Collateral Estoppel Defense Defeats $2.5M Legal Malpractice Claim in California
Case Study

Collateral Estoppel Defense Defeats $2.5M Legal Malpractice Claim in California

September 21, 2020

California-based partner David Y. Choi and associate Jordan G. Cohen, members of Goldberg Segalla’s Management and Professional Liability practice, mounted a defense based on collateral estoppel to thwart a $2.5 million legal malpractice claim arising from an underlying complex divorce proceeding involving a Mexican marriage and an allegedly forged premarital agreement.

This matter involved claims of legal malpractice against the insured, an attorney who represented the former husband of a wealthy Mexican heiress. In the course of the divorce, the plaintiff and his attorney experienced a rupture in their relationship. After retaining new counsel, the plaintiff lost a jurisdictional motion on forum non conveniens grounds and the divorce was ordered to proceed through the Mexican court system. As often happens, the successor counsel represented the disappointed plaintiff in a legal malpractice claim against his original counsel, seeking damages in excess of $2.5 million.

After nearly two years of litigation, on September 14, 2020, the court ruled on the insured’s demurrer to the plaintiff’s second amended complaint. In the demurrer, David and Jordan used the records from the underlying divorce (of which the court took judicial notice) to argue that the family law court had no jurisdiction over the plaintiff’s claims and the claims for legal malpractice were barred by the doctrine of collateral estoppel. The Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles, sustained the insured’s demurrer without leave to amend, effectively resolving the case in favor of the insured.



Attorneys in Goldberg Segalla’s nationwide Management and Professional Liability practice leverage hindsight, foresight, and insight to deliver cost-efficient and strategic legal solutions for our clients—every time. Our experience serving clients across countless professions and industries includes aggressively defending plaintiffs’ claims; minimizing damages from legitimate errors, mistakes, and accidents; and educating and preparing professionals to meet evolving and emerging industry-specific risks.