Monday, April 6, 2020

Judge Zulick of Monroe County Addresses Issues of Jurisdiction Over Out-of-State Law Firm in Pennsylvania Malpractice Claim

Preliminary Objections by a NY defendant firm contesting jurisdiction in a legal malpractice case were denied in the matter of Rock v. Russo, No. 7605-CV-2019 (C.P. Monroe Co. March 6, 2020 Zulick, J.).

The Plaintiff brought this legal malpractice case arising out of an injury which occurred at the Kalahari Resorts Pocono Hotel on December 25, 2015.

The Plaintiff, a NY resident, retained NY counsel to pursue her claim. The defendant firm represented the Plaintiff but eventually wrote to the Plaintiff in October of 2017 terminating the representation and allegedly advising the Plaintiff in that letter that she had three years from the date of the incident to file suit.

The Plaintiff alleges that she relied upon that letter and believed that she had three years to file suit.  The Plaintiff did not file suit within two years of the date of the accident.

The Plaintiff brought this suit for legal malpractice and Defendants filed Preliminary Objections contesting personal jurisdiction, arguing that they did not have minimum contacts with PA, since they lived in NY, practice in NY, were not licensed to practice in PA, and given that the firm did not do any business in the state.

After reviewing the current status of the law on personal jurisdiction, Judge Zulick agreed that the Defendants' contacts with Pennsylvania were not significant and that, as a result, there was no support for a finding of general jurisdiction over the Defendants.

However, on the issue of specific jurisdiction, which required the application of Pennsylvania's Long-Arm Statute and the Due Process Clause of the Constitution.  Under that analysis, specific jurisdiction can be found if a defendant's tortious acts or omissions cause harm in Pennsylvania.  The Court found that the Plaintiff's loss of her right to sue was sufficient to satisfy Pennsylvania's Long-Arm statute.

Under the second part of the analysis, Judge Zulick also found that exercising jurisdiction over the case would also not run afoul of the Due Process Clause of the U.S. Constitution.  The Court found that the Defendant firm engaged in minimum contacts with Pennsylvania and purposely availed itself in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania by seeking to represent a Plaintiff for pecuniary gain in a personal injury matter that arose in Pennsylvania.

In light of this analysis, the Court overruled the Prelminary Objections and ordered the Defendants to file their Answer to the Complaint.

Anyone wishing to review this case may click this LINK.

I send thanks to Attorney Rusty Allen of the Law Offices of W. Austin Allen, II, P.C. of Warminster, PA for bringing this case to my attention.

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