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PERLBERGER v. CAPLAN & LUBER

March 30, 2001

MESSODY T. PERLBERGER AND KAREN DANIELLA PERLBERGER PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CAPLAN & LUBER, LLP, MARY HUWALDT, ESQ., AND RICHARD L. CAPLAN, ESQ. DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Clarence C. Newcomer, S.J.

MEMORANDUM

Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs' Complaint is currently before the Court.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs reside at 320 Mulberry Lane; Elkins Park, Pennsylvania. Messody Perlberger allegedly suffers from impairing disabilities including visual impairment not limited to macula/retinal degeneration, insulin dependant diabetes with complications, cardiovascular complications and depression. Defendants Mary Huwaldt and Richard Caplan are partners at the law firm of defendant Caplan & Luber LLP with offices at 40 Darby Road; Paoli, Pennsylvania, and 1 Greentree Center; Marlton, New Jersey.

Although difficult to decipher from plaintiffs' thirty six page, single spaced, handwritten Complaint, plaintiffs allege the following facts: On or about June 18, 1997, plaintiff Messody Perlberger filed a pro se Complaint in this Courthouse on behalf of herself and her daughters Karen and Laura against her husband Norman Perlberger (hereinafter "Perlberger I"). That Complaint alleged that Norman Perlberger, a lawyer and recognized family law expert, engaged in a fraudulent scheme with several other defendants to conceal the true value of Norman Perlberger's income during Messody and Norman Perlberger's divorce proceedings. Sometime after the Complaint was filed in Perlberger I, defendants moved to dismiss the Complaint, but that motion was granted in part and denied in part. After plaintiff's Complaint was sustained, Messody Perlberger met with the defendants in this case, Caplan & Luber, to see whether Caplan & Luber would represent her in Perlberger I.

Shortly thereafter, Caplan & Luber offered to represent Messody Perlberger and her children in Perlberger I without a retainer agreement. When Messody Perlberger asked defendants Caplan & Luber whether they were experienced in handling RICO casas, defendants represented themselves as RICO experts, telling plaintiff they had "just received a five million dollar settlement offer" in a RICO case. Additionally, defendant Huwaldt told plaintiff that defendant Richard Caplan would be the trial lawyer in Perlberger I. Plaintiff further alleges that these representations were made through "the United States wires and telephones."

Plaintiffs claim that the preceding representations were fraudulent, and avers that defendants made countless other fraudulent representations during the course of Perlberger I. First, plaintiffs claim that defendants had little or no expertise in RICO cases, as they were instead known as a firm specializing in professional malpractice and insurance coverage. Plaintiffs claim that defendants induced Messody Perlberger to hire them because defendants knew that plaintiffs case was a high profile one; it involved a prominent family law attorney being sued by his wife and children, and his mistress in a separate but related case.

Additionally, plaintiffs contend that during Perlberger I, defendants routinely billed plaintiffs for work defendants did not perform, hired a CPA unnecessarily and without the consent of plaintiffs, charged plaintiffs excessively high fees to coerce plaintiff into settling Perlberger I, failed to communicate an April 16, 1998 settlement offer to plaintiffs, refused to allow plaintiff to accept a settlement offer on April 29, 2001, refused to provide an accounting of the CPA's work to plaintiffs, failed to communicate settlement offers to the CPA for the CPA to evaluate, made unnecessary visits to plaintiffs to inflate their fees, withheld files after plaintiffs disputed the fees defendants charged, and attempted to dissuade other attorneys from representing plaintiffs after defendants withdrew from representing plaintiffs in Perlberger I. Plaintiffs claim that each of defendants' fraudulent acts in Perlberger I were part of a scheme to defraud plaintiffs, and to take advantage of Messody Perlberger in her vulnerable state. Additionally, plaintiffs contend that each of the fraudulent acts they now contest were made using the mails, wire and telephones.

In light of these facts, the Court now turns to defendants' Motion to Dismiss plaintiff's Complaint.

II. DISCUSSION

Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

On a motion to dismiss, the district court must read a pro se plaintiff's allegations liberally and apply a less stringent standard to the pleadings of a pro se plaintiff than to a Complaint drafted by counsel. See Haines v. Kerner, 404 U.S. 519, ...


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