’s proof (see Quantum Corporate Funding, Ltd. v. Ellis, 126 A.D.3d 866, 871, 6 N.Y.S.3d 255).
Here, the judgment must be reversed, as the Supreme Court should have denied Wilentz’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. Wilentz failed to submit evidence establishing, prima facie, the absence of at least one essential element of the legal malpractice cause of action (see Bells v. Foster, 83 A.D.3d at 877, 922 N.Y.S.2d 124; see also Biberaj v. Acocella, 120 A.D.3d 1285, 1287, 993 N.Y.S.2d 64). Since Wilentz failed to make its prima facie showing, we do not need to consider the sufficiency of Aqua–Trol’s opposition papers (see Winegrad v. New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 N.Y.2d 851, 853, 487 N.Y.S.2d 316, 476 N.E.2d 642).
The Supreme Court, however, properly denied Aqua–Trol’s cross motion for summary judgment on the issue of liability. Aqua–Trol did not establish, prima facie, that Wilentz failed to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession (see Schottland v. Brown Harris Stevens Brooklyn, LLC, 137 A.D.3d 995, 996–997, 27 N.Y.S.3d 259; Bells v. Foster, 83 A.D.3d at 877, 922 N.Y.S.2d 124). Since Aqua–Trol failed to satisfy its prima facie burden, we need not consider the sufficiency of Wilentz’s opposition papers (see Winegrad v. New York Univ. Med. Ctr., 64 N.Y.2d at 853, 487 N.Y.S.2d 316, 476 N.E.2d 642).
Richard A. Klass, Esq.
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