Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Simpson v. Calivas case brief

Simpson v. Calivas case brief summary
139 N.H. 1

SYNOPSIS: Plaintiff intended beneficiary sought review of the decision of the Superior Court of Strafford County (New Hampshire), which issued a directed verdict in favor of defendant lawyer, who drafted the intended beneficiary's father's will. The trial court also granted summary judgment in favor of the lawyer on collateral estoppel grounds based on findings of the probate court and dismissed the action.

OVERVIEW: The intended beneficiary brought an action for negligence and breach of contract alleging that his father's lawyer failed to draft a will that incorporated the father's actual intent to leave all his land to the intended beneficiary in fee simple. The trial court dismissed the claim and held that a lawyer who drafted a will owed no duty to intended beneficiaries. On appeal, on an issue of first impression, the court reversed and remanded the case.

The court held that although there was no privity between a drafting lawyer and an intended beneficiary, the obvious foreseeability of injury to the beneficiary demanded an exception to the privity rule and that an identified beneficiary had third-party beneficiary status.

The court further held that an intended beneficiary stated a cause of action simply by pleading sufficient facts to establish that an attorney negligently failed to effectuate the testator's intent as expressed to the attorney. The court found no basis for collateral estoppel because a finding of actual intent by the probate court was not necessary for that judgment. The trial court erred in excluding the appraisal values in the probate inventory.

OUTCOME: The court reversed and remanded the decision of the trial court, which issued a direct verdict and summary judgment for a lawyer in the intended beneficiary's action for negligence and breach of contract. 

Simpson v. Calivas (N.H. 1994) [8 CB 49]: Deceased consulted lawyer and wanted to leave wife a life tenancy and remaining lands to his son.  Lawyer drafted will so that the life had a life tenancy in all the property, remainder to the son.  Son sued father’s lawyer.  Rule: Lawyer who drafts will owes duty of reasonable care to the intended beneficiaries of the will, including effecting the testator’s intent.  The contractual privity requirement is not ironclad and will be defeated where it is foreseeable that an injury to the intended beneficiary will occur.
1.   Some states continue to enforce the contract theory and thus prohibit a malpractice suit against by the intended beneficiary against the drafting lawyer w/o strict privity
2.   Many courts, though, allow suits based in tort or combo of tort and contract

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