CHANDRA A. BOZELKO v. ANGELICA N. PAPASTAVROS, SC 19495
Judicial District of New Haven
Legal Malpractice; Whether Appellate Court Properly Affirmed Decision Granting Summary Judgment in Favor of Defendant on Ground that Plaintiff Failed to Disclose Expert Witness. The plaintiff brought this legal malpractice action, alleging that the defendant had inadequately represented her in criminal proceedings. Prior to the start of the trial, the trial court ordered the plaintiff to disclose her expert witness. The plaintiff filed an expert witness disclosure, and the defendant filed a motion for summary judgment and a motion to preclude the plaintiff from presenting expert testimony, arguing that she had failed to adequately comply with the court’s order. The court agreed and barred the plaintiff from offering expert testimony in the case, and subsequently rendered summary judgment in favor of the defendant on finding that there was no genuine issue of material fact that the plaintiff could not present an appropriate expert witness. On appeal, the plaintiff claimed that she was not required to offer expert witness testimony because she had alleged in her complaint that the defendant’s conduct constituted gross negligence. She further argued that the trial court improperly granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant because the affidavit that was filed in support of the motion for summary judgment failed to establish that there was no genuine issue of material fact in dispute. The Appellate Court (156 Conn. App. 124) rejected the plaintiff’s claims and affirmed the judgment. It acknowledged that, although expert testimony is generally required in legal malpractice cases, there is an exception to this rule where there was an obvious and gross want of care and skill on the part of the attorney such that a layperson would know that the attorney’s conduct violated the standard of care. This exception, the court emphasized, is limited to situations where the attorney essentially did nothing to represent the client’s interests. The court pointed out that, here, the plaintiff’s complaint merely alleged, among other things, that the defendant failed to familiarize herself with the underlying facts of the case, neglected to become competent in the applicable criminal procedures and statutes, failed to deliver a coherent closing argument, and failed to exhibit competence in the practice of law. The Appellate Court opined that these allegations did not state a claim of gross negligence and that expert testimony was therefore required. As to the sufficiency of the defendant’s affidavit, the court decided that the affidavit brought forth evidentiary facts that were outside of the pleadings, which established that the plaintiff had failed to comply with the court’s expert disclosure order. It then determined that the plaintiff had failed to refute the material fact that she did not have an appropriate expert witness. In this appeal, the Supreme Court will determine whether the Appellate Court properly affirmed the trial court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant based on the plaintiff’s failure to disclose a proper expert witness.