Procedural Posture

Procedural Posture

Plaintiff assignee sought review of a judgment from the Superior Court of San Diego County (California). The trial court sustained demurrers filed by defendant attorneys after plaintiff brought a legal malpractice complaint against defendants.

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Overview

Plaintiff assignee filed suit against a party in California. The party consulted with defendant attorneys, who were licensed in Oregon, but not in California. Judgment was entered in favor of plaintiff based on deficiencies in the discovery responses. Plaintiff compelled the party to assign to plaintiff all choses in action against defendants, and plaintiff filed a legal malpractice complaint against defendants. The trial court sustained defendants’ demurrer, holding that legal malpractice claims were not assignable under California law. The court affirmed the judgment. California law precluded an assignment of legal malpractice claims because of the uniquely personal nature of the attorney-client relationship and because public policy would be violated if such assignment were allowed. If an attorney perceived that his adversary might sue him for malpractice, the attorney might be reluctant to vigorously pursue litigation against the adversary. This in turn could compromise the duty of undivided loyalty that an attorney owed to a client. Even if Oregon law permitted the assignment of legal malpractice claims, California law governed whether the assignment itself was valid.

Outcome

The court affirmed the judgment in favor of defendant attorneys. The gravamen of all of plaintiff assignee’s claims against defendants was legal malpractice, and legal malpractice claims were not assignable under California law.