Appel v. Schoeman Updike Kaufman Stern & Ascher L. L.P., 14-cv-2065 (AJN)

CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. Southern District of New York
Writing for the CourtALISON J. NATHAN, District Judge
PartiesRonit D. Appel, Plaintiff, v. Schoeman Updike Kaufman Stern & Ascher L.L.P., et al., Defendants.
Docket Number14-cv-2065 (AJN)
Decision Date26 March 2015

Ronit D. Appel, Plaintiff,
Schoeman Updike Kaufman Stern & Ascher L.L.P., et al., Defendants.

14-cv-2065 (AJN)


March 26, 2015


ALISON J. NATHAN, District Judge:

On March 25, 2014, this action was removed to this Court from New York State Supreme Court, New York County. Dkt. No. 2. On June 8, 2014, Plaintiff Ronit D. Appel filed an Amended Complaint, which spans 1,271 pages (excluding exhibits), names 30 Defendants, and alleges 224 Causes of Action (i.e., claims), across 2,467 paragraphs. Dkt. Nos. 106, 188. Although Plaintiff is appearing pro se, as an attorney, she is held to the higher standards that are expected of all attorneys appearing before this Court. Corrado v. N.Y. State Unified Court Sys., No. 12-CV-1748 (DLI)(MDG), 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 97818, at *6-7 (E.D.N.Y. July 17, 2014).

Pending before the Court are ten motions to dismiss filed by ten different groups of Defendants: (1) Schoeman Updike Kaufman Stern & Ascher LLP ("Schoeman"), Mindy H. Stern, Beth L. Kaufman, Charles B. Updike, Andrea D. Ascher,1 Susan S. Casero, Cindy Nygaard, and Veronica Law (the "Schoeman Defendants"); (2) Nancy J. Mertzel; (3) Avant-Garde Group, Inc. ("AGG") and Sergei Goloubenko (collectively, the "AGG Defendants"); (4) Reed Smith LLP and Paul E. Breene (the "Reed Smith Defendants"); (5) Interior Construction Corp. ("ICC") and Joseph Bruzzese (collectively, the "ICC Defendants"); (6) French Partners, LLC, the Feil Organization, Inc., Jeffrey Management Corp., and Jeffrey Feil (the "Feil Defendants"); (7) Creative Environment Solutions Corp., Michael J. Rattacasa, and Ivane

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Chikhladze (the "Creative Defendants"); (8) H&B Construction Services, Inc. ("H&B"); (9) Madison 96 Associates, LLC ("Madison 96"), Stuart J. Boesky, and Jamison Weiner (collectively, the "Madison 96 Defendants"); and (10) Laurie Zeligson and the Zeligson Firm (the "Zeligson Defendants"). An eleventh group of Defendants—John Francis Borrelli Architect, P.C. and John Francis Borrelli (the "Borrelli Defendants")—moved for summary judgment. The AGG Defendants also moved separately for sanctions under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11, 18 U.S.C. § 1927, and this Court's inherent powers. For the reasons stated herein, the Defendants' motions are GRANTED in their entirety.2


Understanding the context for Plaintiff's 224 claims requires an extensive discussion of the allegations in Plaintiff's Amended Complaint, which are presumed to be true for purposes of the motions to dismiss.

A. Plaintiff's Employment History with Schoeman

Plaintiff was employed as an attorney at Schoeman from September 8, 2009 through April 24, 2013, when she was terminated. Am. Compl. ¶ 34. She graduated from the Radzyner School of Law at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel in the top 12% of her class and then commenced an articled clerkship3 at the Israeli firm of Meitar Liquornik Geva & Leshem Brandwein ("Meitar"). Am. Compl. ¶¶ 47-48, 52. After completing her articled clerkship, Plaintiff commenced her employment at Schoeman, which, at the time, was located at 60 East 42nd Street, New York, New York. Am. Compl. ¶ 54.

In September 2009, Marvin Artis, then a partner at Schoeman, sent an email to all attorneys at Schoeman asking whether, "[i]n the last 5 years, has any individual in the firm or the firm been involved in any criminal, civil or disciplinary proceeding, including bankruptcy." Am. Compl. ¶ 124. Plaintiff responded that she had been involved in a civil proceeding in Israel in November 2005. Am. Compl. ¶ 125. Artis then asked Plaintiff to tell him the general nature of

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the proceeding, and, after Plaintiff asked him the purpose of the question, he indicated that it was for the firm's annual insurance questionnaire. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 126-130. Plaintiff declined to provide him with details regarding the matter. Am. Compl. ¶ 130.

