Mass Most Interested in Claim against Mass lawyer
A case involving the recording artist Prince forces Massachusetts Appeals Court to decide if Mass or Minnesota law applies to a legal malpractice claim.
Comercia Bank &Trust v Brown & Rosen LLC Mass. App. Ct. (2022)
A sound engineer who worked with the recording artist Prince sought to commercialize previously unreleased songs after Prince’s death.
A Massachusetts lawyer, Brown advised the sound engineer that he would have to pay royalties to Prince’s estate but could distribute the recordings for commercial gain. Court filings alleged that the compensation for Attorney Brown’s legal services included a percentage of sales.
As soon as the Prince estate (Paisley Park Enterprises) learned of the plan to release the recordings, it went to Court in Minnesota disputing any joint copyright claim. The estate sent the lawyer a confidentiality agreement the sound engineer signed at the time the recordings were made, where the engineer agreed that the recordings shall not be used in any way whatsoever.
The attorney advised the engineer “to move forward with the release”. A question arose – did the attorney do enough to investigate the engineer’s claimed rights to the recordings.
Prince’s estate sued in Minnesota Federal Court and won an injunction. In that forum the estate added the Massachusetts lawyer as a defendant, but the lawyer was dismissed because he had nothing to do with Minnesota.
The confidentiality agreement had an arbitration clause and an arbitrator ruled that the Engineer had to pay Prince’s Estate $3,960,287.65. The engineer assigned to the Prince estate all claims against the Massachusetts lawyer. The estate started a legal malpractice case against the lawyer in Massachusetts where legal malpractice cases can be assigned.
Minnesota bans assignments of legal malpractice cases; Massachusetts does not. Should the assigned case brought in Massachusetts be dismissed or maintained?
The case in Mass proceeds against the Mass lawyer.
This a a ‘choice of law’ question. Whose State has more of an interest in the matter? The case against the Engineer was brought in Minnesota; the settlement with the assignment of any legal malpractice rights was entered there but Massachusetts regulates attorneys who practice here. The conflicts question was resolved by the Court’s focus on the issue of expectations of clients hiring Massachusetts lawyers. That group of clients should expect Massachusetts law to apply.
When given a copy of the client’s signed acknowledgment and a cease and desist letter, the best advice will often be to cease and desist.