Marbury Law Group, Pllc v. Carl ( 2013 )

  •                                   UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
                                      FOR THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA
             v.                                                             Civil Action No. 09-01402 (CKK)
                                             MEMORANDUM OPINION
                                                 (July 21, 2013)
             Plaintiff/Counter-Defendant Marbury Law Group, PLLC (“Marbury”) has moved for
    summary judgment on counterclaims brought by Defendant/Counter-Plaintiff Bernard J. Carl
    (“Carl”), who is proceeding pro se in this action. 1 Carl’s three counterclaims – the only claims
    that remain at issue in this case – sound in legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty and all
    challenge, in one way or another, the adequacy of Marbury’s legal representation of Carl in
    connection with two prior legal actions. Upon consideration of the parties’ submissions, the
    applicable authorities, and the record as a whole, the Court shall GRANT Marbury’s motion for
    summary judgment and dismiss this case in its entirety. 2
      Although Carl is proceeding in this action pro se, he is an attorney and is therefore not entitled to the same level of
    solicitude often afforded non-attorney litigants proceeding without legal representation. See Baird v. Snowbarger,
    744 F. Supp. 2d 279
    , 286 (D.D.C. 2010); Curran v. Holder, 
    626 F. Supp. 2d 30
    , 33 (D.D.C. 2009). While the Court
    remains mindful of Carl’s contention in his opposition brief that he has not actually practiced law for nearly three
    decades, this does not change the fact that Carl “is not automatically subject to the very liberal standards afforded to
    a non-attorney pro se plaintiff because an attorney is presumed to have a knowledge of the legal system and need
    less protections from the court.” Richards v. Duke University, 
    480 F. Supp. 2d 222
    , 234 (D.D.C. 2007), aff’d, No.
    2007 WL 4589770
     (D.C. Cir. Aug. 27, 2007).
      While the Court renders its decision on the record as a whole, its consideration has focused on the following
    documents: Counter-Pl.’s First Am. Countercl. (“Am. Countercl.”), ECF No. [33]; Marbury’s Ans. and Grounds of
    Defense to First Am. Countercl. (“Marbury Ans.”), ECF No. [34]; Counter-Def.’s Stmt. of Material Facts in Supp.
    of Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. (“Marbury Stmt.”), ECF No. [73] (with exhibits); Counter-Def.’s Mem. in Supp. of
                                                I. BACKGROUND 3
            On March 6, 2009, Marbury brought suit against Carl in the Fairfax County Circuit Court
    of the Commonwealth of Virginia, seeking to collect unpaid fees for legal services that it
    provided to Carl while representing him in connection with two legal actions. When Carl failed
    to defend against the Virginia action, the Fairfax County Circuit Court entered a default
    judgment against him. See Order of J. as to Def. Bernard J. Carl, Marbury Law Grp., PLLC v.
    Carl, Civ. Action No. 2009-3375 (Va. Cir. Ct. May 29, 2009). Shortly thereafter, Marbury
    commenced this action, seeking to register the default judgment with this Court. See Compl.,
    ECF No. [1]. On October 15, 2009, Carl filed a responsive pleading, answering the allegations in
    the Complaint and asserting a total of seven counterclaims sounding in breach of contract, breach
    of fiduciary duty, and legal malpractice. See Countercl., ECF No. [7].
            Subsequently, Marbury realized that this Court lacked jurisdiction to register the default
    judgment entered by the Fairfax County Circuit Court and moved this Court to dismiss the
    Complaint. See Counter-Def.’s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. [12-1], at 1-2.
    Contemporaneously, Marbury moved this Court to dismiss Carl’s counterclaims, contending that
    Carl’s claims were either barred by the doctrine of res judicata or failed to state a claim for
    relief. See Counter-Def.’s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. [13-1]. On December 3,
    2009, having received no response from Carl, the Court granted both motions as conceded and
    dismissed the entire action without prejudice. See Order (Dec. 3, 2009), ECF No. [15]; Mem. Op.
    (Dec. 3, 2009), ECF No. [16].
    Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. (“Marbury Mem.”), ECF No. [73]; Counter-Pl.’s Mem. in Opp’n to Counter-Def.’s
    Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. (“Carl Opp’n”), ECF No. [75] (with exhibits); Counter-Pl.’s Stmts. of Facts (“Carl
    Stmt.”), see ECF Nos. [75-2], [75-3], [75-4], [75-6]; Counter-Def.’s Reply to Counter-Pl.’s Opp’n to Counter-Def.’s
    Renewed Mot. for Summ. J (“Marbury Reply”), ECF No. [78]; Counter-Pl.’s Mot. for Leave to File a Second
    Response to Counter-Def.’s Renewed Mot. for Summ. J. (“Carl Sur-Reply”), ECF No. [79]; Affidavit of Bernard J.
