Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Hotz v. Minyard case brief

Hotz v. Minyard case brief summary
304 S.C. 225

SYNOPSIS: Appellant, the daughter of the deceased, instituted an action alleging various causes of action against respondent attorney. The trial court (South Carolina), granted the attorney's motion for summary judgment on several causes of action. The daughter appealed the ruling on the cause of action against the attorney for breach of fiduciary duty, and the dismissal of respondent corporation as a party defendant.

OVERVIEW: The daughter alleged that the attorney breached his fiduciary duty to her by misrepresenting her father's will. The daughter believed she would receive certain property if she refrained from pursuing her lawsuit against her brother.

On appeal the court concluded that although the attorney represented the deceased and not the daughter regarding her father's will, the attorney had an ongoing attorney/client relationship with the daughter and there was evidence she had a special confidence in him.

-The court found that the attorney had no duty to disclose the existence of the second will against the deceased's wishes, but he did owe the daughter the duty to deal with her in good faith and not actively misrepresent the first will.
-The court concluded that summary judgment was improperly granted to the attorney on the cause of action for breach of a fiduciary duty to the daughter.
-The court noted that S.C. R. Civ. P. 23(b), governing derivative suits, made no mention of the need to name the corporation as a party defendant, and stated that a corporate defendant may be named as a party defendant even where no wrongdoing by the corporate entity was alleged.

OUTCOME: The court reversed the summary judgment granted to the attorney on the cause of action for breach of fiduciary duty, and affirmed the trial judge's order granting summary judgment on the remaining causes of action.

Hotz v. Minyard (S.C. 1991) [8 CB 54]: Lawyer drafts will for father leaving property son and daughter; father comes in, revokes, asks for re-draft that disinherits daughter, and asks lawyer not to tell daughter.  When daughter asks, lawyer lies per father’s instructions.  Daughter sues for breach of fiduciary duty.  Rule: Law firm, which had long represented daughter on other matters (and thus owed daughter a special confidence), was conflicted and also owed daughter fiduciary duty.
1.   Lawyer need not have disclosed the second will, but he could not actively lie about it
2.   In cases of multiple representations with possibility of conflicts, best course of action is to advise parties to retain separate counsel or for lawyer to withdraw from rep
C.  MRPC 1.8(c) prohibits lawyers from drafting documents for clients that benefit the lawyer, except for minimal gifts, except where the lawyer is related to the client

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