In Shufeldt v. Baker, a recent decision out of the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee, the court found that the doctrine of judicial estoppel applied to the plaintiff’s legal-malpractice claims against his former law firm. In the underlying litigation, the plaintiff reached a settlement in which he contended that his claims were not time-barred. But in his legal-malpractice claim, the plaintiff contended that the settlement was less favorable than it could have been because his claims were time-barred. Because the plaintiff presented distinct positions during the judicial proceedings, the court used its discretion and determined that the doctrine of judicial estoppel was applicable.
Moreover, there are three notable tips regarding the application of the doctrine of judicial estoppel. First, when invoking the doctrine, cautionary measures should be taken to avoid the destruction of the truth-seeking function of the courts. This is because the doctrine prevents a contradictory position, but does not examine the truth of either statement made by a litigant. Second, pay close attention to the opposing party's initial position in a judicial proceeding to insure that he or she is not wavering from either side. If this happens, it is likely that the litigant's claims in the judicial proceeding can be dismissed entirely. Lastly, if the doctrine is applicable, be sure to first consider the factors from the New Hampshire case. Keep in mind that there are other factors that may render the doctrine applicable depending on the facts of the case.