On January 22, 2021, the New Jersey Appellate Division affirmed the Trial Court’s ruling dismissing all legal malpractice claims against GRSLBG&B’s clients with prejudice. The litigation arose from the July 5, 2016 purchase of a single family home in Hunterdon County. Beyond a purported border fence, on the rear of the property, was a structure with piles of debris used by a prior owner as part of its industrial operations. The Buyers claimed that the Seller misrepresented the dimensions of the property, and that they were resultantly unaware that the structure was part of the purchase agreement. They filed suit against the Seller seeking damages for its removal and for compliance with the Industrial Site Recovery Act. The Plaintiff Buyers also asserted legal malpractice claims against our clients, their own real estate attorneys, based upon the allegation that they did not have marketable title to the property.
On February 15, 2019, Shareholder Audrey Shields filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on behalf of the Defendant Attorneys. Shields argued, the Defendant Attorneys did not deviate from the accepted standards of legal practice in their representation of the Plaintiffs; the reports and opinions of Plaintiffs’ experts constituted impermissible “net opinion” and should be excluded; any alleged breach of duty was not the proximate cause of Plaintiffs’ alleged damages; and that the Plaintiffs failed to establish they sustained any damages. The Trial Judge granted Shields’ motion for summary judgment and dismissed Plaintiffs’ cause of action against the Defendant Attorneys. Plaintiffs appealed.
On appeal, the Appellate Court affirmed the dismissal as to the Defendant Attorneys. The Court found that the title report included a survey endorsement that made clear the property’s fences and walls did not coincide with the title lines shown on the survey, and Plaintiffs directed the Defendant Attorney not to incur the cost of preparing a new survey. Additionally, Plaintiffs did not provide any competent evidence to establish that hazardous substances on the property diminished its value, and they were aware of the debris piles before they purchased the property. In short, Plaintiffs were well aware that the property behind the fence was part of the parcel of land they were purchasing, and they had ample opportunity to inspect and survey the property prior to purchase. Therefore, the Defendant Attorneys did not deviate from the accepted standards of legal practice in their representation of the Plaintiffs in this real estate transaction.
A job well done by Audrey Shields on this professional liability matter! Congratulations!
 Audrey L. Shields, Esq. is a Shareholder in GRSLBG&B’s Litigation Department. She defends a wide variety of clients in various civil actions brought for in New Jersey State and Federal Courts. Audrey can be reached at AShields@grsl.com.