    Carl (“Carl Aff.”), ECF No. [79-1].
      The Court shall restate the factual and procedural background of this case as set forth in its [49] Memorandum
    Opinion (Aug. 1, 2011) and its [69] Order (July 29, 2012), to the extent here relevant.
           However, on July 27, 2010, upon Carl’s motion, the Court reconsidered and vacated its
    prior dismissal order. See Order (July 27, 2010), ECF No. [28]; Mem. Op (July 27, 2010), ECF
    No. [29]. Then, reaching the merits of the motions, the Court dismissed Marbury’s Complaint for
    lack of subject matter jurisdiction, but held-in-abeyance Marbury’s motion to dismiss Carl’s
    counterclaims pending further briefing on the threshold question of whether the Court retained
    jurisdiction over those claims. See Order (July 27, 2010); Mem. Op (July 27, 2010).
           On September 9, 2010, upon consideration of the parties’ supplemental briefing, the
    Court agreed with the parties that it retains jurisdiction over Carl’s counterclaims in light of the
    diversity of citizenship between the parties and the amount in controversy. See Order (Sept. 9,
    2010), ECF No. [32]. On that same date, the Court further granted Carl leave to file amended
    counterclaims and denied Marbury’s motion to dismiss Carl’s counterclaims without prejudice,
    with leave to refile after tailoring the motion to speak to Carl’s amended counterclaims. See id.
           On September 9, 2010, Carl filed his First Amended Counterclaim, in which he narrowed
    his claims against Marbury to a total of three counterclaims—two sounding in legal malpractice
    and a third sounding in breach of fiduciary duty. See Am. Countercl. Each of Carl’s three
    counterclaims challenge, in one way or another, the adequacy of Marbury’s legal representation
    of his interests in connection with two legal actions: (a) a civil action in the United States District
    Court for the Eastern District of Virginia captioned Carl v., Civ. Action No.
    07-1128 (E.D. Va.) (hereinafter the “Website Case”); and (b) a bankruptcy proceeding in the
    United States Bankruptcy Court for the Eastern District of Virginia captioned In re Logan, Case
    No. 07-12564 (Bankr. E.D. Va.) (hereinafter the “Bankruptcy Case”). In his First Counterclaim,
    Carl claims that Marbury committed legal malpractice in connection with the Website Case by
    failing to pursue legal rights on his behalf, failing to undertake necessary legal research, and
    failing to meet minimum professional standards for legal representation. See Am. Countercl. ¶¶
    67-69. In his Second Counterclaim, Carl claims that Marbury committed legal malpractice in
    connection with the Bankruptcy Case by failing to be adequately prepared for discovery, failing
    to undertake necessary legal research, failing to file timely motions, and failing to meet
    minimum professional standards for legal representation. See id. ¶¶ 73-79. In his Third
    Counterclaim, 4 Carl claims that Marbury breached its fiduciary duty to him in connection with
    the Bankruptcy Case by failing to be adequately prepared for discovery, failing to undertake
    necessary legal research, failing to file timely motions, and failing to meet minimum professional
    standards for legal representation. See id. ¶¶ 80-86. 5
            On October 1, 2010, Marbury filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, which was opposed
    by Carl, and which argued that Carl’s counterclaims should be dismissed because they are barred
    by the doctrine of res judicata and fail on the merits. See Counter Def.’s Mem. in Supp. of Mot.
    for Summ. J. , ECF No. [35]. On August 1, 2011, the Court denied summary judgment, finding
    that Marbury’s motion failed to fully account for two important principles that circumscribe the
    reach of the preclusive effect of the default judgment entered by the Fairfax County Circuit
    Court – specifically, (1) the general rule that a party failing to assert a permissive counterclaim in
    a prior action ordinarily will not be barred from bringing a future suit on that claim, and (2) that
    all counterclaims are permissive under Virginia law. See Mem. Op. (August 1, 2011), ECF No.
    [49]. The Court declined to consider Marbury’s alternative contention that Carl’s counterclaims
    fail on the merits because Marbury failed to comply with the procedural requirements for
    presenting a motion for summary judgment in this Court. Id.
