Malpractice Claims with Merit Must Have Certificates Proving Such

If nothing else, this case shows that no matter how simple a malpractice case may seem, it is always useful to have two things, Certificates of Merit and an attorney. 

If nothing else, this case shows that no matter how simple a malpractice case may seem, it is always useful to have two things, Certificates of Merit and an attorney.

Edward Donnelly, proceeding pro se, filed an action for legal malpractice against his former attorneys, O'Malley & Langan, P.C., who had represented him in a workers' compensation matter. He raised claims of invasion of privacy under state law, breach of attorney/client privilege, breach of contract, legal malpractice, and violation of his state and federal constitutional rights because of their work on the worker's compensation case.

In response, the defendant attorneys filed a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, to which Donnelly responded. The District Court granted the defendant attorneys' motion and dismissed the Amended Complaint. The District Court dismissed Donnelly's breach of contract claim, holding that he failed to submit a certificate of merit ("COM"), which is required under the Pennsylvania Rules of Civil Procedure absent a reasonable explanation or legitimate excuse.

Further, the District Court rejected Donnelly's claim that the defendant attorneys invaded his privacy by obtaining information about him from his employer, which was needed in order to represent Donnelly in the workers compensation proceedings. Finally, the court dismissed the constitutional claim, "private attorneys practicing in a private law firm, acted 'under color of state law.'"

Donnelly filed an appeal arguing that he did not need a Certificate of Merit because his claim sounded in a breach of contract argument. Further, he argued, the allegation that employment law was beyond the expertise of the Defendant attorneys was did not call for any expert testimony to explain their lapses in judgment or failures in performance. This argument however was easily dismantled by the appellate court. In one line the court states, "Regardless of how he chooses to characterize his claim, however, Donnelly's allegations pertain to the quality of the O'Malley defendants' professional representation of him, and thus a COM is required."

Ultimately, the take away point from this case is that a Plaintiffs, especially ones acting pro se, must make sure to obtain a Certificate of Merit in Pennsylvania for any claim which sounds in legal malpractice, no matter what that Plaintiff tries to say the claim is.

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