This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2002).
STATE OF MINNESOTA
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Nancy Zalusky Berg, et al.,
Filed January 19, 2005
Hennepin County District Court
File No. MP 03-16726
James Behrenbrinker, Saffold & Behrenbrinker, LLC, 331 Ridgewood Avenue, Minneapolis, MN 55403 (for appellant)
Charles E. Lundberg, Tiffany M. Quick, Bassford Remele, PA, 33 South Sixth Street, Suite 3800, Minneapolis, MN 55402-3707 (for respondents)
Considered and decided by Willis, Presiding Judge; Toussaint, Chief Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
Appellant challenges the district court’s grant of summary judgment, arguing, inter alia, that the district court erred by finding that Minnesota does not recognize legal-malpractice actions when the underlying case has settled. Because we conclude that the district court did not err, we affirm.
On September 10, 1997, appellant Diane Meehl entered into a marital-termination agreement (MTA) that settled a dissolution action. Respondents Nancy Berg and William Winter of respondent law firm Walling & Berg, P.A., represented Meehl. Winter represented Meehl on September 10 during the final settlement negotiations and at the subsequent hearing for approval of the MTA. Meehl testified that she understood and agreed to be bound by the terms of the settlement. The district court then asked her, “You’re satisfied with your attorney’s representation on this matter?” Meehl responded, “Yes, I am.” The district court approved the MTA and incorporated it into its final judgment and decree.
In June 1998, Meehl filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. Meehl claims that she did not know at the time that she had grounds for a malpractice claim against respondents and, therefore, she did not disclose the legal-malpractice cause of action against respondents as an asset in her filing.
In September 2003, Meehl sued respondents for legal malpractice, claiming that respondents failed to adequately prepare for trial and that Winter coerced her into entering into the MTA. In February 2004, Meehl moved to amend the complaint to add the bankruptcy trustee as a plaintiff, or in the alternative, to substitute the trustee, and respondents moved for summary judgment. In March 2004, the district court granted respondents’ motion for summary judgment and denied as moot Meehl’s motion to amend the complaint or substitute parties. This appeal follows.
Meehl argues that the district court erred by concluding that Minnesota courts do not recognize legal-malpractice claims when the underlying matter is settled and therefore granting summary judgment to respondents. Respondents argue that “the Minnesota Supreme Court has repeatedly and unequivocally expressed its strong disapproval of legal malpractice claims based on alleged inadequate settlements.” The district court reasoned that summary judgment was appropriate because Meehl had testified under oath at the hearing for approval of the MTA that she understood and approved of the settlement and that, therefore, “[t]his record demonstrates precisely why the law is as it is.”
On appeal from summary judgment, this court must determine (1) whether there are any genuine issues of material fact and (2) whether the district court erred in its application of the law. State by Cooper v. French, 460 N.W.2d 2, 4 (Minn. 1990). The reviewing court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the non-moving party. Fabio v. Bellomo, 504 N.W.2d 758, 761 (Minn. 1993).
The district court’s decision is consistent with the Minnesota Supreme Court’s rejection of legal-malpractice actions based on a plaintiff’s dissatisfaction with a settlement solely because the result might have been more favorable if she proceeded to trial. See Glenna v. Sullivan, 310 Minn. 162, 169–70, 245 N.W.2d 869, 873 (1976) (“To allow a client who becomes dissatisfied with a settlement to recover against an attorney solely on the ground that a jury might have awarded them more than the settlement is unprecedented.”); see also Rouse v. Dunkley & Bennett, P.A., 520 N.W.2d 406, 410 n.6 (Minn. 1994) (citing the Glenna rule with approval); Cook v. Connolly, 366 N.W.2d 287, 292 (Minn. 1985) (same).
The supreme court has identified policy reasons for rejecting legal-malpractice claims when the underlying matter is settled: people’s memories may fade or evidence may have been discarded, and such claims inherently involve second-guessing with the benefit of hindsight. Cook, 366 N.W.2d at 292. Further, such legal-malpractice claims in the family-law context are particularly speculative because of the broad discretion given to family courts. Olson v. Aretz, 346 N.W.2d 178, 183 (Minn. App. 1984) (stating that an amount the appellant’s ex-wife may have received had counsel completed the action earlier is pure conjecture, particularly considering the discretion given to family courts).
Here, Meehl bases her legal-malpractice suit on what she claims to be an inadequate settlement more than six years ago in a dissolution action. Further, at the hearing for approval of the MTA, Meehl testified that she understood and agreed to be bound by the terms of the MTA and that she was satisfied with her attorney’s representation. We conclude that the district court did not err by granting summary judgment to respondents, and we do not, therefore, reach the other issues raised by Meehl or the respondents.