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Beshears v. Wood

United States District Court, W.D. Missouri, Southwestern Division

March 5, 2019




         This is a legal malpractice action brought by Plaintiff John Beshears against Defendant Andrew Wood. Before the Court are Wood's Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 42) and Wood's Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 80). The motions are fully briefed, and the Court heard oral argument. (Docs. 43, 78, 79, 81, 84; D.E. 86, Minute Entry.) For the reasons below, the motion for summary judgment is GRANTED and the motion for sanctions is DENIED.

         I. Motion for Summary Judgment


         Wood, a citizen of Missouri, is licensed to practice law in Missouri. Beshears, a citizen of Arkansas, brings this action against Wood for legal malpractice.[1] Beshears' allegations for legal malpractice against Wood relate to a probate action involving the appointment of a guardian for Beshears and conservator of his estate following an automobile accident. In re John M. Beshears, No. 09MC-PR00045.

         On June 26, 2006, Beshears and his wife, Sue Beshears (Sue), were injured in an automobile accident which killed Sue and left Beshears in a coma. On June 30, 2006, Wood, as the attorney for Charles and Ruth Reynolds, filed a petition in the McDonald County, Missouri, Probate Division seeking appointment of Charles and Ruth Reynolds as co-guardians of Beshears and co-conservators of his estate. Thereafter, and on that same day, the Probate Division ordered a hearing on the Reynolds petition and appointed attorney Erin Willis to represent Beshears.

         Beshears asserts Wood was already his attorney at the same time when Wood represented the Reynolds in the probate action. According to Beshears, “this dual representation was known to be a conflict of interest by [Wood] and [Wood] never obtained permission from either of his clients to represent both.” (Doc. 1 at ¶ 22.) Beshears asserts that Wood committed numerous acts of negligence and malpractice against Beshears in Wood's performance regarding the probate action. Beshears asserts that, among other things, Wood was negligent in failing to investigate the qualifications of the Reynolds to serve as guardian and conservator and in failing to keep the Reynolds from misappropriating monies from Beshears' estate. Beshears' Complaint initially asserted two separate counts: legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty/constructive fraud. The Court previously found that Beshears' claim for breach of fiduciary duty was subsumed by his claim for legal malpractice. (Doc. 22.) After which, the case proceeded with discovery on the single claim for legal malpractice. Wood moves for summary judgment arguing that Beshears has not made a submissible case for legal malpractice.

         Standard for Summary Judgment

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 56, “[t]he court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” “As to materiality, the substantive law will identify which facts are material.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). “Only disputes over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Id. “[A] dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine,' . . . if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party.” Id. To determine if a dispute about a material fact is genuine, the court's function is not “to weigh the evidence” but to “view the evidence ‘in the light most favorable to the opposing party.'” Tolan v. Cotton, 572 U.S. 650, 656-57 (2014) (citations omitted).

         “Once the movant fulfills its responsibility of informing the court of the basis for its motion, identifying the portions of the record that demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact, the nonmovant must respond by submitting evidentiary materials that set out specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” Hess v. Union Pac. R.R. Co., 898 F.3d 852, 857 (8th Cir. 2018) (quotation marks and citations omitted). “The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence” to support a party's position on a material fact is not sufficient to create a genuine dispute as to that purported fact. Anderson, 477 U.S. at 252. Similarly, there is not a genuine dispute as to a fact if the evidence makes the party's position on the fact merely colorable, or if the evidence is not significantly probative. Id. at 249-50. “Rule 56(c) mandates the entry of summary judgment, after adequate time for discovery and upon motion, against a party who fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element essential to that party's case, and on which that party will bear the burden of proof at trial.” Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322 (1986).


         Wood presents two arguments to support his position that Beshears has not made a submissible claim for legal malpractice. First, Wood contends that Beshears cannot make a submissible case against him for legal malpractice because Beshears failed to file expert designations. In response, Beshears points out that he was permitted to file a belated expert report after Wood's motion was filed. (Docs. 52, 54.) Wood's reply does not respond to Beshears' point that an expert report has now been submitted. (Doc. 79.) Wood, by his reply, appears to abandon his first argument. The Court therefore need not address Wood's first argument.

         As his second argument for summary judgment, Wood contends that Beshears has failed to produce evidence demonstrating that an attorney-client relationship existed between Wood and Beshears regarding the probate action. Beshears does not address Wood's second argument in his opposition brief. Although Beshears' brief is silent regarding the second argument, summary judgment is not appropriate solely on the basis of the responding party's default. See Fed. R. Civil P. 56(e). Before summary judgment is appropriate, the Court must determine the merits of Wood's argument based on the uncontroverted facts and the applicable law governing legal malpractice claims.

         A. ...

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