Submitted: March 26, 2015
Upon Consideration of Defendants' Motion to Dismiss DENIED
Kenneth M. Roseman, Esquire, Kenneth Roseman, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware for Plaintiff.
Jeffrey M. Weiner, Esquire, Law Offices of Jeffrey M. Weiner, P.A., for Defendants Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A., Robert Jacobs, Thomas Crumplar, Raeann Warner, Stephen Neuberger, Thomas Neuberger, and The Neuberger Firm, P.A.
John A. Elzufon, Esquire, and Loren R. Barron, Esquire, Elzufon Austin Tarlov & Mondell, P.A., Wilmington, Delaware for Defendant Edward M. Luria.
Robert B. Young, J.
Duane Hardy ("Plaintiff"), an apparent victim of both sexual abuse and financial theft, brings the present suit against a number of his former attorneys and their respective law firms ("Defendants"). Defendants were initially retained by Plaintiff to represent him in tort litigation against his sexual abuser. Following the settlement of this lawsuit, Defendants further assisted Plaintiff in the creation of a trust ("Trust"), to hold the proceeds of the settlement. Two of Plaintiff's relatives were selected as the Trustees of this Trust. These Trustees were allegedly thieves, who proceeded to misuse the Trust assets. Plaintiff brought a lawsuit against the Trustees in the Delaware Chancery Court, which found that the Trustees had violated their fiduciary duties.
Plaintiff's current lawsuit against Defendants alleges legal malpractice with respect to the creation of the Trust and the selection of the Trustees. Defendants move to dismiss Plaintiff's Complaint: 1) for failure to state a claim; and 2) because the suit is barred by collateral estoppel. In drafting their motions to dismiss, Defendants repeatedly referenced the prior Chancery Court action against Plaintiff's Trustees. In order to consider this prior action, which the Court deems imperative, the motions are converted to summary judgment motions.
Reviewing Defendants' motions under the summary judgment standard, the Court finds that the factual disputes between the parties require further development through the discovery process. In addition, collateral estoppel does not bar Plaintiff's suit, as the findings of Chancery Court were primarily in regard to the actions of Plaintiff's Trustees, not his attorneys as is the case in the instant matter. Therefore, Defendants' motions are DENIED at this stage of the proceedings.
FACTS AND PROCEDURES
The present litigation originates from a deeply unfortunate chain of events in Plaintiff's life. In the late 1970s-early 1980s, Plaintiff, as a young boy, suffered sexual abuse at the hands of a priest employed by the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington, Inc. ("CDW"). Following the passage of the Delaware Child Victim's Act of 2007, Plaintiff retained the services of the Neuberger Firm, P.A. ("Neuberger Firm"), to represent him in a suit against CDW. Jacobs and Crumplar, P.A. ("Jacobs & Crumplar"), was additionally retained to help in the prosecution of Plaintiff's case. The lawsuit was filed in the Delaware Superior Court, on May 4, 2009.
CDW filed for Bankruptcy on October 18, 2009, resulting in the stay of Plaintiff's action. Plaintiff then filed a Proof of Claim in the Bankruptcy case. In anticipation of receiving payment through the Bankruptcy process, Plaintiff determined to create a Trust, which would eventually hold the proceeds of this process. Edward M. Luria, Esq. ("Luria") was also retained to assist in the creation of this Trust. Plaintiff's sister, Sherry Hardy, and her son Michael Hardy, (together "Trustees") were selected as Trustees of this Trust. The Trust was executed on August 31, 2011. On October 27 and 28, 2011, the Trustees executed a Settlement Statement with the CDW for an initial gross award of $533, 508.13. After certain deductions for legal fees and advances, $345, 676.88 was distributed into the Trust.
__ Unfortunately, Plaintiff's Trustees proved to be completely untrustworthy, syphoning assets of the Trust for personal use. On February 28, 2012, Plaintiff filed suit against the Trustees for breach of fiduciary duties in the Delaware Court of Chancery. On July 29, 2014, the Court of Chancery ruled in ...