Friday, May 22, 2009
C.A. Rejects Suit by Lawyer Over Referrals to Ex-Partner
By a MetNews Staff Writer
A lawyer who referred cases to another attorney did not thereby interfere with that lawyer’s relationship with his ex-partner, the Court of Appeal for this district has ruled.
Div. Three yesterday ordered publication of its April 27 ruling affirming a judgment for attorney Jeff Nadrich, his partner, Randal Neal Cohen, and the law firm of Nadrich & Cohen.
The plaintiff, Joseph Daniel Davis, alleged in his complaint that Nadrich interfered with the contract between Davis and ex-partner John Heubeck. Davis claimed that under an oral agreement entered into in 1999, he and Heubeck formed a partnership for the purpose of practicing law, primarily in asbestos and toxic tort cases, and that Davis was to be responsible for the trial work and receive 60 percent of the profits.
Davis claimed that the partnership did not dissolve until May 2005, when Heubeck moved out of the Davis & Heubeck office and notified employees and clients that the two were no longer in partnership. Heubeck claimed that the firm dissolved in early 2004, although he and Davis continued to practice from the same offices.
Nadrich and Heubeck insisted that Nadrich referred business to Heubeck individually, after Davis & Heubeck dissolved, and that Nadrich’s opinion of Davis was such that Nadrich would not refer cases to Davis or to any firm in which he practiced.
The evidence showed that Davis and Nadrich did not know each other, that neither Davis nor the former firm were named in any retainer agreements for cases referred by Nadrich to Heubeck, that neither Davis nor the former firm were ever counsel of record for any client referred to Heubeck by Nadrich, that no client signed a fee-sharing agreement involving Davis in any of those cases, and that Davis knew that such cases were being prosecuted in the name of the Law Offices of John C. Heubeck.
Davis, however, claimed that Heubeck had agreed to pay him a percentage of the fees generated by those cases, and that Nadrich and his firm interfered with that agreement.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Linda Lefkowitz granted summary judgment in favor of Nadrich, Cohen, and their firm. She ruled that Davis failed to present a triable issue of fact with regard to his claims against those defendants, which were denominated as intentional interference with economic relationship and negligent interference with economic relationship.
The judge denied Heubeck’s motion for summary judgment on claims of breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, and constructive fraud, and for an accounting. That ruling was not involved in the appeal.
Justice Richard Aldrich, writing for the Court of Appeal, said Nadrich could not be held liable for interference with the Davis/Heubeck contract because he had no knowledge that Davis & Heubeck was a viable partnership.
California law, the justice explained, does not recognize a claim for negligent interference with contract. None of the plaintiff’s evidence, Aldrich insisted, shows or infers that Nadrich knew that Davis and Heubeck were partners, if they were still partners, at the time.
Assuming that Nadrich had a duty to investigate the status of the partnership, the justice explained, he discharged that duty by talking to Heubeck, since Heubeck told him the partnership was dissolved and he had no reason to disbelieve him. Nor does the fact that Nadrich addressed a letter to Heubeck at “Davis & Heubeck, LLP” infer that Nadrich believed the partnership to be ongoing, since Davis and Heubeck were in fact both practicing at the same address at the time.
Davis represented himself on appeal, along with Charlotte E. Costan. Heubeck represented the defendants.
The case is Davis v. Nadrich, B202868.
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