Lay et al. v. Bumpass, CA: 3:11-CV-1543 (M.D.P.A. 2012) is a case which examines the correct place to file a complaint for legal malpractice. This particular decision was based in part on the filing of the complaint in the Middle district of Pennsylvania based on diversity, meaning the plaintiffs were citizens making an allegation against a Defendant from a different state. The facts of the case are below.
Originally, Plaintiffs werePennsylvaniaresidents who alleged an injury based on the negligence of TSA. As a result, their claim was required to be filed under the Federal Tort claims act. The injury form negligence occurred inArkansas, and the Plaintiffs hired anArkansaslawyer to handle the case.
The Plaintiffs alleged that theArkansasattorney, representingPennsylvaniacitizens committed malpractice by failing to follow the standards of the act. Namely, the attorney failed to timely provide notice as required by the FTCA. Thus when Plaintiffs made their claim it was rejected by the TSA due to a violation of the statute of limitations. Plaintiff initiated this malpractice suit after the personal injury suit was rejected for being untimely. The defendant moved to dismiss the case for improper venue in the Middle district of Pennsylvania. The Plaintiff's main argument that the suit should have been in the Middle district were that 1) the dismissal of their personal injury suit occurred in the Middle district, thus it is the place of injury and 2) all of their experts and evidence were located in the Middle district of Pennsylvania. The court dismissed both arguments. The main problem according to the court is that the FTCA sets out what should be used as venue in a personal injury case. Plaintiffs were alleging malpractice based on the personal injury case representation which is why the court went to the statute. According to the FTCA venue is proper where in the judicial district where the plaintiff resides or wherein the act or omission complained of occurred.
However, that governs the personal injury suit, not the legal malpractice. Thus the court had to go to tort law as opposed to federal law. The venue in discussion in this case was that of the legal malpractice case. There was not a challenge to the venue of the FTCA claim, since by statute that could have been prosecuted inPennsylvania. The Middle district adopted the same rule other courts used that venue is proper in the county where the negligence arose.
In this case, the Plaintiffs got in the door to Federal court based on diversity. Where jurisdiction of the Federal court is based on diversity, the court recognized that by statute the case may be brought in any district where the defendant resides; any district where a substantial part of the case took place; or any district in which any Defendant is subject to personal jurisdiction.
It was uncontested that Defendant did not reside inPennsylvaniathus, that rule was crossed out by the Court. Ditto for personal jurisdiction. Personal jurisdiction did not apply because the attorney fromArkansasdid not do any advertising inPennsylvania. Thus that left only the district where a substantial part of the events occurred.
The Court was then tasked with deciding what district that was for purposes of this case. To establish where the Plaintiffs were when the action occurs in a legal malpractice case involves analyzing the relationship between attorney and client. Based on precedent the court established that a telephone call to a client or a mailing does not establish venue. Neither does the fact that tortuous conduct occurs in one venue when the harm is felt in another. Thus both of those took out specific parts of Defendant's conduct which caused harm to Plaintiffs. The court could not find acts of the Defendant which also gave rise to venue.
At this point, Plaintiffs were out of ammunition, because a finding of personal jurisdiction would have been a due process clause question which is an article for another day. Plaintiffs hired anArkansasbased attorney to prosecute their claim, thus the court found there was no intentional relationship withPennsylvania. Additionally, all aspects of representation occurred inArkansas, thus the court transferred the case accordingly.
The reason Plaintiffs seek to file in certain courts is based on remedies. While this case may seem to have been an open and shut instance of filing in the wrong venue, Plaintiffs attorney was attempting to utilize the strategic advantage Plaintiffs gain in his view. While it was unsuccessful, it is important to keep in mind the three ways a diversity suit may come under the auspices of a court which would seem not to have an interest. This is increasingly important given the inter-connectivity in the computer age.