The First Department, reversing Supreme Court, dismissed a malicious prosecution and Judiciary Law 487 action brought by Facebook against law firms which represented a client who brought a fraudulent lawsuit against Facebook. The client apparently forged a contract with Mark Zuckerberg (the founder of Facebook) which would have given the client a 50% interest in Facebook. The client’s suit against Facebook was dismissed and the client was indicted for wire fraud. The First Department held that the “conclusory” allegations in the complaint did not sufficiently plead the “no probable cause to bring the suit” element of a malicious prosecution cause of action or the “egregious conduct” element of a Judiciary Law 487 cause of action:
With respect to the element of probable cause [re: malicious prosecution], a plaintiff must allege that the underlying action was filed with “a purpose other than the adjudication of a claim” and that there was “an entire lack of probable cause in the prior proceeding” … . Moreover, the lack of probable cause must be “patent” … . In this context, the Court of Appeals has stated as follows: “Probable cause is the knowledge of facts, actual or apparent, strong enough to justify a reasonable man in the belief that he has lawful grounds for prosecuting the defendant in the manner complained of. The want of probable cause does not mean the want of any cause, but the want of any reasonable cause, such as would persuade a man of ordinary care and prudence to believe in the truth of the charge” … . In a malicious prosecution action, the burden of proof to establish a want of probable cause is on the plaintiffs … .
Here, the … court’s granting of a TRO at the inception of the [client’s] action, prior to any of the defendants’ representation of [the client], created a presumption that [the client] had probable cause to bring the case. This presumption must be overcome by specifically pleaded facts … . Moreover, a plaintiff’s factual allegations regarding lack of probable cause and malice may be disproved by the evidentiary material submitted by defendant in support of a motion to dismiss … .
Applying these principles to this case, we find that the allegations in the instant complaint concerning defendants’ lack of probable cause are entirely conclusory, and are thus inadequate to support the lack of probable cause element of the malicious prosecution claim … . * * *
Relief under a cause of action based upon Judiciary Law § 487 “is not lightly given” … and requires a showing of “egregious conduct or a chronic and extreme pattern of behavior” on the part of the defendant attorneys that caused damages … . Allegations regarding an act of deceit or intent to deceive must be stated with particularity … ; the claim will be dismissed if the allegations as to scienter are conclusory and factually insufficient … . Facebook, Inc. v DLA Piper LLP (US), 2015 NY Slip Op 09602, 1st Dept 12-29-15
ATTORNEYS (MALICIOUS PROSECUTION ACTION AGAINST LAW FIRMS WHICH REPRESENTED A CLIENT IN A FRAUDULENT SUIT DISMISSED)/MALICIOUS PROSECUTION (ACTION AGAINST LAW FIRMS WHICH REPRESENTED A CLIENT IN A FRAUDULENT SUIT DISMISSED)/JUDICIARY LAW 487 (ACTION AGAINST LAW FIRMS WHICH REPRESENTED A CLIENT IN A FRAUDULENT SUIT DISMISSED)