A Massachusetts Superior Court judge found that a real estate developer who sued the other party to a botched transaction could also sue that party’s attorney.
In Patel, et al. v. Martin, et. al., Quincy attorney David C. Levin was representing The Masonic Temple Association of Quincy in its sale of property to the defendant trustees of Grossman Munroe Trust. Levin, however, allegedly also provided counsel to the purchasers.
Under terms of the contract, the property could not be assigned without the Masons’ consent. The trust, however, with Levin’s guidance, assigned its rights to plaintiff Jay Patel without seeking the appropriate consent from the sellers. Patel began work on the site, but before the sale was closed, the property was damaged by fire. The sellers collected the insurance proceeds, since they did not recognize the assignment, as it was not presented to them for approval as stipulated by contract.
Typically, a plaintiff cannot hold an attorney liable for legal actions taken on behalf of his or her client when they adversely affect the plaintiff. In this case, however, the judge found that Levin was actively participating in alleged fraud by failing to secure consent from the Masons to assign the property to Patel, who paid $100,000 to the Trust.
Pierce Atwood real estate and land use litigation partner Donald R. Pinto, Jr. noted that an attorney who acts solely as an agent for his or her client is generally protected from liability to the client’s adversary. He stated, “The judge’s ruling that these claims aren’t futile only means they’d survive a motion to dismiss, so the plaintiff has a long way to go in proving them. But this decision is still a good reminder to attorneys to have one client per transaction and stay in your lane as counsel to your client.”
Excerpted from the August 29, 2019 issue of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly