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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Charles D. Howell was a limited partner in VSMI/Blockbuster Ltd. I, a limited partnership formed to own and operate Blockbuster franchises. He sued various defendants for selling the general partnership interests and assets back to the franchiser, Blockbuster Entertainment Corp., without appropriately compensating the limited partners. Attorneys G. Michael Gruber and William D. Elliott, and the firm Kane, Russell, Coleman & Logan PC (the attorneys) represented Howell in that suit and obtained a $123 million judgment, consisting of $13 million in actual damages and $110 million in punitive damages. Karen Brock Murphy, Amelia Brock Banner and Jody Brock Irwin, individually and as co-independent executors of the estate of Doris Berglund Brock and as co-trustees of the Brock Family Trust (the Brocks) contended here that B. Coleman Renick, another limited partner in VSMI/Blockbuster Ltd. I, was the business partner and trusted confidant of their father, Harry Joe Brock, who was also a limited partner. After Brock’s death, his widow and their children (the Brocks) continued to look to Renick for advice and counsel. Renick became interested in pursuing claims similar to Howell’s and encouraged the Brocks to join the suit. Renick told the Brocks that the attorneys, “specifically Gruber,” expressed great confidence in the value of their claims. Gruber also stated that most of the issues had been decided in the Howell case and the next partnership group would have little to do to prove damages. Because the Brocks trusted Renick, they agreed to join the suit. The Brocks looked to Renick to guide them through the suit and allowed him to act as their agent in dealing with the attorneys. As the case progressed, the Blockbuster defendants filed a counterclaim against Renick. The attorneys negotiated a $7.5 million settlement in the case, and the trial court entered a final judgment on Aug. 14, 1997, based on the parties’ settlement agreement. On July 9, 2001, the Brocks sued Renick and the attorneys for, among other claims, breach of fiduciary duty. The Brocks claimed the attorneys represented them with divided loyalties, failed to inform them of material facts as soon as a conflict arose, and failed to make a full and fair disclosure of every facet of a proposed settlement of the Blockbuster case. They amended their petition on April 21, 2004, to add a claim for fraud against the attorneys. The Brocks sought fee forfeiture and imposition of a constructive trust as damages. The attorneys moved for summary judgment on the breach-of-fiduciary-duty claim, asserting the Brocks’ claim constituted one claim for legal malpractice and the statute of limitations on that claim had expired. The trial court agreed and granted the attorneys’ motion on that basis. The attorneys filed a second motion for summary judgment on the Brocks’ fraud claim, arguing that claim was also barred because it was an impermissible fracturing of the legal malpractice claim, which the court had already concluded was time barred, or, alternatively, because it was first asserted more than four years after the final judgment in the underlying suit. The trial court granted the second motion for summary judgment without stating the basis for its ruling. An appeal followed. In a single issue, the Brocks contended that the trial court erred when it concluded their breach-of-fiduciary-duty and fraud claims were barred by the two-year statute of limitations that applies to negligence claims. HOLDING:Affirmed. Professional negligence, or the failure to exercise ordinary care, includes giving a client bad legal advice or otherwise improperly representing the client, the court stated. On the other hand, the court stated, breach of fiduciary duty by a lawyer involves the integrity and fidelity of an attorney and focuses on whether an attorney obtained an improper benefit from representing the client. In addition, Texas courts have allowed clients to assert fraud claims against lawyers when the specific allegations of fraud centered on the fees charged for the lawyers’ services. But Texas courts, the court stated, do not allow plaintiffs to convert what are really negligence claims into claims for fraud, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty or violation of the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Texas courts, the court noted, have reached different results in deciding whether a conflict-of-interest allegation against an attorney gives rise to a claim for professional negligence or some other cause of action. Some Texas courts, the court stated, recognize that breach-of-fiduciary-duty claims alleging the lawyer obtained an improper benefit from his representation or improperly failed to disclose his own conflict of interest are not professional negligence claims, but other courts hold the claim is a professional negligence claim if the claim is that the lawyer’s conflict of interest prevented him from adequately representing the client. Based on its review of case law, the court stated that it would analyze the claims in this case recognizing that claims regarding the quality of the lawyer’s representation of the client are professional negligence claims but that not all claims by clients against lawyers are professional negligence claims. First, the court found that the Brocks’ breach-of-fiduciary duty allegations complained about the quality of the attorneys’ representation � specifically, the attorneys’ alleged failure to properly advise, inform and communicate with the Brocks about the case. Such claims, the court stated, are claims of professional negligence, because the essence of the allegations is that the attorneys’ representation fell below the quality required under the law. As a result, the court concluded that the trial court did not err by concluding the Brocks’ breach-of-fiduciary duty claims were claims for legal malpractice. The court also upheld the trial court’s grant of summary judgment on the Brocks’ fraud claims. OPINION:Lang-Miers, J.; O’Neill, Lang-Miers and Mazzant, JJ.

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