The Supreme Court of Rhode Island recently upheld the dismissal of a legal malpractice claim. In Audette v. Poulin, the beneficiary of a trust sued an attorney, who represented the trustee in a dispute between the beneficiary and the trustee.
The terms of the trust permitted the beneficiary to live at a home owned by the trust. However, when the beneficiary exercised his right to occupy the premises, the trustee objected. The beneficiary ignored the trustee and took possession of the property, and subsequently moved his elderly parents into the home, also over the trustee’s objection.
The trustee then hired an attorney, who brought an action to evict the beneficiary and his parents, arguing that the trust language did not permit them to live at the property. The attorney represented the trustee until the matter was dismissed by agreement of the parties.
The beneficiary later sued the attorney for negligence and breach of fiduciary duty, which the Superior Court treated as a legal malpractice claim. The attorney successfully moved to dismiss the case, arguing he owed no duty to the beneficiary in his representation of the trustee. The beneficiary appealed the decision, asserting that he was owed a duty of care as a third party beneficiary of the attorney-client relationship with the trustee.
The Supreme Court of Rhode Island affirmed, reasoning that the beneficiary could not be a third party beneficiary of the attorney-client relationship between the trustee and the attorney because they were adversaries in a lawsuit and thus their interest were completely divergent. Therefore, the beneficiary could not state a cause of action for legal malpractice, and dismissal was appropriate.
Decision: Audette v. Poulin