In Walker v Shaevitz & Shaevitz, Esqs., 192 AD3d 1062 [2d Dept 2021], the court dismissed the client’s legal malpractice action because her deposition testimony in the underlying case was contrary to her opposition to the law firm’s motion for summary judgment. The court held:
The Supreme Court, upon reargument, properly granted the law firm’s motion for summary judgment dismissing the complaint. “ ‘In moving for summary judgment dismissing a complaint alleging legal malpractice, a defendant must present evidence establishing, prima facie, that it did not breach the duty to exercise the ordinary reasonable skill and knowledge commonly possessed by a member of the legal profession, or that the plaintiff did not sustain actual and ascertainable damages as a result of such deviation’ ” (Dominguez v. Mirman, Markovits & Landau, P.C., 180 A.D.3d 646, 647, 119 N.Y.S.3d 136, quoting Mazzurco v. Gordon, 173 A.D.3d 1003, 1003, 100 N.Y.S.3d 894). Here, the law firm established its prima facie entitlement to judgment as a matter of law through the submission of the transcript of Walker’s deposition testimony in the underlying action which showed that she could not identify the cause of her fall (see Colini v. Stino, Inc., 186 A.D.3d 1610, 1611, 129 N.Y.S.3d 826; Ash v. City of New York, 109 A.D.3d 854, 856, 972 N.Y.S.2d 594) and that, even if the law firm had breached its duty to the plaintiffs, they would not have prevailed in the underlying action because Walker was unable to identify the cause of her fall without engaging in speculation (see Hamoudeh v. Mandel, 62 A.D.3d 948, 949, 880 N.Y.S.2d 674; see also Markowitz v. Kurzman Eisenberg Corbin Lever & Goodman, LLP, 82 A.D.3d 719, 719, 917 N.Y.S.2d 683).
In opposition, the plaintiffs failed to raise a triable issue of fact. Walker’s deposition testimony and affidavit in this action are contrary to her deposition testimony in the underlying action and merely raised a feigned issue of fact insufficient to defeat summary judgment (see Mallen v. Dekalb Corp., 181 A.D.3d 669, 670, 121 N.Y.S.3d 331; Dominguez v. Mirman, Markovits & Landau, P.C., 180 A.D.3d at 648, 119 N.Y.S.3d 136).
The Supreme Court also properly denied the plaintiffs’ cross motion pursuant to CPLR 3126 to impose sanctions on the law firm for spoliation. A party seeking sanctions for spoliation of evidence must demonstrate “that the party having control over the evidence possessed an obligation to preserve it at the time of its destruction, that the evidence was destroyed with a culpable state of mind, and that the destroyed evidence was relevant to the party’s claim … such that the trier of fact could find that the evidence would support that claim” (Pegasus Aviation I, Inc. v. Varig Logistica S.A., 26 N.Y.3d 543, 547, 26 N.Y.S.3d 218, 46 N.E.3d 601 [internal quotation marks omitted]). Here, the plaintiffs’ reliance on the doctrine of spoliation is misplaced as the law firm was never in possession or control of the restaurant, its lighting system, or its renovation (see Burbige v. Siben & Ferber, 115 A.D.3d 632, 633, 981 N.Y.S.2d 537). Moreover, to the extent that the plaintiffs assert an independent cause of action for negligent spoliation, it is without merit as no such tort is recognized in New York law (see Vargas v. Crown Container Co., Inc., 114 A.D.3d 762, 764, 980 N.Y.S.2d 500; Hillman v. Sinha, 77 A.D.3d 887, 888, 910 N.Y.S.2d 116).
Richard A. Klass, Esq.
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Richard A. Klass, Esq., maintains a law firm engaged in civil litigation at 16 Court Street, 28th Floor, Brooklyn, New York. He may be reached at (718) COURT●ST or RichKlass@courtstreetlaw.comcreate new email with any questions.
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