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Knott v. Wedgwood

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 24, 2015



DEBORAH K. CHASANOW, District Judge.

Presently pending and ready for resolution in this legal malpractice case is Defendant's motion to dismiss. (ECF No. 55). The issues have been fully briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. Background

The factual allegations and procedural history have been explained in prior opinions, but will be repeated here for clarity purposes. ( See ECF Nos. 58 & 67).

A. Factual Background

In May 2002, Plaintiff Attila Knott, a resident of Budapest, Hungary, was indicted by a grand jury in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut on various counts of mail, wire, and bank fraud. (ECF No. 1 ¶ 8). At some point after his indictment, Plaintiff fled to Hungary and the Government sought to extradite him from Hungary. ( See ECF No. 55-2, at 38); Philips v. Pitt County Mem'l Hosp., 572 F.3d 176, 180 (4th Cir. 2009) (the court "may properly take judicial notice of matters of public record" on a motion to dismiss). According to the Government, "[t]he Hungarians will not extradite a Hungarian national who has residence in Hungry. The FBI filed what's called a Red Notice with Interpol which announces that he is wanted, a federal fugitive." (ECF No. 55-2, at 38). Plaintiff subsequently traveled to Germany in October 2008, where he was arrested. ( Id. ). Thus, Plaintiff's incarceration began in Dresden, Germany in October 2008. Then, between November and December 2008, Plaintiff's "German criminal attorney Endrik Wilhelm" recommended to Mr. Knott the legal services of attorney Ruth Wedgwood - Defendant in this case. Plaintiff asserts that Endrik Wilhelm "recommended [Ms. Wedgwood's] services as a legal expert in international criminal law to represent [] [P]laintiff in Germany and the United States, pending his extradition to the United States to face criminal charges." (ECF No. 1 ¶ 9). Plaintiff represents that he never executed a retainer with Ms. Wedgwood, however, and never gave her "verbal authority to act as his attorney." ( Id. ¶ 15). Yet Ms. Wedgwood allegedly charged Plaintiff for: time spent on legal research; meetings with Plaintiff in Germany and the United States; and calls with his attorney in Germany. Plaintiff also alleges that Ms. Wedgwood billed him for time spent dining with Endrik Wilhelm. ( Id. ¶¶ 17-37)

Plaintiff was extradited to the United States in April of 2009, where he was confined at the Wyatt Detention Center in Rhode Island. ( Id. ¶ 26). Plaintiff asserts that "[w]hen the [D]efendant came to the Wyatt Detention Center in Rhode Island to meet with [] [P]laintiff[, ] he advised her that he did not wish her to serve as his attorney" and he retained Robert Mann as his new attorney to represent him in plea negotiations, hearings, and through trial. ( Id. ¶¶ 26-27). On June 29, 2009, Plaintiff pled guilty to bank fraud and mail fraud, and the Government dismissed the remaining counts of the indictment. ( See ECF No. 55-3). On November 20, 2009, Judge Christopher Droney[1] sentenced Plaintiff to the period of time already served (nine months total) and ordered that Plaintiff pay a fine in the amount of $10, 000. (ECF No. 55-4, at 20).[2]

B. Procedural Background

On March 31, 2011, Plaintiff filed a complaint against Ruth Wedgwood in the United States District Court for the District of Connecticut, alleging that she charged him for legal services before they executed a retainer agreement, and that "due to defendant's professional negligence and misfeasance while acting as plaintiff's counsel, the plaintiff was cause[d] to serve an additional 8 months in prison and deprived of his freedom, liberty and civil rights." (ECF No. 1 ¶ 39). This case was transferred to this court on August 28, 2013 upon the parties' joint request.[3]

Prior to transfer, Plaintiff was represented by Stephen Krawitz and Stephen C. Greenspan in Connecticut. No appearance was entered on behalf of Plaintiff following transfer to this court; thus, the undersigned issued an order to show cause as to why this case should not be dismissed. (ECF No. 48). The order to show cause required a response no later than February 14, 2014. Stephen Krawitz then moved for an extension of time until February 28, 2014 to apply for admission pro hac vice and enter his appearance in the case. ( See ECF Nos. 51 & 53). The court held a telephone conference with the parties on March 7, 2014 (ECF No. 54). Shortly thereafter, Defendant moved to dismiss on March 19, 2014. (ECF No. 55). A few days later, on March 21, 2014, Maury Epner entered his appearance as "co-counsel for the Plaintiff." (ECF No. 56). By that point, Mr. Krawitz still had not moved for admission pro hac vice, however, despite representations to the court that he would do so by March 14, 2014. (ECF No. 53). Plaintiff was required to file an opposition to Defendant's motion to dismiss by April 7, 2014, but failed to do so.

On April 17, 2014, the undersigned issued a memorandum opinion and order dismissing this case. (ECF Nos. 58 & 59). On the same date, Maury Epner - Plaintiff's local counsel - filed correspondence to suggest that extenuating circumstances prevented Mr. Krawitz from filing an opposition and that he intended to move for an extension of time to file an opposition, but the memorandum opinion preempted that effort. (ECF No. 60). Subsequently, Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration on April 23, 2014 (ECF No. 62), [4] which was granted on September 11, 2014 by memorandum opinion and order. (ECF Nos. 68 & 69). Plaintiff subsequently filed an opposition (ECF No. 69), and Defendant replied (ECF No. 70).

II. Standard of Review

The purpose of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6) is to test the sufficiency of the complaint. Presley v. City of Charlottesville, 464 F.3d 480, 483 (4th Cir. 2006). A plaintiff's complaint need only satisfy the standard of Rule 8(a), which requires a "short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief." Fed.R.Civ.P. 8(a)(2). "Rule 8(a)(2) still requires a showing, ' rather than a blanket assertion, of entitlement to relief." Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 556 n.3 (2007). That showing must consist of more than "a formulaic recitation of the elements of a cause of action" or "naked assertion[s] devoid of further factual enhancement." Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. 662, 678 (2009) (internal citations omitted).

At this stage, all well-pleaded allegations in a complaint must be considered as true, Albright v. Oliver, 510 U.S. 266, 268 (1994), and all factual allegations must be construed in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, see Harrison v. Westinghouse Savannah River Co., 176 F.3d 776, 783 (4th Cir. 1999) ( citing Mylan Labs., Inc. v. Matkari, 7 F.3d 1130, 1134 (4th Cir. 1993)). In evaluating the complaint, unsupported legal allegations need not be accepted. Revene v. Charles Cnty. Comm'rs, 882 F.2d 870, 873 (4th Cir. 1989). Legal conclusions couched as factual allegations are insufficient, Iqbal, 556 U.S. at 678, as are conclusory factual allegations devoid of any reference to actual events, United Black Firefighters v. Hirst, 604 F.2d 844, 847 (4th Cir. 1979); see also Francis v. Giacomelli, 588 F.3d 186, 193 (4th Cir. 2009). "[W]here the well-pleaded facts do not permit the court to infer more than the mere possibility of misconduct, the complaint has alleged, but it has not show[n]... that the pleader is entitled to ...

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