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Wyatt v. Sanan

April 22, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Matthew F. Kennelly, District Judge


John Wyatt and Karen Landino have filed a pro se lawsuit against Nishay Sanan, a Chicago attorney. The Court's jurisdiction is based on diversity of citizenship. Sanan has moved to dismiss the complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). For the reasons stated below, the Court dismisses certain of plaintiffs' claims on their merits and the rest of them for lack of supplemental jurisdiction.


In deciding Sanan's motion, the Court accepts as true all of plaintiffs' factual allegations. Bell Atlantic Corp. v. Twombly, 127 S.Ct. 1955, 1964 (2007).

Wyatt and Landino allege they consulted Sanan for legal advice after Wyatt was charged in a federal criminal case in the Southern District of Illinois. Compl. ¶ 7. Plaintiffs allege that they retained Sanan to represent Wyatt in the case. Id. ¶ 9. There was no written fee agreement; Sanan orally quoted fees at various stages of the litigation. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. Plaintiffs allege that they paid Sanan $25,000 to pursue a motion to suppress evidence in the trial court, another $25,000 for an appeal, $25,000 for a petition for certiorari ($10,000 up front and the other $15,000 to be paid once Sanan filed the petition), and $5,800 for expenses. Id. ¶ 10.

Plaintiffs allege that Sanan advised them that Wyatt's best course was to negotiate a conditional guilty plea, preserving his right to challenge the trial court's ruling on various motions - presumably including the motion to suppress. Id. ¶ 10e. They say Sanan "guaranteed" he would prevail on all legal issues and said he had obtained outstanding results in similar cases. Id. ¶¶ 11, 33d & i.

Wyatt followed what he alleges was Sanan's advice and entered a conditional plea of guilty. The trial judge sentenced Wyatt to 22 years in prison. Plaintiffs allege this is more than the sentence Wyatt would have received had he gone to trial - supposedly 10 years. Id. ¶ 12. They allege that Sanan "was totally unprepared and unknowledgeable how to handle critical aspects of Wyatt's case and failed to advise Wyatt of the possibility of a maximum sentence of 22 years" if he pled guilty. Id. ¶¶ 24, 32. Plaintiffs do not describe how this occurred, but from what the Court can ascertain from the complaint and the Seventh Circuit's decision in Wyatt's case, it had to do with whether a prior conviction for escape constituted a crime of violence that rendered Wyatt a "career offender" under the Sentencing Guidelines. See id. ¶ 57e.

Plaintiffs allege that Sanan guaranteed that he would win the case on appeal. Id. ¶ 29. The court of appeals, however, affirmed the judgment. Id. ¶ 13. At that point, plaintiffs say, Sanan solicited them to retain him to petition the Supreme Court for certiorari, saying that Wyatt had a great chance of winning and that he (Sanan) had extensive experience in Supreme Court appeals - a statement plaintiffs say was false. Id. ¶¶ 13-14. Though plaintiffs say they paid Sanan the initial $10,000 of the fee he quoted for the petition for certiorari, he did not file the promised petition in timely fashion. Id. ¶¶ 15, 19. Plaintiffs say Sanan admitted to them in August 2005 that he had missed the filing deadline. Id. ¶ 20. Plaintiffs then requested a return of the $10,000 and Wyatt's legal papers, as well as a copy of the unfiled petition. Id. ¶ 21. They allege that Sanan returned the $10,000 and some of the legal papers but never provided a copy of the draft petition. Id. ¶ 22.

Plaintiffs allege that if Sanan had advised Wyatt that he could get a 22 year sentence after the plea but would face only 10 years by going to trial, he would not have pled guilty.*fn1 Id. ¶ 23. They also allege that Sanan was "totally unprepared and unknowledgeable" about how to handle the case. Id. ¶ 24. As a result, plaintiffs allege, Wyatt made an unknowing and unintelligent decision to enter into an unfavorable plea agreement. Id. ¶ 25.

Plaintiffs allege that Sanan owed them a duty to provide competent legal services as well as a fiduciary duty, both of which he breached. Id. ¶¶ 26-33.

In counts one through four of their complaint, they have sued Sanan for breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty, professional negligence, and reckless conduct.Count five is a claim for fraud and unjust enrichment. It is unclear whether it is brought exclusively on behalf of Landino or on behalf of both plaintiffs. Because courts must construe liberally the pleadings of pro se litigants, see Erickson v. Pardus, 127 S.Ct. 2197, 2200 (2007), the Court reads count five as having been made on behalf of both plaintiffs. In count five, plaintiffs allege that Sanan advised them that he was a highly experienced criminal defense attorney; he would secure an acquittal or at most a minor prison sentence; he would be able to get any sentence overturned on appeal; and he was experienced in appealing cases to the Supreme Court. Id. ¶¶ 57a-e. They also allege that the fees Sanan quoted were unreasonable and excessive. Id. ¶ 57f. But for these statements, plaintiffs say, they would not have paid the fees that Sanan quoted. Id. ¶ 58.

Sanan has moved to dismiss plaintiffs' complaint pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). He contends that under Illinois law, which governs plaintiffs' claims, Landino has no viable claim because she had no attorney-client relationship with Sanan; all of Wyatt's claims amount to claims of legal malpractice; and Wyatt has not alleged and cannot allege that he is innocent of the crime to which he pled guilty, which Sanan argues is an essential predicate of a legal malpractice claim. Sanan argues that although plaintiffs' allegations of overcharging of legal fees might give rise to a viable legal claim, the Court lacks jurisdiction over that claim if and when the malpractice-related claims are dismissed.

In addition to the allegations of the complaint, the Court also considers the decision of the court of appeals affirming Wyatt's conviction and sentence on appeal. In resolving a motion to dismiss for failure to state a claim, a court may take judicial notice of matters in the public record, including judicial decisions, without converting the motion to a motion for summary judgment. See, e.g., Anderson v. Simon, 217 F.2d 472, 474-75 (7th Cir. 2000); Henson v. CSC Credit Servs., 29 F.3d 280, 294 (7th Cir. 1994).

Following imposition of sentence, Wyatt appealed to the Seventh Circuit, with Sanan serving as his lawyer. United States v. Wyatt, No. 04-3314, 133 Fed. Appx. 310 (7th Cir. 2005). As indicated earlier, Wyatt had entered a conditional guilty plea that allowed him to challenge on appeal the denial of his motion to suppress evidence. Most of the Seventh Circuit's decision concerned the motion to suppress. Id. at 311-16. Wyatt also asserted two sentencing-related issues: he argued that he had been inappropriately categorized as a career offender under the Sentencing Guidelines, and he contended that the career offender guideline could not be applied to him consistent with Blakely v. Washington, 542 U.S. 296 (2004), and United States v. Booker, 543 U.S. 220 (2005), because the underlying facts had not been found by a jury. The Seventh Circuit rejected both arguments. First, it ruled, consistent with several of its prior rulings, that Wyatt's prior conviction for escape constituted a crime of violence within the meaning of the applicable Guidelines. Wyatt, 133 Fed. Appx. at 316. Second, with regard to the Blakely-Booker issue, the court noted that the trial judge had anticipated the possibility of Booker and had ...

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