Breach of Contract May Be Plead in the Alternative to Legal Malpractice, but Punitive Damages are not an Option
Signal Financial Holdings LLC and Signal Funding LLC (together “Signal”) accused a former Signal executive, Farya Jafri (“Jafri”), of misappropriating trade secrets while separating from Signal and using them to compete against Signal. Signal sued Jafri as well as the law firm Sugar Felsenthal Grais & Helsinger LLP (“Sugar”) for allegedly aiding Jafri in this scheme. Sugar moved to dismiss the various counts against it. The United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted the motion in part, and denied in part. It denied the motion with respect to legal malpractice, explaining that “Signal alleges two clear incidents where a conflict was present” and “plausibly demonstrates that the Firm’s conflict of interest caused Signal’s injuries.” Id. at 5. It also allowed a breach of contract claim to stand exclusively in the alternative to the count for legal malpractice as “a complaint against a lawyer for professional malpractice may be couched in either contract or tort and… recovery may be sought in the alternative.” Id. at 6. Conversely, the Northern District granted dismissal of the count for breach of fiduciary duty, which was duplicative since “Illinois law prohibits claiming legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty based on the same facts.” Id. Lastly, the Court struck all claims for punitive damages because under Illinois law, “in all cases whether in tort, contract, or otherwise, in which the plaintiff seeks damages by reason of legal… malpractice, no punitive, exemplary, vindictive or aggravated damages should be allowed.” Id. at 8, 735 ILCS 5/2-1115.
(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)