In a dispute between two Virginia lawyers, a U.S. District Judge has rejected attorney Cynthia Smith’s claim that another attorney, Timothy Purnell, interfered with her contract with a client and caused her to suffer nearly $4 million in financial losses.
Smith had been representing a Northern Virginia family, the Wieses, in a dispute with their neighbors. Eventually, the Wieses became dissatisfied with her representation and hired Purnell in her place. Smith sought her full $30,000 fee from the Wieses but ended up settling the fee dispute with them for $5,000. She and the Wieses signed a settlement agreement in 2009 that provided for a full release of all claims. Two years later, Smith sued Purnell over his role in representing the Wiese family, alleging that Purnell tortiously interfered with her right to receive the full payment from the client. She said that Purnell at one point promised her that he would ensure that she would be “paid in full” by the Wieses and that he reneged on this promise. She also claimed that she signed the settlement agreement under duress in that her “decision to trust God” led to a series of financial losses.
U.S. District Judge James Cacheris, in a December 9, 2011, ruling, rejected all of Smith’s claims and dismissed the complaint. He turned down her motion for leave to amend her complaint, finding that any amendment would be futile because the facts before him did not state a cause of action. Judge Cacheris wrote that Smith’s claims were barred by the release language in the settlement agreement that she signed in 2009 with the Wieses. In his ruling, the judge pointed out that the agreement extinguishes all claims that Smith might have not only with the Wieses but also with their attorneys. Judge Cacheris ruled further that Smith’s financial distress at the time did not amount to legal “duress” that permitted her to avoid the provisions of the settlement agreement.