Legal Mal Claim Fails, but Church Suit Goes Forward Against NJ Attorney Over Publicizing Delbarton Sex Abuse Case

New Jersey Law Journal

July 27, 2018

By Michael Booth

A New Jersey appeals court has awarded a partial victory to an attorney being sued by an order of the Catholic Church for allegedly breaching the terms of a decades-old settlement agreement entered into by a parochial school student by holding a media conference.

The Appellate Division said attorney Gregory Gianforcaro owed no duty of care to the Order of St. Benedict of New Jersey, a nonclient, and thus a motion to add a legal malpractice claim to the suit was rightly denied.

St. Benedict operates the Delbarton School in Morristown.

“Gianforcaro’s representation was limited to litigating [the former student’s] claims against OSBNJ, not to negotiating the settlement agreement,” Appellate Division Judges Marie Simonelli and Michael Haas said in the July 27 per curiam decision. “Gianforcaro is OSBNJ’s adversary attorney in this litigation, and thus, OSBNJ had no reason to rely on his actions as an attorney.”

The panel added, “In the absence of Gianforcaro’s independent duty of care to OSBNJ, a non-client, the proposed legal malpractice claim was unsustainable as a matter of law and would not have survived a motion to dismiss.”

But the panel reversed the dismissal of contract-based claims, saying the order could proceed with claims alleging breach of contract and breach of duty of good faith and fair dealing.

The dispute involves a 1988 settlement, which contained a confidentiality agreement, between the Order and a student, identified only as W.W., who alleged that he was sexually abused by one of his teachers at Delbarton.

Note: This is an Abuse Tracker excerpt. Click the title to view the full text of the original article. If the original article is no longer available, see our News Archive.