Kershaw v. LevyAnnotate this Case
The Supreme Court reversed the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of Defendant, who represented Plaintiff in her divorce, and dismissing Plaintiff's legal malpractice action, holding that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the basis of judicial estoppel.
Plaintiff asserted in her complaint that the attorney's actions during the divorce proceedings so compromised her position that she was forced to settle on unfavorable terms. Citing Plaintiff's sworn acknowledgment in her marital dissolution agreement that the divorce settlement was fair and equitable, the trial court concluded that Plaintiff was estopped from asserting that the divorce settlement terms were unfavorable. The court of appeals affirmed. The Supreme Court reversed, holding (1) the statements by Plaintiff were not the type of sworn statements that are proscribed under the doctrine of judicial estoppel; and (2) therefore, the trial court erred in holding that judicial estoppel precluded Plaintiff's legal malpractice claim against Defendant.
Authoring Judge: Justice Holly Kirby
Trial Court Judge: Senior Judge William B. Acree
We granted permission to appeal in this case to clarify application of the doctrine of judicial estoppel. The plaintiff filed this legal malpractice action against an attorney who represented her in her divorce. She asserts that the attorney’s actions so compromised her position in the divorce proceedings that she was forced to settle on unfavorable terms. After the attorney filed a motion for summary judgment, the trial court applied the doctrine of judicial estoppel. Citing the plaintiff’s sworn acknowledgment in her marital dissolution agreement that the divorce settlement was fair and equitable, the trial court held that the plaintiff was estopped from asserting in the legal malpractice action that the divorce settlement terms were unfavorable. On this basis, the trial court granted summary judgment to the defendant attorney. The Court of Appeals affirmed. We hold that the trial court should not have applied the doctrine of judicial estoppel to the statements at issue because they are not directly contradictory statements of fact. The plaintiff’s sworn acknowledgment in her marital dissolution agreement is instead a context-related legal conclusion, and the plaintiff offers a reasonable explanation for any apparent discrepancy between her sworn acknowledgment in the divorce and her assertions in this legal malpractice action. As a result, we hold that the trial court erred in granting summary judgment on the basis of judicial estoppel. We reverse the grant of summary judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.