PORTLAND, Maine – The Maine Supreme Judicial Court has ruled that a union worker failed to prove a legal malpractice claim against John R. Lemieux.
Thomas M. Brooks had appealed his case to the Maine Supreme Court, which concluded March 21 that Brooks failed to present prima facie evidence of causation to proceed with his legal malpractice and other tort claims against Lemieux.
Brooks was employed at Bath Iron Works (BIW) from 1979 until he was terminated in 2006 amid a determination that he had failed in his duties and was in violation of a “Last Chance Agreement.”
Following the termination, Brooks filed a grievance, but the Local S7 Union Grievance Committee decided not to arbitrate his grievance.
Brooks hired Lemieux in February 2007 and the attorney filed a complaint in the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine against the Union and BIW alleging claims for breach of the collective bargaining agreement and discrimination.
BIW and the Union moved for summary judgment. However, Brooks contended that in opposing the motions, Lemieux failed to file opposing statements of material facts on time. He filed the opposition to the union’s facts a day late and filed a motion to increase the time to BIW’s facts at least 30 days late.
A magistrate decided to grant a summary judgment in favor of BIW and the union. In the decision, there were instances in which Lemieux failed to cite to record evidence in Brooks’ statement of additional material facts as well as the opposing statement of material facts, which were thus deemed admitted.
Later, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit affirmed the magistrate judge’s recommendation.
On June 27, 2014, Brooks filed a lawsuit in Maine Superior Court, alleging legal malpractice, breach of fiduciary duty by Lemieux.
According to court records, Brooks alleged that, in the federal case, Lemieux breached the professional standard of care applicable to attorneys by failing to timely file responses to statements of material fact supporting summary judgment, follow Local Rule 56 governing statements of fact, obtain affidavits from witnesses, and conduct adequate discovery.
As the case made its way through the courts, on Aug. 5, 2015, Lemieux moved for summary judgment on all claims. Following a hearing on Jan. 8, 2016, the court granted the motion and issued a written order entering a summary judgment in his favor.
In that ruling, the court concluded that that Brooks failed to put forth prima facie evidence of causation for several reasons.
First, Lemieux’s failure to oppose BIW’s statement of material facts was not causally related to the entry of summary judgment because the federal court relied entirely on the Union’s facts, and Lemieux’s opposition to those facts, although untimely, was considered by the court.
Second, while agreeing that Lemieux failed to timely oppose the statements of fact, follow the Local Rule regarding record citations, obtain adequate affidavits, and conduct adequate discovery, Brooks did not identify what evidence should have been cited, what affidavits should have been obtained, and what discovery should have been conducted, leaving a fact-finder to speculate about any causal link between the alleged negligence and the injury.
According to court records, Brooks also failed to submit admissible expert testimony to support the causation element of his tort claims, which was needed to establish his position. The trial court refused to consider an affidavit by Attorney Julie Moore, in which she opined if it were not for Lemieux’s negligence, Brooks would have prevailed in the federal case.
The trial court disregarded Moore’s affidavit because it contradicted her deposition testimony and expert disclosure and the trial court had concluded that the record was devoid of expert evidence.
According to the Supreme Court, the trial court should not have refused to consider Moore’s affidavit on the basis that it contradicted Moore’s prior testimony. However, the error was harmless because even if considered, the affidavit is fatally deficient for other reasons highlighted by the court.
“The affidavit is conclusory, offering not a single specific reference to evidence that was in the record or could have been obtained to support the opinion that but for Lemieux’s errors, Brooks would have prevailed,” the court wrote in its opinion. “Such evidence is essential to proving the ‘case-within-a-case.’”
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court sided with the lower court’s ruling, affirming that because Brooks failed to put forth prima facie evidence of causation to support his claims, the court properly granted a summary judgment in favor of Lemieux.