Commercial Division Blog
Posted: July 26, 2017 / Categories Commercial, Statute of Limitations/Laches, Law Firms and Professional Ethics
Breach of Fiduciary Duty Claim Based on Law Firm's Conflicted Representation Timely
On July 25, 2017, the First Department issued a decision in Palmeri v. Wilkie Farr & Gallagher LLP, 2017 NY Slip Op. 05794, holding that a breach of fiduciary claim against a law firm for representing an adverse party was timely, explaining:
[T]he IAS court should have permitted the breach of fiduciary duty claim to proceed. The IAS court correctly noted that the claim was subject to a three-year statute of limitations. The court was mistaken, however, in finding that the allegedly wrongful conduct ended on June 25, 2009, when defendant unilaterally terminated its representation of plaintiff. On the contrary, defendant's conduct extended through at least June 29, 2011, during which time it represented Ramius and its employees in their participation at plaintiff's FINRA disciplinary hearing.
Here, plaintiff alleges not only that defendant breached its fiduciary duty when it terminated its professional relationship with him, but also when, until at least June 2011, it acted in a manner directly adverse to his interests. Where there is a series of continuing wrongs, the continuing wrong doctrine tolls the limitation period until the date of the commission of the last wrongful act.
Here, plaintiff has presented evidence of a continuing wrong, which is deemed to have accrued on the date of the last wrongful act. Indeed, the record contains evidence sufficient to create an issue of fact as to whether defendant breached its fiduciary obligations to plaintiff after June 2009 and well into June 2011 during its ongoing representation of the Ramius parties.
For example, as noted, the record contains evidence that in the early portion of 2011, defendant helped Ramius identify witnesses who would testify against plaintiff at his FINRA disciplinary hearing. Similarly, defendant was present on behalf of Ramius and Ramius employees who testified at plaintiff's FINRA hearing on June 28 through 29, 2011 — a hearing at which the employees gave testimony that was generally adverse to plaintiff's interests. This evidence is sufficient for a fact-finder to determine that defendant breached its duty of loyalty to plaintiff, a former client.
(Internal quotations and citations omitted).