DENVER (Legal Newsline) – The Colorado Supreme Court determined that a non-client plaintiff was barred from suing an attorney because he lacked standing to assert his claim.
The Sept. 24 decision reverses an earlier Colorado Court of Appeals ruling that found that the plaintiff had standing despite the strict privity rule, which bars complaints against attorney’s by non-clients except in cases of “fraud, malicious conduct, or negligent misrepresentation.”
Respondent R. Parker Semler filed a breach of contract suit against petitioners Charles Bewley and Berenbaum Weinshienk P.C. Semler is a member of a condominium association. He alleges that the petitioners, the lawyer and the law firm representing the association violated their contract by helping another association member acquire a deed for parking spaces that Semler claimed ownership of.
The case was originally dismissed by the trial court for lack of standing. The appeals court reversed the decision. However, the Supreme Court agreed with the original ruling.
Semler acquired an interest in the disputed parking spots years ago. Recently, Perfect Place LLC, which is also a member of the condo association, alleged that it had a quitclaim deed granting it an ownership interest in the same spots.
Perfect Place asked the court to declare it the sole and rightful owner of the spaces while Semler claimed that he was the true owner and that Perfect Place’s deed wasn’t valid. Semler argues that “Berenbaum Weinshienk breached the agreement by representing Perfect Place in its acquisition of the quitclaim deed, thereby ‘forc[ing Semler] to litigate his rightful claim to ownership of [the parking spaces].’”
Semler’s argument hinges on the fact that the defendants entered into an agreement not to represent one association member at the expense of another.
However, the Supreme Court justices found that the “strict privity rule bars Semler’s breach-of-contract claim, meaning he lacks standing to assert it... Generally, only parties to a contract may seek to enforce its terms. In other words, a party must have privity of contract to sue for breach of that contract.”