No legal malpractice where plaintiff could not show that he was harmed by representation.

Where plaintiff could not show that he was harmed in any way by defendant attorney’s alleged legal malpractice, summary judgment on the malpractice claim was affirmed.

In a memorandum opinion in Sutton v. The Westmoreland Law Firm, No. M2021-01209-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Mar. 21, 2023) (memorandum opinion), plaintiff consulted with and hired defendant attorney after receiving a detainer warrant from his apartment complex. When plaintiff met with defendant, they discussed a $1,000 retainer but did not discuss who was responsible for paying filing fees.

Defendant attorney filed an answer to the detainer warrant, and at plaintiff’s request, filed a counter-complaint alleging that the apartment had been unlivable due to a water leak. At the hearing on the matter, the attorney for the apartment complex admitted to an accounting error, and while the trial court granted possession to the complex, it refused any request for damages against plaintiff. Regarding plaintiff’s counter-complaint, the trial court informed plaintiff that the filing fee had not been paid and therefore dismissed the counter-complaint. After the hearing, plaintiff terminated his representation by defendant attorney.

Plaintiff later went to the court clerk’s office, where he re-filed his counter-complaint. At that time, he discovered that a judgment had incorrectly been entered against him in the detainer warrant action, but that judgment was later extinguished. Plaintiff eventually entered into a $1,000 settlement agreement with the apartment complex on his counter-complaint.

Plaintiff filed this pro se legal malpractice action against defendant attorney based on his representation during the detainer warrant matter. Plaintiff asserted that defendant did not correctly deposit his retainer, did not pay the required filing fees for the counter-complaint, and did not “advise him of the erroneous judgment entered against him.” Defendant moved for summary judgment, which the trial court granted based on finding plaintiff’s testimony not credible, and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

In its brief opinion, the Court of Appeals noted that defendant’s representation of plaintiff “resulted in the dismissal of the claim for damages.” In addition, while plaintiff’s counter-complaint was initially dismissed, he ultimately received a settlement from the complex after re-filing it, and the incorrect judgment entered against plaintiff was extinguished. The Court wrote that, based on these facts, the record was “simply devoid of any theory through which Plaintiff was harmed by Attorney’s legal representation.” The Court also noted that plaintiff failed to provide a transcript or statement of the evidence on appeal, which “significantly ties the hands of the appellate court.” (internal citation omitted).

Summary judgment for defendant attorney was therefore affirmed.


Note:  Chapter 72, Section 1 of Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law has been updated to include this decision.

Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law contains summaries of leading cases on over 500 topics and citations to more than 1500 additional cases.  The 500,000+ word book  (and two others, Tennessee Law of Civil Trial and Compendium of Tennessee Tort Reform Cases) is available by subscription at and is continually updated as new decisions and statutes impact Tennessee law.  Click on the link to see the book’s Table of Contents.

BirdDog Law also provides Tennessee lawyers with free access to user-friendly versions of the Tennessee rules of evidence and procedure and lots of other free resources, including a database for each of Tennessee’s 95 counties that will help find out information about court clerks, judges, filing fees, local rules, local forms, the presence (or absence) of electronic filing, case filings, and tort trial statistics.



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