The First Department, reversing Supreme Court, determined plaintiff did not have standing to move to disqualify two law firms (SZA and ABZ), one of which represented defendant, on conflict of interest grounds in this foreclosure/property-ownership dispute because neither law firm ever represented plaintiff. Apparently there was some overlap of personnel in the two law firms:
The basis for a disqualification motion is the alleged breach of the fiduciary duty owed by an attorney to a current or former client … . When the law firm targeted by the disqualification motion has never represented the moving party, that firm owes no duty to that party. “[I]t follows that if there is no duty owed there can be no duty breached” … . Since plaintiff never had an attorney-client relationship with either SZA or ABZ, plaintiff had no standing to bring a motion to disqualify … .
To be sure, a court has the authority to act sua sponte to disqualify counsel if it finds a conflict of interest warranting disqualification … . However, the record before us does not support disqualification. The two defendants present a united front to plaintiff at this juncture. Their answers raise virtually the same affirmative defenses and counterclaims to the complaint, and the defenses and counterclaims of one defendant do not undermine the position of the other … . If defendants’ interests do come to diverge in this litigation then counsel of course has a duty to ensure compliance with rule 1.7 of the New York Rules of Professional Conduct (22 NYCRR 1200.0). HSBC Bank USA, N.A. v Santos, 2020 NY Slip Op 03976, First Dept 7-16-20