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Stein v. Magarity

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

October 22, 2014

MELVIN STEIN, Appellant
v.
GREGORY T. MAGARITY AND LAW OFFICES OF GREGORY T. MAGARITY, ESQUIRE, a Professional Corporation, Appellees

Argued July 16, 2014

Appeal from the Order of the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, Civil Division, No. 04293 JULY TERM 2008. Before MOSS, J.

William P. Murphy, Philadelphia, for appellant.

Arthur W. Lefco, Philadelphia, for appellee.

BEFORE: FORD ELLIOTT, P.J.E., MUNDY and MUSMANNO, JJ.

OPINION

Page 1011

MUSMANNO, J.

Melvin Stein (" Stein" ) appeals from the Order entering summary judgment against him, and in favor of Gregory T. Magarity and the Law Offices of Gregory T. Magarity, Esquire, a Professional Corporation (collectively, " Magarity" ). We affirm in part, and reverse and remand in part.

In its Opinion, the trial court set forth the history underlying the instant appeal as follows:

[Stein] was convicted by a federal court of various offenses, including conspiracy to commit money-laundering, and sentenced to ten years in prison in 2006[,] in United States v. Stein, 04-cr-269-09 (E.D. Pa.). [The instant state court] action sought to recover attorney's fees [] Stein paid to [] Magarity in the federal trial[,] alleging that [Magarity] breached the attorney-client agreement. [] Magarity filed cross-claims against [] Stein to recover unpaid remaining attorney's fees in the amount of $165,000. On August 4, 2010, [the trial court] granted [] Magarity's Motion for Summary Judgment, dismissing all of [] Stein's claims without prejudice and noting that [] Stein might institute an action in negligence against [] Magarity once post-trial challenges in the underlying federal case were completed.
* * *
[] Stein appealed this decision[,] but the appeal was quashed on April 6, 2011. [] Magarity's cross-claims against []

Page 1012

Stein were the only remaining claims.... On May 25, 2012, the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granted relief[,] finding that [] Magarity did not fully explain the October 2005 plea bargain offered to [] Stein during the first trial[,] and vacated [] Stein's previous sentence of 121 months and imposed a new sentence of 87 months. United States v. Stein, 04-cr-269-09 (E.D. Pa. May 25, 2012) ([O]rder vacating and resentencing) (McLaughlin, J.).
Once this case was reactivated, [] Stein filed two motions on the same day: (1) a Motion for Reconsideration of [the trial court's] Order in light of the federal court's finding of ineffective assistance of counsel; and (2) a Motion to Amend the Complaint, which sought to add tort claims.
[The trial court] denied the Motion for Reconsideration pursuant to [the] coordinate jurisdiction [rule] on March 8, 2013. On March 11, 2013, referencing [the trial court's] recent denial of reconsideration, [the court] denied the Motion to Amend, as there was no Complaint left to amend. [] Stein later filed a Motion to Amend the Reply to the Counterclaim by Adding New Matter. [The trial court] granted this Motion on August 9, 2013, so [] Stein's reply to [] Magarity's counterclaim was amended to add two arguments: (1) that the federal judgment that [] Magarity provided ineffective assistance of counsel barred the counterclaim; and (2) that because of, among other things, the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution, the state court lacked subject-matter jurisdiction over the counterclaim. On September 27, 2013, the remaining counterclaim was disposed of by the parties' agreement to transfer it to binding arbitration.

On October 17, 2013, [] Stein filed a Notice of Appeal.... Trial Court Opinion, 2/10/14, at 2-4.

Stein now presents the following claims for our review:

A. In [] Stein's contract claim under Bailey v. Tucker [, 533 Pa. 237, 621 A.2d 108 (Pa. 1993),] seeking a refund of fees from [Magarity] for mishandling plea offers and thus diverting [] Stein's criminal matter toward a needless trial, did the [trial court] err and abuse its discretion by granting summary judgment against [] Stein for a supposed lack of " damages" because he thought it " speculative" that [] Stein would have received a lesser sentence by plea, where (1) the [c]ourt completely ignored the concrete proof of the only legally permitted damages--fees paid for an expensive trial that should have been avoided, and (2) where the [c]ourt also completely ignored substantial expert and other evidence showing that [] Stein would have indeed [] received a much lower prison sentence, if any, by standard operation of the U.S. Sentencing Guidelines?
B. Even if [the Superior] Court were[,] arguendo [,] to uphold [the trial court's] August 4, 2010 summary judgment Order dismissing [] Stein's Bailey contract claim, did the [trial court] separately err and abuse its discretion by using the " coordinate jurisdiction" rule to refuse any reconsideration of the summary judgment Order, where a new federal judgment not only established [] Magarity's ineffectiveness under the Sixth Amendment in mishandling a plea[,] but also refuted [the trial court's] errant assumption that any reduced sentence was speculation;

Page 1013

where the summary judgment Order[,] by its own terms [,] was expressly qualified as " without prejudice" in anticipation of a future federal judgment; and where substantial additional evidence emanating from the federal proceeding further supported all the elements of [] Stein's Bailey contract claim?
C. Whether the preemptive denial of any right to even plead a Bailey tort claim constitutes an error of law and abuse of discretion under the liberal standard for allowing amendments in Pennsylvania law, the two-claim system set forth in Bailey, the provisions in the summary judgment Order already allowing [] Stein conditionally to present that claim once the federal court ruled, the [trial c]ourt's disregard for and discrimination against [] Stein's fundamental rights under the Sixth and Fourteenth Amendments, and the refusal to give due regard to the new federal judgment?

Brief for Appellant at 4-5 (emphasis in original).

Initially, we are cognizant of our scope and standard of review:

Our scope of review of an order granting summary judgment is plenary. [W]e apply the same standard as the trial court, reviewing all the evidence of record to determine whether there exists a genuine issue of material fact. We view the record in the light most favorable to the non-moving party, and all doubts as to the existence of a genuine issue of material fact must be resolved against the moving party. Only where there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and it is clear that the moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law will summary judgment be entered.
Motions for summary judgment necessarily and directly implicate the plaintiff's proof of the elements of his cause of action. ... Thus, a record that supports summary judgment will either (1) show the material facts are undisputed or (2) contain insufficient evidence of facts to make out a prima facie cause of action or defense and, therefore, there is no issue to be submitted to the [fact-finder]. Upon appellate review, we are not bound by the trial court's conclusions of law, but may reach our ...

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