Legal Malpractice Opinions: Nawracaj vs. Genesys Software Systems, Inc.
“Legal Malpractice Opinions” is a blog series by Houston legal malpractice lawyers Lance Christopher Kassab and David Eric Kassab in which they discuss recent Texas opinions relating to legal malpractice, many of which they have acted as counsel. Today they discuss the recent appellate case Nawracaj vs. Genesys Software Systems, Inc. in which the Texas Fourteenth Court of Appeals held that an Illinois lawyer who was admitted pro hac vice to a Texas federal court to represent a nonresident client, and who conducted litigation in Texas and engaged local counsel in Texas, charging the client for both, had purposefully availed himself of the privilege of practicing law in Texas and was subject to jurisdiction in Texas in a malpractice suit alleging lack of competence contrary to Tex. Disciplinary R. Prof. Conduct 8.05.
By David Eric Kassab
By way of background, Richard Nawracaj (Nawracaj) is an attorney licensed to practice law in Illinois. Nawracaj represented PeopleStrategy, Inc. and Genesys Software Systems, Inc. (collectively Genesys) in various matters, including a lawsuit Genesys filed in federal court in Dallas, Texas. When local counsel in the federal litigation, The Travis Law Firm sued Genesys in state district court in Houston for non-payment of fees, Genesys retained The Kassab Law Firm to represent it. Genesys filed counter-claims against The Travis Law Firm and then filed a third-party petition against Nawracaj, alleging several causes of action regarding the services he provided to Genesys in the federal litigation. Nawracaj filed a special appearance, arguing he was not subject to jurisdiction in Texas, which the trial court denied after considering evidence submitted by the parties. Nawracaj appealed the ruling, arguing that his representation of Genesys in Texas was insufficient to give a Texas court specific personal jurisdiction over claims regarding that representation and that exercising jurisdiction violates fair play given the Illinois arbitration clause in his engagement agreement with Genesys. The Kassab Law Firm also represented Genesys in the appeal and Lance Christopher Kassab argued the matter at oral argument in front of a panel of the Fourteenth Court of Appeals consisting of Justices Christopher, McCally (not participating), and Busby. Nawracaj was represented in the trial court and the appeal by Christopher Raney of Gordon & Rees.
On March 7, 2017, the Court of Appeals sided with Genesys and affirmed the trial court’s order denying the special appearance, finding that Nawracaj had purposefully availed himself of the privilege and financial benefit of practicing law in a Texas court on behalf of his client Genesys, he recruited and supervised local counsel in Texas, and his practice and supervision were the basis of Genesys’s claims against him.
In reaching its conclusion, the Court of Appeals recognized that Genesys alleged claims against Nawracaj for falling below the standard of care and violating several Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct, including Rules 1.01, 1.03, 1.06 and 8.04. The Court of Appeals found these allegations sufficient to subject Nawracaj to personal jurisdiction under the Texas long-arm statute.
The Court of Appeals next concluded that Nawracaj had minimum contacts with Texas that relate to Genesys’s claims, stating “[t]he evidence before the trial court shows that Nawracaj purposefully availed himself of the privilege and financial benefit of practicing law in Texas on behalf of his client Genesys.” The Court of Appeals noted that Nawracaj had requested and obtained pro hac vice status in the representation of Genesys, which is a temporary license to practice law in Texas for a single case. “Because Nawracaj’s admission to practice in Texas is sufficient to give a state district court personal jurisdiction over a disciplinary petition against him for failing to provide his client competent and diligent representation, that court should likewise have jurisdiction over a malpractice suit by Nawracaj’s client alleging (among other things) lack of competence and diligence.” The Court of Appeals rejected Nawracaj’s claim that Texas lacked jurisdiction over him because he never set foot in the Texas court and only electronically filed documents from Illinois, stating “the physical location where Nawracaj prepared the legal documents he filed with the Texas court is not dispositive.”
The Court of Appeals also concluded that exercising specific jurisdiction over Nawracaj was fair and just, stating “the State of Texas has a substantial interest in ensuring that attorneys who represent parties in Texas courts properly discharge their duties” and that “Nawracaj’s lack of a physical presence in Texas and any inconvenience he may face attending a trial in this State are not alone sufficient to defeat personal jurisdiction.” The Court of Appeals went on, “litigating this case in Texas, where the underlying lawsuit occurred and the Travis firm (Nawracaj’s co-defendant) is located, furthers the interstate justice system’s interest in obtaining the most efficient resolution of controversies. Illinois has no connection to the federal litigation other than the fact that Nawracaj is licensed there. Litigating separate cases in both Texas and Illinois would duplicate costs and unnecessarily burden the courts and the parties.”
This Opinion is a solid win for victims of legal malpractice across Texas who hire out-of-state lawyers to represent them locally and the out-of-state lawyers botches their underlying case. In today’s age of electronic court filings, it is not uncommon for a lawyer, especially in federal court, to litigate the entire case up to trial completely remotely from his or her office in whatever state they may be in. But a client, especially a Texas client, who is the victim of malpractice committed by an out-of-state lawyer temporarily practicing in Texas should be permitted to sue this lawyer in Texas where the underlying litigation took place. The Opinion confirms this notion, holding that when a lawyer who is not a Texas resident appears in a Texas court to represent a nonresident client, and the client wishes to sue the lawyer for malpractice and other claims related to the representation, Texas courts have specific personal jurisdiction over the lawyer with regard to those claims. Score one for the good guys.
Lance Christopher Kassab and David Eric Kassab are Houston-based plaintiff’s attorneys who concentrate solely on legal malpractice and legal ethics cases. If you believe you have suffered damages as a result of your lawyer’s wrongdoing, please contact the Kassab Law Firm for a consultation.