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Bridgam v. Nadeau

Superior Court of Maine, Cumberland

March 13, 2014

PAMELA BRIDGAM, Plaintiff
v.
ROBERT M.A. NADEAU, ESQ, Defendant

DECISION AND ORDER

Joyce Wheeler, Judge.

Pamela Bridgham ("Bridgham"), pro se, has filed a complaint against her former attorney, Robert M.A. Nadeau, Esq. ("Nadeau"), alleging legal malpractice. Nadeau, pro se as well, filed an answer to the complaint and asserted defenses of collateral estoppel, res judicata, absence of ongoing duty, and failure of adequate consideration. Subsequent to the answer Nadeau filed a motion for judgment on the pleading or in the alternative a motion for more definite statement. Both motions are currently before this Court.

ORDER

I. Standard of Review

When a defendant moves for a judgment on the pleadings, his motion is the equivalent of a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim and tests the complaint's sufficiency. Monopoly, Inc. v. Aldrich, 683 A.2d 506 (Me. 1996). "Defendant's motion for judgment on the pleadings is nothing more than a motion under M.R.Civ.P. 12(b)(6) to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted." Cunningham v. Haza, 538 A.2d 265, 267 (Me.l988)(citation omitted). Thus, a motion to dismiss pursuant to both M.R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) and 12(c) "tests the legal sufficiency of the complaint and, on such a challenge, 'the material allegations of the complaint must be taken as admitted.' " Shaw v. S Aroostook Comm. Sch. Dist., 683 A.2d 502, 503 (Me. 1996) (quoting McAfee v. Cole, 637 A.2d 463, 465 (Me. 1994)); Camps Newfound/Owatonna Corp. v. Town of Harrison, 1998 ME 20, ¶ 3, 705 A.2d 1109, 1111 (quoting Shaw, 683 A.2d at 503). When reviewing a motion to dismiss, this court examines "the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff to determine whether it sets forth elements of a cause of action or alleges facts that would entitle the plaintiff to relief pursuant to some legal theory." Shaw, 683 A.2d at 503. A dismissal under M.R. Civ. P. 12(c) will not be granted "unless 'it appears to a certainty' that under no facts that could be proved in support of the claim is the plaintiff entitled to relief." Monopoly, Inc. v. Aldrich, 683 A.2d. 506(quoting Cunningham v. Haza, 538 A.2d 265, 267 (Me.1988)).

II. Matters Outside the Pleadings

As an initial matter, Defendant's motion is styled as one for judgment on the pleadings, but he makes clear that to the extent he raises issues outside the pleadings he moves in the alternative for summary judgment. It is within the Court's discretion to treat a motion for judgment on the pleadings as a motion for summary judgment if "matters outside the pleadings are presented to and not excluded by the court." M.R. Civ. P. 12(c). If this action is taken, the motion is then "disposed of as provided in Rule 56, and all parties shall be given reasonable opportunity to present all material made pertinent to such a motion by Rule 56." Id. Defendant filed no statement of material facts with his brief as required by M.R. Civ. P. 56(h)(1). As a result, the Court cannot, based on the materials filed with the present motion, treat Defendant's motion as one for summary judgment. As a result, Defendant's motion shall be treated solely as one for judgment on the pleadings and any matters outside the pleadings shall be excluded for purposes of this motion.

III. Legal Malpractice

Modern notice pleading requires that a complaint provide fair notice of a claim and a generalized statement of the facts may fulfill this function. E.N. Nason, Inc. v. Land-Ho Dev. Corp., 403 A.2d 1173, 1177 (Me. 1979). When a Maine Rule of Civil Procedure is identical to its federal counterpart, a Maine court should value constructions and comments on the federal rule as aids in construing the parallel Maine rule. Bean v. Cummings, 2008 ME 18, ¶ 11, 939 A.2d 676. In Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937 (2009), which concerned the sufficiency of a complaint in the context of a federal 12(b)(6) challenge, the Supreme Court commented on the sufficiency requirements of notice pleading. Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. 1937, 1949 (2009). The Court held that to survive a motion to dismiss, a complaint must contain sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to state a claim for relief that is plausible on its face. Id. The Court explained that the tenant that a court must accept as true all of the allegations contained in a complaint is inapplicable to legal conclusions and "threadbare recitals of the elements of a cause of action supported by mere conclusory statements, do not suffice." Id. "Only a complaint that states a plausible claim for relief survives a motion to dismiss." Id.

Applying the Ashcroft standards to the single count complaint that alleges legal malpractice, Bridgham's complaint is insufficient. The complaint does little more than make gauzy accusations and draw legal conclusions. Nowhere does the plaintiff allege any facts that show how any of the defendant's actions were the proximate cause of her injury or loss. Additionally, the plaintiff has failed to show what if any injury she has actually suffered by the defendant's withdrawal as Bridgham's counsel before any complaint was ever filed. Bridgham alleges damages in the amount of $1, 000, 000 dollars, but fails to state a claim upon which that relief may be granted. See M.R. Civ. P 8(a).

"In legal malpractice cases, the plaintiff must show (1) a breach by the defendant attorney of the duty owed to the plaintiff to conform to a certain standard of conduct; and (2) that the breach of the duty proximately caused an injury or loss to the plaintiff." Niehoff v. Shankman & Associates Legal Center, P.A., 2000 ME 214, ¶ 7, 763 A.2d 121, 124. To satisfy the proximate cause element of legal malpractice, a plaintiff must show that she "could have been successful in the initial suit [without her attorney's negligence]." Jourdain v. Dineen, 527 A.2d 1304, 1306 (Me. 1987). "The plaintiff must therefore submit proof of that claim to the jury as a 'trial within a trial' of the attorney malpractice action." Id.

Because of the scarcity of relevant facts in plaintiffs complaint the Court cannot find that it states a plausible claim for relief and dismisses the plaintiffs complaint for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted. The complaint is dismissed for insufficiency of the claim because "it appears to a certainty" that under no facts that could be proved in support of the claim is the plaintiff entitled to relief. Monopoly, Inc. v. Aldrich, 683 A. 2d. 506 (quoting Cunningham v. Haza, 538 A.2d 265, 267 (Me.1988)).

Therefore, the entry is:

1. Defendant's Motion for judgment on the pleadings is GRANTED and Plaintiffs complaint is dismissed without prejudice.

2. Defendant's Motion for Summary Judgment is DENIED for the reasons previously stated.

The Clerk is directed to incorporate this Order into the docket by reference pursuant to M.R. Civ. P. 79(a).

July 3, 2013

PAUL REMMES and HOLLY REMMES Plaintiffs

v.

MARK TRAVEL CORPORATION and BETH ROGERS a/k/a Beth McInnis d/b/a TravelWise Defendants

ROBERT H. BEGIN and LUCY BEGIN Plaintiffs

v.

MARK TRAVEL CORPORATION and BETH ROGERS a/k/a Beth McInnis d/b/a Travelwise Defendants

Docket Nos. BCD-CV-13-29, BCD-CV-13-34

James Audiffred, Esq.

Christine Kennedy - ...


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