CHRISTINE HERENDEEN, as trustee of the bankruptcy estate of Christopher X. Hutchins, Appellant,
SAMUEL R. MANDELBAUM, ESQ.; KEVIN J. FITZSIMMONS, ESQ.; JOHN N. CAIN, ESQ.; and MANDELBAUM, FITZSIMMONS & HEWITT, P.A., Appellees.
FINAL UNTIL TIME EXPIRES TO FILE REHEARING MOTION AND, IF
from the Circuit Court for Hillsborough County; Cheryl K.
A. Arthur and Lee D. Gunn, IV, of Gunn Law Group, P.A.,
Tampa, for Appellant.
A. Cole and Melinda Thornton of Cole, Scott & Kissane,
P.A., Miami; and Joseph T. Kissane and Paula A. Post of Cole,
Scott & Kissane, P.A., Jacksonville, for Appellees.
LaROSE, CHIEF JUDGE.
Herendeen, the trustee for Christopher Hutchins'
bankruptcy estate, appeals a final summary judgment entered
in favor of Samuel Mandelbaum, Kevin Fitzsimmons, John Cain,
and Mandelbaum, Fitzsimmons & Hewitt (collectively,
"Mandelbaum"). Mr. Hutchins retained Mandelbaum to
defend him in a wrongful death lawsuit. Ms. Herendeen later
sued Mandelbaum for legal malpractice, claiming that
Mandelbaum failed to defend against a punitive damages claim
asserted against Mr. Hutchins.
Herendeen maintains that the trial court improperly granted
summary judgment. She argues that, as trustee, she can seek
damages for the bankruptcy estate caused by a negligent
lawyer. She also argues that the discharge of the wrongful
death judgment by the bankruptcy court did not extinguish her
cause of action for legal malpractice.
trial court erred in concluding that the bankruptcy discharge
extinguished a debt so as to preclude Ms. Herendeen's
lawsuit. The trial court also erred in concluding that public
policy barred Ms. Herendeen's effort to recover damages.
Ms. Herendeen should be allowed to pursue her cause of action
for legal malpractice against Mandelbaum. Accordingly, we
court should grant a motion for summary judgment only if
there are no genuine issues as to any material fact and the
moving party is entitled to a judgment as a matter of law.
Fla. R. Civ. P. 1.510(c). We review a summary judgment de
novo. See Volusia Cty v. Aberdeen at Ormond Beach,
L.P., 760 So.2d 126, 130 (Fla. 2000).
Hutchins accidentally shot and killed Jessica Leigh
Fraccalvieri. He pleaded guilty to manslaughter by culpable
negligence. The trial court sentenced him to fifteen years in
Fraccalvieri's estate sued Mr. Hutchins for wrongful
death. He hired Mandelbaum to represent him. Because Mr.
Hutchins was in prison, Mandelbaum decided not to have him
attend the trial. Apparently, the defense was "to be as
contrite and as apologetic as possible because [there was] no
other way to defend this case. He killed a young
mother." Mandelbaum presented no evidence about Mr.
Hutchins' net worth. Nor did Mandelbaum move for a
directed verdict as to punitive damages based on Mr.
Hutchins' inability to pay. The jury returned a hefty
verdict against Mr. Hutchins that included $500, 000 in
punitive damages. Belatedly, Mandelbaum sought relief from
the punitive damages award, arguing that Florida law
prohibits an award against a financially drained wrongdoer.
The trial court refused to remit the award. It entered a
final judgment against Mr. Hutchins.
months later, Mr. Hutchins filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy
protection. See 11 U.S.C. § 301 (2012). The
bankruptcy court appointed Ms. Herendeen as the trustee of
the bankruptcy estate. The bankruptcy court eventually