Alward v. JohnstonAnnotate this Case
This appeal arose from the dismissal of a medical malpractice action filed by plaintiff Nicole Alward against defendants Emery Johnston, M.D., Gary Fleischer, M.D., Tung Thuy Nguyen, M.D., Elliot Hospital, and Southern New Hampshire Medical Center. Following a second back surgery, plaintiff consulted with two different attorneys about a potential medical malpractice claim. Ultimately, both attorneys advised the plaintiff that they were unwilling to represent her in a medical malpractice action against the treating physicians and hospitals. As a result, plaintiff believed that her potential claim had no value. Plaintiff then consulted with a bankruptcy attorney, Mark Cornell, in April 2015. She informed Cornell about her potential medical malpractice claim and that other attorneys had declined to pursue it. When Cornell drafted the plaintiff’s petition for chapter 7 bankruptcy, he did not list the potential medical malpractice claim on the plaintiff’s schedule of assets. Cornell also failed to advise plaintiff that she needed to disclose this potential claim to the bankruptcy trustee. At her ex-husband’s suggestion, in February 2016, plaintiff consulted with a third law firm, Swartz & Swartz, P.C., which agreed to represent her and pursue the medical malpractice claim. Plaintiff filed the underlying medical malpractice action against defendants in June 2016. The bankruptcy court issued its order discharging her case in July 2016. In October, defendants moved to dismiss the medical malpractice action, arguing plaintiff should have been judicially estopped from pursuing her medical malpractice claim because she failed to disclose it on her schedule of assets in the bankruptcy case. Plaintiff immediately consulted with new bankruptcy counsel, who moved to reopen her bankruptcy case to "administer a potential asset" and appoint a new trustee. The bankruptcy court granted the motion and appointed a new trustee. Plaintiff then resisted defendants' motion to dismiss, which was denied by the trial court. The trial court ultimately dismissed the case, holding plaintiff was judicially estopped from bringing her medical malpractice claim. The New Hampshire Supreme Court concluded the trial court erred in applying judicial estoppel to this matter, reversed and remanded for further proceedings.