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Eliot F. Bloom v. C. Blaine Morley

August 21, 2012

ELIOT F. BLOOM, PLAINTIFF,
v.
C. BLAINE MORLEY, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Seybert, District Judge:

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

Plaintiff Eliot F. Bloom ("Plaintiff") sued Defendant C. Blaine Morley ("Defendant") for tortious interference with a contract. Pending before the Court is Defendant's motion for summary judgment. (Docket Entry 33.) This motion is GRANTED.

BACKGROUND

In 2006, Plaintiff entered into a joint venture with two third-parties: Northwestern Consultants, Inc. ("NWC") and its president, Russell Lugli. (Compl. ¶ 3.) The purpose of the joint venture was to buy, develop, and re-sell property in Bay Shore, New York (the "Project"). (Id.) Plaintiff, an attorney, agreed to perform all legal services in connection with the Project.

A year later, NWC and Lugli bought Plaintiff out of his share of the joint venture. Under the so-called "Withdrawal Agreement," NWC and Lugli agreed to pay Plaintiff $450,000 for his interest in the Project; in exchange, Plaintiff--who had not contributed any financial support to the joint venture--agreed to continue representing the joint venture so that the Project could be completed. (Id. ¶¶ 5-6.)

At some point,*fn1 NWC and Lugli hired another lawyer--Defendant--and the record evidences a good deal of bickering between him and Plaintiff. In November 2008, there was an exchange of emails that, to say the least, reflects a breakdown of communication between the two over their joint efforts to represent NWC and Lugli in an unspecified litigation. (See generally Pl. Ex. D.) By May 2009, when the two were working together on the Project, it was clear that Defendant had lost all confidence in Plaintiff's ability to represent NWC and Lugli's interests in New York. (See, e.g., Pl. Ex. D, email dated May 13, 2009 ("Everything that Eliot has undertaken has been a failure or is clouded with so many small failures that the total effect will take years and/or a lot of money to undo.").) By June 2009, relations had apparently reached the breaking point. Defendant instructed Plaintiff to provide an accounting of NWC and Lugli's money and stated "[t]his is not just a request, it is a demand from your former client." (Pl. Ex. D, email dated June 15, 2009 at 6:04 p.m. (emphasis added).) Defendant further advised Plaintiff not to communicate directly with Lugli. (Id.) Also on June 15, Defendant wrote to the Suffolk County Treasurer's office to clarify NWC and Lugli's tax liability. In that letter, Defendant explained that: "If you are contacted by an attorney, Mr. Eliot Bloom, who claims to represent NWC, please do not deal with him. He is not authorized to represent the corporation." (Pl. Ex. N.) The next day, Defendant told Paul Fink, a representative of the Town of Islip Community Development Agency, that Plaintiff no longer worked for NWC. (Pl. Ex. E, email dated June 16, 2009.)

The precise scope of Defendant's responsibilities to NWC and Lugli is in dispute. According to Defendant, he was hired to investigate and litigate NWC and Lugli's potential claims against Plaintiff arising out of the Project and two securities transactions, the specifics of which are not relevant here. (See Def. Br. 3.) Plaintiff, on the other hand, asserts that Defendant worked on the Project and, in the process, effectively cut Plaintiff out of the loop and thus made it impossible for Plaintiff to fulfill his obligation under the Withdrawal Agreement to continue providing legal services to the joint venture. Specifically, Paragraph 8 of Plaintiff's Complaint alleges that: "From approximately December 1, 2009 to present, Defendant has, without authority, continually and increasingly interjected himself in all matters pertaining to the development and/or sale of the Project." (Compl. ¶ 8.) Plaintiff lists specific instances of wrongdoing in his Complaint; his opposition brief, though, focuses on Defendant's contacting municipal officials about the Project.*fn2 (See Pl. Opp.*fn3 ) And, as mentioned, Defendant did advise Paul Fink that Plaintiff was cut off from the matter.

NWC and Lugli, represented by Defendant, eventually sued Plaintiff in California for fraud in connection with the Project and the aforementioned securities transactions (the "California Action"). That case was eventually withdrawn, but there is related litigation pending in the Eastern District of New York. See Snider v. Lugli, No. 10-CV-4026(SJF)(AKT); Nw. Consultants, Inc. v. Bloom, No. 10-CV-5087(SJF)(AKT).

DISCUSSION

Plaintiff's sole cause of action is a claim for tortious interference with a contract. The Court first recites the law governing summary judgment and then turns to the substance of Defendant's motion.

I. Legal Standard Governing Summary Judgment Motions Summary judgment is only appropriate where the moving party can demonstrate that there is "no genuine dispute as to any material fact" and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. FED. R. CIV. P. 56(a). In considering this question, the Court considers "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories and admissions on file, together with any other firsthand information including but not limited to affidavits." Nnebe v. Daus, 644 F.3d 147, 156 (2d Cir. 2011); see also Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322, 106 S. Ct. 2548, 2552, 91 L. Ed. 2d 265 (1986); McLee v. Chrysler Corp., 109 F.3d 130, 134 (2d Cir. 1997); FED. R. CIV. P. 56(c). "In assessing the record to determine whether there is a genuine issue to be tried . . . the court is required to resolve all ambiguities and draw all permissible factual inferences in favor of the party against whom summary judgment is sought." McLee, 109 F.3d at 134. The burden of proving that there is no genuine issue of material fact rests with the moving party. Gallo v. Prudential Residential Servs., L.P., 22 F.3d 1219, 1223 (2d Cir. 1994) (citing Heyman v. Commerce & Indus. Ins. Co., 524 F.2d 1317, 1320 (2d Cir. 1975)). Once that burden is met, the non-moving party must "come forward with specific facts," LaBounty v. Coughlin, 137 F.3d 68, 73 (2d Cir. 1998), to demonstrate that "the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict for the nonmoving party," Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. 242, 248, 106 S. Ct. 2505, 2510, 91 L. Ed. 2d 202 (1986). "Mere conclusory allegations or denials will not suffice." Williams v. Smith, 781 F.2d 319, 323 (2d Cir. 1986). And "unsupported allegations do not create a material issue of fact." Weinstock v. Columbia Univ., 224 F.3d 33, 41 (2d Cir. 2000).

II. Summary Judgment is Appropriate

Defendant principally argues that California's judicial proceeding privilege insulates his alleged conduct in this case. In the alternative, he argues (among other ...


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