Friday, December 20, 2013

Civil Code § 1714.10 Is Not a Shield in Attorney-Client Disputes

Stueve v. Berger Kahn, No. G046253 (D4d3 Dec. 18, 2013)

This case concerns an alleged Ponzi scheme set up by some lawyers to skim off the assets of the heirs to the Alta Dena Dairy fortune. The trial court granted defendants’ motion under Civil Code § 1714.10 to strike the conspiracy allegations from the complaint. The court of appeal reversed. According to the court, § 1714.10 “was enacted to combat the use of frivolous conspiracy claims that were brought as a tactical ploy against attorneys and their clients and that were designed to disrupt the attorney-client relationship.” (internal quotes omitted). It “performs a ‘gatekeeping’ function and requires a plaintiff to establish a reasonable probability of prevailing before he or she may pursue a ‘cause of action against an attorney for a civil conspiracy with his or her client arising from any attempt to contest or compromise a claim or dispute.”
It works much like the anti-SLAPP statute. But the statute, by its own terms, is limited to when the attorney’s services are related to settling or litigating a “claim or dispute.” Because the alleged conspiracy here was based on the defendants ripping off their clients (the plaintiffs) through fraudulent estate planning, there was no claim or dispute, so the statute did not apply. That the defendants' conspiracy also included some of their other clients does not change the result.


1 comment:

  1. Here's a question: does the statute apply to out of State attorneys who are sued for conspiracy in conjunction with their clients?