November 25, 2020 Top Story

Law Firm Not Liable to Adverse Party for Groundless Suit

Desire to earn fees not sufficient to show malice in malicious prosecution claim

By John M. McNichols

A lawyer who files suit solely to earn legal fees is not liable to the adverse party even if the suit is groundless. According to the Supreme Court of Kentucky, a lawyer’s desire to earn fees is not an improper purpose sufficient to sustain a claim for wrongful use of civil proceedings against an attorney who represented its adversary in a prior litigation. The high court also held that negligence claim would not lie because an attorney owes no duty of care to an adverse party. ABA Section of Litigation leaders view the decision in Seiller Waterman, LLC v. RLB Properties as consistent with existing legal principles and expect that other high courts will come to similar conclusions if presented with the same issue.

The conflict was over deficient repairs by a roof and restoration company.

The conflict was over deficient repairs by a roof and restoration company.

Credit: iStockphoto by Getty Images

RLB’s Suit Against Its Adversary’s Counsel

The conflict began when RLB Properties engaged Skyshield Roof and Restoration to repair damage to a building that RLB owned in downtown Louisville. When one of RLB’s tenants sued Skyshield for deficient repairs, Skyshield filed a third-party claim against RLB and a mechanic’s lien against RLB’s building, alleging outstanding charges for its repair work. RLB moved to dissolve the lien and counterclaimed against Skyshield, ultimately obtaining a $3 million judgment plus attorney fees when Skyshield defaulted.

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