Pennsylvania Supreme Court Reverses Superior Court in Khalil v. Williams; Passes on Opportunity to Reverse Muhammad v. Strassburger
On July 20, 2022, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed a Pennsylvania Superior Court decision that upheld the grant of summary judgment for the defendants in a legal malpractice action. In concluding that the Superior Court misconstrued the complaint when it held that the plaintiff’s claims were barred, the Court bypassed an opportunity to address the continued viability of Muhammad v. Strassburger, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 1991 decision that bars legal malpractice actions against attorneys following the settlement of a case, except where there are allegations of fraud.
In Khalil v. Williams, 24 EAP 2021, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court granted allowance of appeal to consider two issues: (1) Did the Superior court misconstrue the averments in Appellant’s complaint and err as a matter of law when it held that Appellant’s legal malpractice claims were barred by Muhammad v. Strassburger? and (2) Should the Court overturn Muhammad v. Strassburger, which bars legal malpractice suits following the settlement of a lawsuit absent an allegation of fraud?
In ruling on the first issue but not the second, the Court left standing a Pennsylvania rule that has been widely criticized for preventing plaintiffs from asserting legitimate legal malpractice claims after a case is settled.
But Muhammad did not survive unscathed. In a twenty-page concurring opinion, Justice Wecht referred to Muhammad as “deeply flawed,” arguing that “it is high time that we overrule that unfortunate precedent.” Justice Mundy also concurred, stating that she was “aligned with Justice Wecht’s view that the rule announced in Muhammad should be disapproved, and that the present dispute offers a convenient vehicle to do so.”
“We are delighted that the Supreme Court agreed with our arguments and reversed the Superior Court,” said Virginia Hinrichs McMichael of Appellate Law Group LLC, counsel for the appellant. “My client looks forward to proceeding in the trial court on her legal malpractice claims. Although we would have liked the Supreme Court to disavow Muhammad, we are nevertheless happy with the result.”To read more about this win by Appellate Law Group, view these articles from The Legal Intelligencer and Law360.