Also in 2009, Plaintiff co-authored an article with Kaufman that was intended for an outside publication. Am. Compl. ¶ 134. In 2010, before the article was published, a senior attorney at the firm, Deirdre J. Sheridan, who was preparing a continuing legal education ("CLE") presentation, asked Plaintiff to send her a copy of the article. Am. Compl. ¶ 134. Plaintiff allegedly informed Sheridan that it had not been published and should not be annexed to her CLE materials. Am. Compl. ¶ 134. But, according to Plaintiff, "Sheridan sent Ms. Kaufman a copy of her written CLE materials, which would be distributed at the CLE program and into which she incorporated a large portion of plaintiff's article without plaintiff's permission and without referencing plaintiff's name." Am. Compl. ¶ 134. Plaintiff then sent Sheridan an email informing her that she had no permission to use the article without Plaintiff's consent. Am. Compl. ¶ 134. Plaintiff alleges that the next day, "Sheridan stormed into plaintiff's office and began screaming at plaintiff," and, during that encounter, Plaintiff again accused Sheridan of plagiarizing her article and stated that she did not understand why Sheridan was asking Plaintiff to assist in her plagiarism. Am. Compl. ¶ 134.

In 2012, Plaintiff was working together with Schoeman's co-counsel, Reed Smith, on a summary judgment motion in an action involving the firms' shared client, Madison 96, against its insurance carrier. Am. Compl. ¶ 137. Plaintiff allegedly identified a factually incorrect material statement that she brought to the attention of Jean M. Farrell, a Reed Smith attorney, after which Farrell became "antagonistic." Am. Compl. ¶ 137. Before the summary judgment papers were filed, Plaintiff emailed the Reed Smith attorneys and demanded to see a final version of the papers, but Breene, the Reed Smith partner handling the case, refused, indicating that "we really do not have time for another go round." Am. Compl. ¶ 137. On emails copying Updike, the Schoeman partner on the matter, Plaintiff persisted in demanding to see the final papers. Am. Compl. ¶¶ 137-143. In the course of this exchange, Breene emailed Plaintiff to state "do

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not send me e-mails. Ever." Am. Compl. ¶ 138. He also stated "[y]ou have seen them, commented on them, and made extra work for us enough. We have your comments. If this must go further, Charles should call me and we should speak to [the client] - together. You are wasting my time." Am. Compl. ¶ 142. "Ultimately," Plaintiff alleges, "the attorneys at Reed Smith gave in and sent plaintiff the final papers, which plaintiff reviewed to confirm that they did not contain the factual misrepresentation that plaintiff feared would be in the papers that Reed Smith planned to file." Am. Compl. ¶ 144.

In April 2012, Casero, who is of counsel at Schoeman, allegedly had a conversation with Plaintiff about Plaintiff being an Orthodox Jew and not working on the Sabbath or Jewish holidays. Am. Compl. ¶ 149. But shortly thereafter, on April 19, 2012, Casero asked Plaintiff if she could work on a Saturday. Am. Compl. ¶ 149. Plaintiff responded with an email to Casero stating "that in addition to [her] improper communications with plaintiff on April 20, 2012, which caused plaintiff to ask [her] to leave plaintiff's office on April 20, 2012, her asking plaintiff to work on Saturday on April 19, 2012 was inappropriate." Am. Compl. ¶ 149. The firm subsequently hired Zeligson, an outside employment lawyer, to conduct an investigation into Plaintiff's accusations of religious discrimination. Am. Compl. ¶ 150. Plaintiff informed Kaufman that she "did not consent to be interviewed by the attorney and would not consent to any discovery of the matter at that time and that if there needs to be discovery, it would be done under the supervision of a court of law." Am. Compl. ¶ 150. Zeligson interviewed Casero and others at the firm as part of her investigation and prepared a report that concluded no discrimination had occurred. Am. Compl. Ex. K.

In December 2012, Plaintiff was asked to assist with a matter involving the transfer of real estate in Israel. Am. Compl. ¶ 169. For tax purposes, the transaction had to be completed before year's end, but Plaintiff became convinced that it could not be completed by then and so she refused to work on the matter. Am. Compl. ¶ 169. Stern later informed Plaintiff that the transaction had in fact been completed in 2012. Am. Compl. ¶ 169.

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In March 2013, after Madison 96 won its summary judgment motion against its insurance carrier, Updike prepared a claim for Madison 96 against the carrier for payment of Madison 96's legal fees. Am. Compl. ¶ 156. Plaintiff believed that the demand was in excess of what was warranted in light of the fact that Madison 96's engagement letter with Reed Smith capped fees that Reed Smith could recover from Madison 96 at $200,000. Am. Compl. ¶ 156. When Plaintiff informed Updike of her view, he told her to find a case with similar circumstances in which the court held that to make such a demand would be fraudulent. Am. Compl. ¶ 158. "Plaintiff told him that what he wanted to do was so blatantly and obviously fraudulent that no specific court case was needed to prove that it was fraudulent." Am. Compl. ¶ 158. After Plaintiff was terminated, she learned that Schoeman had allegedly made what she believed was a fraudulent demand for fees. Plaintiff subsequently submitted an affidavit to that effect to Justice Kornreich, the judge presiding over the Madison 96 proceedings in New York State Supreme Court, New York County. Am. Compl. ¶ 162.

B. Schoeman's Move to Its New Office Space

Much of Plaintiff's Second Amended Complaint, however, focuses on events surrounding Schoeman's move to its new office in 2013. In the fall of 2012, Schoeman entered into a new lease for office space on the twelfth floor of 551 Fifth Avenue, New York, New York, which was to undergo extensive renovation work before Schoeman could move in to the space. Am. Compl. ¶...

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