Rowlett v. FaganAnnotate this Case
Gerald Rowlett and his two companies, Westlake Development Company, Inc., and Westlake Development Group, LLC (plaintiffs), filed an action for malpractice against the law firm Schwabe, Williamson, and Wyatt, PC, (Schwabe) and lawyers David Fagan and James Finn (collectively, defendants), alleging claims for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, breach of fiduciary duty, and claims related to attorney fees. Defendants had represented plaintiffs in an action against plaintiffs’ business partners in Sunrise Partners, LLC (Sunrise). Plaintiffs settled the Sunrise litigation in 2007, and, soon thereafter, initiated the malpractice action, alleging that they would have had a better outcome in the Sunrise litigation but for the mishandling of their case by defendants. A jury ultimately found that defendants were negligent in their representation of plaintiffs, but that defendants’ negligence did not cause plaintiffs any damage. The jury also reached a defense verdict on the breach of fiduciary duty, negligent misrepresentation, and attorney fee claims. Plaintiffs appealed, asserting seven assignments of error. The Court of Appeals reversed as to two of those assignments of error and remanded the case for a new trial. The Supreme Court did not agree with the Court of Appeals' judgment with regard to the two alleged errors, reversed in part, affirmed in part and remanded for further proceedings. The Court of Appeals concluded that defendants’ closing argument to the jury improperly invoked the erroneous date on the verdict form to argue that the jury should use the settlement date as the date to “value” Rowlett’s interest in Sunrise and thus conclude that plaintiffs suffered no damages. In so ruling, the court may have misunderstood defendants’ theory of defense and their causation argument. On this ground, the Supreme Court reversed.