Pennsylvania Record

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Court dismisses most claims against law firms connected to dispute over failed case

Federal Court

By Charmaine Little | Sep 16, 2019

Bartle
Bartle

PHILADELPHIA - A Pennsylvania federal court dismissed most complaints against a pair of law firms drawn into a dispute between a lawyer and his clients who claim his failure to act caused them to lose a lawsuit.

Chris and Pat Juday took their issue with Mark T. Sadaka and Sadaka Associates LLC (Sadaka defendants), Michael S. Katz, Andrew W. Knox and Lopez McHugh LLP (Lopez McHugh defendants) as well as Joseph Capelli, Thomas J. Joyce, and Marc J. Bern & Partners LLP (Bern defendants) to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

The Judays sued for legal malpractice, unjust enrichment and fraudulent concealment.

The court allowed the fraudulent concealment claim to continue.

“The complaint does not allege that the Bern firm played any role in the late filing of the underlying action. The Judays instead focus their negligence claim against these defendants on their failure with respect to the issue of fraudulent concealment,” the court said in its ruling. T

he court gave the green-light for this claim to move forward so the Judays could have time to discover if there was evidence to back their fraudulent concealment claims.

The Bern defendants had asked the court to dismiss all of the claims, while the Lopez McHugh defendants had asked the court to dismiss the legal malpractice and unjust enrichment claims.

When it comes to the legal malpractice (contract) claim, the court noted that the Judays failed to claim that the Bern and Lopez McHugh defendants didn’t properly perform a task as required under contract. Rather, they claim that their lawyers breached a standard of care that was required in their role. The court said this isn’t enough to support their claim and dismissed this one for both the Bern and Lopez MucHugh defendants.

The court said the unjust enrichment claim fell short because the Judays don’t allege that they even had a contract with the Bern or Lopez McHugh defendants when those firms took on legal services for them.

Chris Juday was prescribled Zostavax on March 2, 2014, in Indiana, then was diagnosed with severe chickenpox 10 days later. He is still unable to work. The couple worked with a legal team to sue via the U.S. Court of Federal Claims under the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program. The federal court tossed out the action, saying Zostavax is not a part of the program, but told the couple about a two-year statute of limitation that was in effect if they wanted to sue in federal or state court. 

They reached out to Sadaka and told him the statute of limitations would expire March 12, 2016. Sadaka began representing them in September 2015 but “did not execute an engagement letter until a year later,” according to the lawsuit.

In fall 2015, Sadaka let the Judays know their lawsuit would be filed in the Pennsylvania court. Sadaka was only licensed to practice law in New Jersey but said he would be getting a license soon in Pennsylvania. And if that fell through, he’d have another lawyer he knew to handle the case. Either way, Sadaka said, he would be the one heading the case and drafting the lawsuit, the Judays' lawsuit said.

On April 5, 2016, the Lopez McHugh defendants filed a lawsuit against Merck & Co., and Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp. A paralegal from Sadaka’s firm gave the Judays a copy of the complaint the following June. But Sadaka didn’t tell the Judays he wasn’t the one who filed the lawsuit, the Judays' lawsuit said. They had no contact with the parties who actually filed the complaint, the lawsuit said.

Things expanded even more after Capelli, a Bern defendant, then appeared in court for the Judays as Katz and Knox of Lopez McHugh withdrew their appearances. Again, the Judays didn’t know the Bern defendants were connected to their case until a worker with the firm contacted them in September 2016.  Sadaka later confirmed he was working with the Bern defendants. Merck filed a motion for summary judgment, stating that the statue of limitations had expired, and the court agreed, granting the motion in April 2017. After more back-and-forth, Sadaka finally entered his appearance in July 2018. The plaintiffs responded with the current lawsuit.

Judge Harvey Bartle III ruled on the case.

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