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Lenn v. Baldwin

Court of Appeals of Oregon

February 19, 2015

Ronald LENN and Kathleen Lenn, Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
Steven C. BALDWIN, Defendant-Respondent

Argued and Submitted May 2, 2014.

Lane County Circuit Court. 161014585. Robert J. Morgan, Senior Judge.

Marianne Dugan argued the cause and filed the briefs for appellants.

Robert A. Ford argued the cause for respondent. With him on the brief was Kurtz, Ford & Johnson LLP.

Before Sercombe, Presiding Judge, and Hadlock, Judge, and Tookey, Judge.

OPINION

Page 476

[269 Or.App. 190] SERCOMBE, P.J.

Following a trial in this legal malpractice case, the jury returned a verdict in favor of defendant and against plaintiffs. Plaintiffs appeal the resulting general judgment in favor of defendant, raising six assignments of error. We write only to address plaintiffs' fifth assignment of error, and reject without discussion the remaining assignments of error. In their fifth assignment, plaintiffs assert that the trial court erred in giving the jury a special instruction requested by defendant stating that " an attorney is not liable for alleged negligence in how he handled a client's case at trial if the clients had no valid claim to relief to begin with, because the attorney's conduct could not be a cause of any injury or damage to the clients." We affirm the judgment of the trial court.

The background facts are undisputed. In November 2004, plaintiffs retained defendant to represent them in a real property dispute

Page 477

with their neighbors, the Bottems. Defendant filed a circuit court action against the Bottems on plaintiffs' behalf, alleging adverse possession, boundary by agreement, and trespass. That case eventually went to trial, and the trial court concluded that plaintiffs were or should have been aware of the true location of their property line near the time they purchased their property. Accordingly, the court entered judgment in favor of the Bottems and, later, awarded the Bottems costs, attorney fees, and an enhanced prevailing party fee.[1] Plaintiffs, represented by different counsel, unsuccessfully appealed the trial court's award of attorney fees and the enhanced prevailing party fee. See Lenn v. Bottem, 221 Or.App. 241, 190 P.3d 399, rev den, 345 Or. 503, 200 P.3d 148 (2008).

In 2010, plaintiffs brought this legal malpractice case against defendant. With respect to the case against the Bottems, plaintiffs alleged that the " claims presented in that lawsuit were well-founded both in law and fact." However, the " trial court ruled against [them] and ordered them to pay the Bottems' attorney fees and an enhanced prevailing [269 Or.App. 191] party fee, largely or entirely due to credibility findings made by the trial court."

They also alleged that, at the time they retained defendant to represent them, they had potential claims for misrepresentation or fraud relating to the property line against the realtor and seller from whom they purchased their property. However, they asserted that, after the trial on their claims against the Bottems, their potential claims against the seller and realtor were barred by issue preclusion because, at that trial, the court

" made a binding factual finding that the plaintiffs knew or should have known about the true location of their deed line in 1995, so that the applicable limitations periods against the seller and realtor would be deemed to have started running no later than 1995, barring all of ...

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