In the latest chapter in the fight over the estate of famed trial lawyer James E. Beasley Sr., his old firm is appealing a decision that its claim against another law firm for alleged abuse of civil process was filed too late.
The Beasley Firm, as well as managing member James E. Beasley Jr. and his sister, Dr. Pamela J. Beasley, have filed an appeal to the Superior Court from Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Albert J. Snite’s decision that their claims against Young Ricchiuti Caldwell & Heller are time-barred.
The lawsuit stems from the fight among James Beasley Sr.’s children over his estate. He died in 2004, and his estate’s gross value is $59.19 million, according to court papers. Objections to the accounting of the estate are still pending in the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas, court papers said.
The plaintiffs initiated the lawsuit against Young Ricchiuti because the firm represented two daughters from James E. Beasley Sr.’s first marriage, Nancy A. Beasley and Lynn Hayes.
James Beasley Jr., Pamela Beasley and Kimberly Beasley Schmucki are the children of James Beasley Sr.’s second marriage, according to the opinion.
Keith S. Erbstein used to work at Beasley Law Firm before working at Young Ricchiuti.
Nancy Beasley and Lynn Hayes sought to remove James Beasley Jr. and Pamela Beasley as trustees of the estate in January 2008, the opinion said.
James Beasley Jr. and Pamela Beasley argued in a February 27, 2008, motion that Young Ricchiuti should not represent their sisters because Erbstein had filed a lawsuit against the Beasley Firm over counsel fees; that fee lawsuit was eventually transferred to binding arbitration.
Recovery for Erbstein on the contention, among others, that he was owed more in fees would deplete the money in the Beasley estate, James Beasley Jr. and Pamela Beasley argued in court papers.
The issue became moot because Young Ricchiuti withdrew from representing Nancy Beasley and Lynn Hayes in January 2010 before their petition that the firm be disqualified was ruled on. Nancy Beasley and Lynn Hayes also attested that they waived any conflict of interest.
When the plaintiffs filed a complaint for civil conspiracy and abuse of process against their defendant sisters and their former counsel in December 2010, the defendants argued that the cause of action accrued by January 14, 2010, two years after the defendants filed a petition to remove James Beasley Jr. and Pamela Beasley as executors of their father’s estate and the plaintiffs would have been aware who the defendants’ lawyers were.
James C. Stroud and Elizabeth A. Johns of Rawle & Henderson, on behalf of Young Ricchiuti, and Joseph R. Viola P.C., on behalf of Nancy Beasley and Lynn Hayes, said in a motion for summary judgment that “rather than identify a specific filing which allegedly abused the legal process, plaintiffs’ claim for abuse of process is based solely on YRCH’s representation of Nancy and Lynn in the Orphans’ Court.”
Further, the defendants said that the claim for abuse of process began to run at the latest by April 30, 2008, which was when the plaintiffs expert issued his report about the allegedly conflicted representation and when “plaintiffs were in possession of all facts which allegedly gave rise to their claim.”
Dion G. Rassias, David A. Yanoff and Maxwell S. Kennerly of the Beasley Firm said in their opposition to the motion for summary judgment that the course of conduct, “undertaken and enabled” by Young Ricchiuti’s representation, was still within the statute of limitations because “the word ‘process’ as used in the tort of abuse of process has been interpreted broadly, and encompasses the entire range of procedures incident to the litigation process.”
The plaintiffs rejected that by “imputing all acts, plaintiffs have imputed none,” their papers said.
The plaintiffs argued that the abuse of process, allegedly furthered by Young Ricchiuti’s representation, “terminated only with the termination of that representation, by the withdrawal, docketed on January 11, 2010.”
The judge ruled that the plaintiffs’ cause of action for civil conspiracy and for abuse of process are time-barred.
Regarding the claim of civil conspiracy, Snite opined that the claim for conspiracy is based upon the alleged abuse of process and the last “overt act committed in furtherance of the conspiracy” was the entry of appearance of Young Ricchiuti into the Montgomery County Orphans’ Court on January 14, 2008.
Snite rejected that the continuing violations doctrine equitably tolled the statute of limitations.
“Merely because Erbstein and Young’s representation of Hayes and Beasley continued does not excuse plaintiffs from taking any action at the time they became aware they were harmed, the date Erbstein and Young entered their appearance,” Snite said. “It was at this time plaintiffs knew or should have known defendants were allegedly abusing the process or conspiring to abuse process by engaging counsel with an alleged conflict of interest.”
The opinion in Beasley v. Young Ricchiuti Caldwell & Heller was issued August 2 and the appeal was filed Thursday.
Stroud and Yanoff did not respond to requests for comment.