Interesting opinion on legal malpractice, indemnity, and contribution

/ 25.May, 2012

United States District Judge William W. Caldwell of the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued a 31 page memorandum and order in Kohn et al v. School District of City of Harrisburg, et al.  The case in general is quite interesting, involving an alleged conspiracy by the Mayor of Harrisburg to fire the superintendent, deputy superintendent and assistant superintendent of the school district.  The fired administrators brought an action alleging their civil rights had been violated because they were not given a hearing before being fired.  The school district then brought a third party complaint against Mayor Linda Thompson and the lawyer for the school district, James E. Ellison, and the law firm where he works, Rhoads & Sinon.

Judge Caldwell’s opinion is interesting because he held that there can be no indemnity owed by Ellison to the school district because the school district cannot claim passive liability, nor were they entitled to contribution because they were not joint tortfeasors with respect to the legal malpractice.  However, the judge allowed claims for contribution with respect to a civil conspiracy claim and a tortious interference with contract claim to proceed finding that the law firm and the mayor were joint tortfeasors for purposes of those claims.  Although the judge dismissed all legal malpractice claims based upon contribution or indemnity, he allowed the independent legal malpractice claims to proceed.  The discussion regarding contribution and indemnity could be useful in the defense of future legal malpractice actions.

-Josh J.T. Byrne, Esquire