A Philadelphia personal injury attorney who has been accused in a legal malpractice suit of neglecting a slip-and-fall case after becoming a contestant on the reality television show “The Bachelorette” is attempting to move the case out of bankruptcy court.
The malpractice action against attorney Craig Robinson and his former firm, Philadelphia-based Haggerty, Goldberg, Schleifer & Kupersmith, is currently in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania because their two former clients had already been in bankruptcy when the alleged malpractice occurred.
But Robinson said in an unopposed motion for withdrawal of reference and a supporting memorandum, filed April 2 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, that allowing the malpractice action to continue as part of the bankruptcy proceeding will create double work for the courts.
According to court documents, plaintiff Christine Shubert, the Chapter 7 trustee of the estates of Luis and Migdalia Santiago, the plaintiffs in the underlying personal injury case, has sued Robinson and Haggerty Goldberg, alleging professional negligence, breach of fiduciary duty and breach of contract.
The plaintiff alleged in a Dec. 26, 2013, complaint that Robinson “neglected and abandoned” the Santiagos’ state slip-and-fall case after being selected as a candidate for “The Bachelorette” and that the attorney Haggerty Goldberg replaced him with just prior to trial was unprepared, resulting in a judgment of non pros.
In the April 2 memorandum, Robinson argued that the legal malpractice action does not belong in bankruptcy court, in part because the action is “non-core” to the bankruptcy proceeding.
Counsel for Robinson, Arthur W. Lefco of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin in Philadelphia, said in an email April 3 that withdrawal motions are specifically contemplated under Title 11 of the U.S. Code—the Bankruptcy Code—and “are routinely filed and granted where a trustee sues in tort under state law.”
On Monday, Haggerty Goldberg filed a motion for joinder to Robinson’s motion for withdrawal of reference.
Later that day, U.S. District Judge Timothy J. Savage granted Haggerty Goldberg’s motion.
Also on Monday, Shubert filed a document consenting to the motion for withdrawal of reference.
Robinson, citing the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit’s 1996 ruling in In re Guild and Gallery Plus, said in the memorandum that the legal malpractice action is “non-core” because it is a state law claim that does not invoke a substantive right under the Bankruptcy Code and is not exclusive to bankruptcy cases.
“Plaintiff’s claims are not found within the list of core proceedings in [28 U.S.C.] Section 157(b)(2),” Robinson said. “Moreover, the fact that plaintiff trustee was also the plaintiff in the underlying action does not change this analysis.”
While bankruptcy judges may, under Title 11, hear non-core proceedings related to bankruptcy cases, they can only enter a final order or judgment with the express consent of the parties, Robinson argued in the memorandum.
Since no such consent has been granted in this case, Robinson said in the memorandum, the bankruptcy court may only issue proposed findings and conclusions that must then be reviewed de novo by the district court, requiring a duplication of efforts.
Citing language from the Eastern District court’s 1997 ruling in Pelullo v. Kerr, Russell & Weber (In re Pelullo), Robinson said in the memorandum that removing the legal malpractice action from bankruptcy court “‘will reduce forum shopping and confusion, foster the economical use of the debtors’ and creditors’ resources and expedite the bankruptcy process.’”
“Here, as in In re Pelullo, continuing with this adversary proceeding in the bankruptcy court will require the duplication of the court’s efforts, waste of judicial resources, waste of resources of the parties and delaying the resolution of the bankruptcy while two courts, instead of one, consider the issues at hand,” Robinson argued in the memorandum.
Robinson further argued in the memorandum that the parties are “unquestionably entitled to a jury trial on the legal malpractice claims” and have not consented to allowing a bankruptcy judge to preside over trial.
Counsel for Shubert, Alan L. Frank of Jenkintown, Pa., said April 3 that he agreed to the withdrawal in part because he wants a jury trial as well.
According to the legal malpractice complaint, filed in bankruptcy court Dec. 26, the Santiagos hired Robinson, who is now an attorney with Philadelphia personal injury firm Lundy Law, to represent them in their slip-and-fall case in the Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas while he was still at Haggerty Goldberg.
The complaint alleged that, unbeknownst to Shubert, the Santiagos’ bankruptcy trustee, Robinson “neglected and abandoned” the Santiagos’ personal injury case after being cast as a contestant on “The Bachelorette,” which required him to spend a significant amount of time traveling around the country and overseas.
The complaint alleged that Haggerty Goldberg knew Robinson was not devoting enough attention to the case but failed to alert Shubert and the Santiagos.
Instead, the firm reassigned the case to another lawyer, Dory Sater, days before trial, according to the complaint.
Just as trial was about to begin, Sater, who is not named as a defendant in the malpractice action, requested a continuance, explaining to the court that he had just been assigned the case a few days prior and was unprepared to move forward with trial, the complaint alleged.
But the trial court denied the request and tossed out the case, finding that Haggerty Goldberg had known for some time that there was a problem with Robinson and had failed to act promptly, the complaint said.
The Superior Court subsequently affirmed the trial court’s judgment of non pros, according to the complaint.
In a Feb. 14 answer to the complaint, jointly filed by Robinson and Haggerty Goldberg, the defendants confirmed that Robinson had been a contestant on “The Bachelorette”but denied they were negligent or that the case was tossed because they were unprepared for trial.
Counsel for Haggerty Goldberg, Paul C. Troy of Kane, Pugh, Knoell, Troy & Kramer in Norristown, Pa., could not be reached for comment.