Gordon Rees Scully Mansukhani Charleston partners Susan Taylor Wall and Henry “Hal” Frampton IV received summary judgment in 11 related legal malpractice cases on behalf of attorneys who served as class counsel to victims alleging abuse at the hands of priests affiliated with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Charleston. Class counsel secured a historic $12 million settlement that benefited more than 100 claimants. To participate, claimants had to come forward and present their claims in a non-adversarial private arbitration.
The plaintiffs in this case claimed to be either abuse victims or their parents or spouses who did not receive notice of the class action settlement because they lived out of state. Eleven separate suits were filed claiming damages because the victims were unable to recover in the class actions and, as a result, were now precluded from making sexual abuse claims against the Diocese because of res judicata, the statute of limitations, and charitable immunity. The lawsuits alleged insufficient notice resulting from the attorneys’ negligence and breaches of fiduciary duty. The lawsuit further alleged that the class action settlement was the result of an improper conspiracy between class counsel and the Diocese.
The cases were heavily litigated for nearly 10 years. Gordon & Rees attorneys successfully moved to bifurcate the trials, forcing the Diocese to try the abuse claims before the attorneys would have to try the malpractice claims. Before any case was called for trial, defense counsel filed extensive motions for summary judgment. In August, the trial court granted summary judgment in favor of class counsel on the grounds that class counsel had no attorney-client relationship with out-of-state claimants, class counsel breached no duties to such claimants, and class counsel’s actions did not proximately cause any damage to such claimants. Thus, all claims against class counsel were dismissed with prejudice. The decisions are likely to be appealed.