Dismissal of legal malpractice claim reversed.


Where plaintiff alleged that defendant attorneys ignored settlement offers and rejected offers on illogical bases in a previous class action case, dismissal of plaintiff’s legal malpractice claim was reversed.

In Hawthorne v. Morgan & Morgan Nashville, PLLC, No. W2021-01011-COA-R3-CV, 2022 WL 4298184 (Tenn. Ct. App. Sept. 19, 2022), plaintiff represented a proposed class bringing claims for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty against defendant attorneys based on defendant attorney’s representation of plaintiff class in a previous class action. The previous class action surrounded several funeral homes that had allegedly “wrongfully abandoned the remains of the class’s deceased loved ones at the cemetery.” (internal citations omitted). In this case, plaintiff alleged that defendants committed legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty in the previous case by ignoring reasonable settlement offers, rejecting settlement offers for illogical reasons, and failing to communicate settlement offers to the class representative.

Defendants filed a motion to dismiss, which the trial court granted with little explanation. The trial court apparently concluded that “even accepting [plaintiff’s] allegations as true, and giving the Plaintiff the benefit of all reasonable inferences from these facts, such facts and inferences did not give rise to a legal claim.” On appeal, this dismissal was reversed.

In a short analysis, the Court of Appeals wrote that “Plaintiff has pled facts implicating valid legal theories.” The Court specifically noted plaintiff’s allegation that defendants “ignor[ed] settlement offers and reject[ed] them on illogical bases,” and that defendants did not communicate that settlement offers had been made to the plaintiff class representative. Based on these allegations, the Court of Appeals reversed dismissal of the legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty claim.

This opinion was released one month after oral arguments in this case.

Note:  Chapter 64, Section 1 of Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law has been updated to include this decision.

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