Thus, a party who is not given notice of dissolution, but continues to transact business with a "partner" can hold liable the former partnership. It should be noted at this juncture that "even after dissolution, a partnership is not terminated but continues to exist until the winding up of partnership affairs is completed and the authority remains to act for the partnership in winding up partnership affairs and complete transactions begun but not yet finished at the time of dissolution." North Star Coal v. Eddy, 442 Pa. 583, 586, 277 A.2d 154, 156, (1971). The dissolution of a partnership will not relieve an individual partner of a duty under a contract entered into before the partnership was dissolved. Stewart v. Angle, 315 Pa. 135, 139, 172 A. 898, 899, (1934); Cope v. Warner, 13 Serg. & Rawle, 411, 415 (1825). Thus, I find the fact that Daniels' withdrawal from Adler-Barish two years prior to the purported negligent act is of little moment to whether or not Daniels can be held liable for the malpractice of his former partners.
An action of malpractice by an attorney can generally be based upon either tort or contract theory. Goggin, Attorney Negligence . . . A Suit Within a Suit, 60 W. Va. L. Rev. 225 (1958). The action brought by plaintiffs here appears to rest upon tort theory for recovery. Generally a tort by one partner occurring subsequent to dissolution of a partnership cannot be imputed upon the former partners, unless the party who committed the tort was winding up the partnership affairs or completing partnership business. A partner who has not, inter alia, wrongfully dissolved the partnership has the right to wind up the partnership affairs. Pa. Stat. Ann. Title 59 § 359.
Because no pleadings or material submitted to the court have expressed that defendant Barish wrongfully dissolved the partnership, I must assume that Barish had a right to wind up certain former Adler-Barish commitments.
Defendant Daniels has submitted an affidavit of his counsel, Neil Witkes, to support his position that plaintiffs had actual knowledge of the Adler-Barish firm being dissolved, since Daniels' withdrawal from Adler-Barish. Witkes avers that certain correspondence
of various plaintiffs which were addressed to the successor firm of Adler-Barish establishes that these plaintiffs had knowledge of the expulsion or absence of defendant Daniels from the firm. It may be permissible, but not advisable, for an attorney to present his own affidavit for a motion for a summary judgment. Crockett v. Johns-Manville Corp., No. 81-1268 (E.D. Pa., October 11, 1984). However, here the more serious problems arise because of possible hearsay and authentication
questions of the documents Witkes has submitted as well as inferences such writings convey. Indeed, the fact that plaintiffs addressed letters to a succeeding firm of Adler-Barish does not dispose of all questions of fact as to whether or not the plaintiffs had knowledge that Daniels was no longer with the law firm which represented them.
The letters do not preclude an issue of fact in dispute. Because I find in consideration of the letters, an issue of fact still present, I need not rule (except for Carlos Giacomino's discharge of counsel letter - see Footnote 11) as to whether the letters should be excluded because they were not properly authenticated or may contain hearsay. Daniels has submitted an affidavit averring that he was expelled from the partnership and was denied access to the client files to which he could have obtained address information of clients so that notice of his leaving Adler-Barish could be made. Conversely, other partners of the former Adler-Barish firm who are defendants in this action have submitted affidavits averring that Daniels withdrew on his own accord and was not forced out of Adler-Barish; additionally, other defendants aver that Daniels was not prohibited from accessing client files. Thus, I cannot rule as to the absence of a factual dispute concerning Daniels leaving the Adler-Barish firm. Moreover, the fact that Daniels' former partners allegedly wrongfully denied him access to the client files does not release Daniels from his duties to plaintiffs.
Additionally, Daniels argues that to require him to personally contact his former law firm's clients and inform the clients of his resignation or expulsion from the firm would transverse the holding of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Adler, Barish, Daniels, Levin & Creskoff v. Epstein, 482 Pa. 416, 393 A.2d 1175 (1978). I find that the matter before the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Epstein is sufficiently distinguishable from the dilemma facing defendant Daniels; thus the holding's prohibition would not affect Daniels' duties to notify clients of his former firm.
Daniels submission of affidavits has not precluded a genuine issue of fact concerning, inter alia, whether or not plaintiffs had knowledge of the dissolution of Adler-Barish or that Barish was not charged with winding up Adler-Barish's affairs. Accordingly, I must deny defendant Daniels' motion for summary judgment as to Counts I and II of plaintiffs' complaint.
Last, I turn to defendant Daniels' assertion that the punitive damages claim, Count III of plaintiffs' complaint is improper because defendant Daniels avers in his affidavit that he was not a partner of Barish when the purported negligence occurred. However, as stated earlier the fact that a partnership dissolves does not terminate affairs that were current at the time of dissolution; termination of liability occurs once the current matters (at time of dissolution) are resolved or wound up. See also Dean Witter Reynolds, Inc. v. Genteel, 346 Pa. Super. 336, 499 A.2d 637 (1985) (Pennsylvania permits vicarious application of punitive damages). Moreover, the very fact that Barish was permitted to wind up affairs for the former partnership may in itself be a reckless act. Accordingly, defendant Daniels' motion for summary judgment as to Count III must be denied.
In conclusion, since defendant Daniels as well as other defendants in this action have submitted various affidavits and exhibits for my consideration, I will convert the instant motion to dismiss to one for summary judgment. Because the affidavits have not narrowed any genuine issue of fact, the summary judgment motion must be denied.
An appropriate order follows.
AND NOW, this 13th day of December, 1985, for the reason set forth in the foregoing Memorandum, it is ORDERED that:
1. Defendant, Robert C. Daniels' motion to dismiss is converted to a motion for summary judgment.
2. Defendant, Robert C. Daniels' motion for summary judgment is DENIED.