Phila. jury awards plaintiff $2.5 million in legal malpractice, misrepresentation case

By Jon Campisi | Oct 10, 2013

A legal malpractice action initiated by a man who claimed he was

misrepresented in a case involving familial assets has won a multi-million-dollar award in state court.

Robert J. Kappe won his misrepresentation case against the law firm of Lentz, Cantor & Massey, as well as lawyers Robert C.F. Willson and Andrew H. Dohan, following a multi-week jury trial at Philadelphia’s Court of Common Pleas, according to court records.

When all was said and done, jurors awarded Kappe $2.5 million in damages following the 19-day trial before Common Pleas Court Judge George Overton, according to a copy of the jury verdict sheet, which was recorded on Sept. 19.

In his civil suit, Kappe alleged that the defendants improperly included the plaintiff in litigation involving the interests of Boyd C. Davis and Nelda Wynn Davis.

Boyd Davis, Jr., was being accused by his sister of misusing the family’s assets through the son’s power of attorney.

The defendants in the misrepresentation case were representing Boyd Davis, Jr., in his proceedings in Common Pleas Court.

Boyd C. Davis, Sr., according to Kappe’s complaint, was as West Chester-area businessman who owned and operated the M.H. Davis Estate Oil Co.

He also dabbled in high-end real estate.

Davis and his wife, Nelda Wynn, were close family friends with Kappe’s parents, the lawsuit stated.

Kappe, with the help of Boyd Davis, Sr., eventually went on to become a successful real estate investor, and after Kappe’s parents passed away, the plaintiff maintained his friendship with the couple.

Kappe provided support and assistance to the Davises for many years, the complaint stated, although the plaintiff stayed clear of making any decisions regarding the couple’s personal affairs since they remained competent to do so themselves.

Boyd Davis, Jr., however, was believed by Kappe to be handling many of couple’s financial affairs and assets, the suit stated.

In late 2000, the couple executed reciprocal powers of attorney, with Boyd Davis, Jr. and Kappe nominated as co-agents if either of the Davises was unable to continue to act on behalf of their respective spouses as attorney-in-fact, according to the complaint.

Kappe said he first learned of the powers of attorney in the fall of 2001, after the execution of an “acknowledgement by agent” affirming his fiduciary obligations should he ever be called upon to act as attorney-in-fact for either of the Davises.

Fast forward five years to the winter of 2006, when the Davises’ daughter, Nelda Jane Helmstaedter, filed a guardianship petition seeking to have her mother declared incompetent, the record shows.

The petition asserted that Helmstaedter’s brother mismanaged the parents’ assets, and it sought the appointment of a guardian to protect the interests of Nelda Wynn Davis.

Kappe was never a party to the guardianship petition and he had no interest in the proceedings, the lawsuit noted.

The defendants in Kappe’s suit were eventually retained to represent the interests of Nelda Wynn Davis.

Kappe, the suit stated, never had a role in selecting or retaining the defendants with respect to the guardianship matter.

The complaint went on to state that in early 2007, codefendants Dohan and Willson contacted Kappe to inform him that he was being considered a participant in the proceedings due to Kappe being an alternate attorney-in-fact under the powers of attorney, and that Kappe was required to act on behalf of Nelda Wynn Davis.

Days later, the defendants entered their appearances on behalf of Davis, and although Kappe maintained he had nothing to do with the retention of the defendants, the entry of appearance represented to the court that the appearances were being entered for Davis on the authority of Boyd Davis, Jr., and Kappe.

“In fact, Kappe had no personal interest in the proceedings and was not acting as agent of Mrs. Davis nor had he ever acted as agent for Mrs. Davis,” Kappe’s lawsuit stated. “Dohan and Willson never advised Kappe that he was not required to participate in the proceedings or assume any role or responsibility as an attorney-in fact.”

The suit claimed that the defendants continued to repeatedly misrepresent Kappe in the family matter.

In late April 2008, the complaint noted, a judge ordered that $500,000 be withdrawn from Kappe’s personal bank account and deposited into an account for Mrs. Davis.

And weeks later, the court ordered a writ of sequestration as to Kappe’s personal investment account, the record shows.

In the summer of 2008, a judge issued a partial adjudication and decree holding that Boyd Davis, Jr., and Kappe would be jointly and severally liable to Mrs. Davis and entering judgment against the two men in the amount of $1,458,021.98, according to Kappe’s first amended complaint.

Kappe was subsequently forced to file for bankruptcy.

The suit said that Kappe was eventually able to negotiate a settlement whereby he was released from all further obligations in the litigation in exchange for paying $350,000.

In his complaint, Kappe said he was forced to incur substantial legal fees, accounting costs and related expenses pertaining to the litigation, the bankruptcy and other issues.

He claimed he was also precluded from participating in potentially lucrative investment opportunities.

Kappe maintained he also suffered substantial public humiliation, embarrassment, damage to his reputation and credit, and the disruption of both personal and business relationships.

Kappe also said he was forced to liquidate personal holdings and otherwise engage in financial transactions that would not have been necessary except for the conduct of the defendants.

Kappe was represented at trial by attorneys Hugh J. Hutchison and John J. Leonard, of the Philadelphia firm Leonard, Sciolla, Hutchison, Leonard & Tinari.

The defendants were represented by William F. McDevitt and Marc L. Bogutz, of Philadelphia’s Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dicker.

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