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Huang v. Brenson

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Third Division

March 5, 2014

JOHN Z. HUANG, Individually, and JOHN Z. HUANG, P.C., Plaintiffs-Appellants,
v.
IAN BRENSON, Individually, and THE LAW OFFICES OF IAN BRENSON, Defendants-Appellees,

Page 730

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 731

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 10 L 14082. The Honorable Randye A. Kogan, Judge, presiding.

Affirmed.

SYLLABUS

In a legal malpractice action against defendants who represented plaintiffs in an underlying legal malpractice action, the dismissal of plaintiffs' claims was affirmed, since plaintiffs lost the underlying malpractice action against them because of the intervening misapplication of the law by the trial court in that action, not the malpractice of plaintiffs' counsel, plaintiffs were vindicated on appeal due to counsel's preservation of the issue of noneconomic damages in the underlying malpractice action, plaintiffs' counsel did not proximately cause plaintiffs' damages, and plaintiffs failed to plead that defendants breached any fiduciary duty by failing to tell plaintiffs of settlement demands made in the underlying malpractice action.

FOR PLAINTIFFS-APPELLANTS: Jenna M. Smith, John Z. Huang & Associates, Chicago, IL.

FOR DEFENDANTS-APPELLEES: Jason M. Kuzniar, Lauren M. Kim, Wilson, Elser, Moskowitz, Edelman & Dickler LLP, Chicago, IL.

PRESIDING JUSTICE HYMAN delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Neville and Pucinski concurred in the judgment and opinion.

OPINION

HYMAN, PRESIDING JUSTICE

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[¶1] Plaintiffs, a lawyer and his firm, brought this legal malpractice claim against the lawyer who defended him in a legal malpractice claim brought by a former client. In the original case, plaintiffs' professional liability insurer retained defendants Ian Brenson and the Law Offices of Ian Brenson (collectively, Brenson) to represent plaintiffs John Z. Huang and his firm John Z. Huang, P.C. (collectively, Huang). The former client prevailed against Huang. (Ultimately, that judgment was reversed on appeal.) Huang's legal malpractice case against Brenson was dismissed, and this appeal followed.

[¶2] We hold that Huang failed to plead facts that establish a cognizable claim, and, therefore, we affirm.

[¶3] BACKGROUND

[¶4] Yongping Zhou, a Chinese citizen, was convicted in 1998 of domestic violence. He received a one-year suspended sentence. As a result, in early 2001, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) detained Zhou and served him with a notice of intent to deport to China, giving 10 days to rebut the charges and contest the deportation. Through a friend, Zhou retained Huang, an immigration lawyer, to represent him in the INS proceedings. Huang represented Zhou from February 2001 until June 2001, when Zhou terminated the relationship and retained another attorney.

[¶5] The new attorney represented Zhou in the INS proceedings. After hearing Zhou's testimony, the judge denied Zhou's request for asylum and rejected his torture and persecution claims. Zhou hired several more attorneys before he was able

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to have his conviction for domestic violence vacated. After spending two years in prison, Zhou was released on bond in 2003 from INS detention.

[¶6] In May 2003, Zhou sued Huang for legal malpractice. Zhou's amended complaint alleged that Huang acted negligently, and he sought damages for emotional distress, physical abuse, isolation, humiliation, pain and suffering, loss of education, and loss of income. Huang's professional liability insurer retained Brenson to represent Huang.

[¶7] Five years later, Brenson moved for summary judgment on Huang's behalf, arguing that Zhou could not recover noneconomic damages in a legal malpractice action. The circuit court denied that motion and set the matter for a jury trial. Before trial, Brenson moved in limine to exclude evidence of noneconomic damages, which the judge denied as well. During the three-week trial, Zhou only presented evidence on damages for emotional distress, loss of normal life, psychological damages, and the cost of future psychological care--damages that are all noneconomic in nature. Brenson argued that the jury should be instructed that it could not award damages based on noneconomic injury, but the trial judge declined the instruction. The jury awarded Zhou $4 million.

[¶8] After the trial, Huang terminated Brenson and hired two new attorneys for posttrial and asset discovery proceedings: one paid for by his insurer, and the other Huang paid. The trial court granted a remittitur, and reduced Zhou's judgment to $1 million, which Zhou rejected. Huang then moved for judgment n.o.v . and for a new trial. The judge denied the motion, and both Zhou and Huang appealed.

[¶9] In that appeal, Huang argued that the trial court erred in allowing Zhou to recover nonpecuniary damages. The appellate court agreed, holding that Zhou was " prohibited from recovering damages for emotional distress in the instant action." Zhou v. John Z. Huang, P.C., No. 1-08-2807 (2010) (unpublished order under Supreme Court Rule 23). The court reversed and remanded with instructions to enter judgment n.o.v . in favor of Huang and his firm. The supreme court denied Zhou's petition for leave to appeal. Zhou v. John Z. Huang, P.C., 239 Ill.2d 592, 943 N.E.2d 1110, 348 Ill.Dec. 200 (2011).

[¶10] In December 2010, Huang filed this case in the circuit court, alleging Brenson committed legal malpractice while defending the Zhou malpractice case. Huang's second amended complaint contained 10 counts, including 8 counts alleging " negligence/legal malpractice" on the following grounds:

o Brenson negligently conducted discovery, causing Huang to be unprepared for his deposition (count I);
o Brenson failed to communicate with Huang for eight months, contributing to Huang's being ...

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