Federal appeals court dismisses legal malpractice action based on claim preclusion doctrine

By Nicholas Malfitano | May 25, 2016

PHILADELPHIA – On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit upheld a trial court ruling to dismiss a legal malpractice complaint with prejudice and dismissed as moot a plaintiff’s “motion for extension of time” to file an appeal.

In a per curiam ruling, Third Circuit judges Michael A. Chagares, Joseph A. Greenaway Jr. and Leonard I. Garth affirmed the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania’s ruling to throw out the lawsuit filed by appellant Samson B. Slewion versus appellees Norman Weinstein, Charles Schleifer and Richard Kupersmith.

The instant action is Slewion’s second lawsuit alleging legal malpractice connected to the defendants’ representation of him in a 2004 personal injury action. In that case (heard in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas), Slewion hired the defendants as his counsel. Through an arbitration panel’s decision, Slewion was awarded $50,000 in that action.

“In 2010, Slewion filed a complaint in the District Court alleging legal malpractice by the defendants based on their failure to request more than $50,000 for his injuries and for submitting his claims to arbitration,” the Third Circuit said. “The District Court granted the defendants’ motion to dismiss and dismissed the complaint with prejudice, because Slewion failed to file the requisite certificate of merit under Pennsylvania law and because his claims were time-barred by Pennsylvania’s two year statute of limitations.”

In 2014, Slewion filed an application to proceed in forma pauperis and a proposed complaint in the District Court in which he once again claimed legal malpractice by his former attorneys who represented him in the personal injury action. Slewion claimed that Weinstein, Schleifer and Kupersmith “committed legal malpractice by proceeding with arbitration, as opposed to a jury trial, and only requesting $50,000 in damages," which Slewion argued was below the medical costs he paid to treat his injury.

“The District Court granted Slewion’s application to proceed in forma pauperis and screened the complaint pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1915(e)(2). The District Court determined that Slewion’s claims were barred under the doctrine of res judicata and dismissed the complaint with prejudice. Slewion appeals,” the Third Circuit said.

“Upon review, we will summarily affirm the District Court’s decision because the appeal does not raise a substantial question,” the Third Circuit added. “We agree with the District Court that Slewion’s claims against the defendants are barred by the principles of res judicata, or claim preclusion.”

The appellate court explained claim preclusion bars a suit where there has been: “(1) A final judgment on the merits in a prior suit involving (2) the same parties or their privies, and (3) a subsequent suit based on the same cause of action.”

“Slewion’s current lawsuit meets all three requirements. First, Slewion received a final judgment on the merits when the District Court dismissed with prejudice his legal malpractice claims in the 2010 action. Second, Slewion named his three former attorneys as defendants both here and in the 2010 action. Third, the present complaint and the complaint in the 2010 action were both based on the same cause of action, as the complaints both alleged legal malpractice in connection with his representation in the personal injury action,” the Third Circuit stated.

Based on the fulfillment of this criteria, the appellate court determined res judicata bars Slewion’s claims against the defendants – though, they noted specifically the would use the term “claim preclusion” instead.

“Moreover, the District Court did not err when it dismissed the complaint with prejudice. Accordingly, we will affirm the District Court’s order dismissing Slewion’s complaint. Also, as we noted previously, we will dismiss as moot this consolidated appeal insofar as it relates to the District Court’s order denying Slewion’s motion for an extension of time to appeal,” the Third Circuit concluded.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 15-2168

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania case 2:14-cv-07313

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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