     Carl’s Third Counterclaim is erroneously labeled as “Seventh Counterclaim.”
     These statements of Carl’s counterclaims should not be construed as anything more than a summary. The Court
    will describe the precise contours of Carl’s allegations in greater detail infra.
             On November 2, 2011, this Court entered a [55] Scheduling and Procedures Order that
    required the parties to designate experts and produce expert reports by no later than March 20,
    2012, and to conclude all discovery by June 12, 2012. Soon thereafter, the parties filed a [56]
    Joint Discovery Plan according to which all expert depositions would be completed by June 4,
    2012. The Court did not hear from the parties for the next seven months of the discovery period,
    and the Court therefore assumed that the parties were diligently pursuing discovery. When the
    discovery period closed on June 12, 2012, without either party having filed a discovery-related
    motion or seeking an extension of time, the Court reasonably assumed that the parties had
    completed discovery. On June 22, 2012, the Court held a Status Hearing to discuss post-
    discovery proceedings. 6
             Subsequently, Marbury filed a [64] Motion to Dismiss or in the Alternative, for Summary
    Judgment, which Carl opposed. On July 29, 2012, the Court denied Marbury’s motion. See Order
    (July 29, 2012), ECF No. [69]. Marbury’s primary argument was that the case should be
    dismissed for lack of prosecution in light of a settlement agreement that the parties apparently
    reached in April 2012 – two months before the close of discovery, whereby Carl appears to have
    waived and released his right to pursue his counterclaims subject to certain conditions – most
    notably, his right to take the deposition of a third party defendant, John McMahon
    (“McMahon”), by a date certain. Notably, despite this Court’s express instructions, the parties
    had failed to inform the Court once they had reached the purported agreement to settle this case.
    See Scheduling & Procedures Order (Nov. 2, 2011), at 5 (“If the case settles in whole or in part,
    counsel shall promptly advise the Court.”). Accordingly, the Court found that because it had
      Counter-Plaintiff failed to appear at the Status Hearing. The Court later learned that he was admitted to a hospital
    to receive medical treatment on or about June 18, 2012 (after the close of the discovery period and long after the
    Court-ordered deadline for the production of expert reports). Therefore, on July 29, 2012, the Court discharged its
    two [62/63] Orders to Show Cause directing Counter-Plaintiff to explain his absence.
    never been presented with a copy of the settlement agreement, let alone endorsed it, and because
    Marbury did not ask the Court to enforce its terms, the settlement agreement was not an issue
    properly before the Court. See id.
              The Court found significantly more compelling Marbury’s alternative argument –
    namely, that summary judgment was appropriate because Carl failed to appoint an expert and
    expert testimony is required for all three of his counterclaims. See id. However, the Court
    ultimately declined to grant summary judgment on this basis on the record then before it, finding
    that neither party had provided the Court with any factual exegesis of the counterclaims
    sufficient to determine whether expert testimony is required. See id. This given, the Court
    ordered Marbury to refile its motion for summary judgment providing a comprehensive factual
    and legal analysis as to why Carl’s counterclaims must fail in the absence of expert testimony.
    See id.
              Shortly after the Court’s July 29, 2012 Order, and before Marbury filed its renewed
    motion, Carl filed a [71] Motion for Extension of the Discovery Period, which requested a
    “limited” extension of the then expired discovery period solely for the purpose of completing the
    deposition of McMahon. The Court denied Carl’s motion because, among other reasons, Carl
    had not even served his discovery requests upon McMahon until June 1, 2012 (less than two
    weeks before the close of discovery, despite the fact that the parties had executed the
    aforementioned alleged settlement agreement almost two months earlier) and because Carl did
    not request a response from McMahon until July 16, 2012 (over one month after the close of
    discovery). See Order (August 14, 2012), ECF No. [72]. Further, the Court observed that Carl
    inexcusably did not seek an extension of the discovery period from this Court until August 8,
    2012 (almost two months after the close of discovery). The Court rejected Carl’s argument that
    his failure to complete discovery was due to the parties’ entry into the settlement agreement. See
    id. (“This is tantamount to an admission that the parties, including Counter-Plaintiff, completely
    disregarded this Court’s scheduling order and effectively granted themselves a stay. This is
    impermissible.”). The Court reiterated a point it had made previously: “[W]hatever discovery
    the parties now have at their disposal is, so far as the Court is concerned, all the discovery they
    will have at their disposal when facing motions for summary judgment or at trial.” See id. (citing
    Order (July 29, 2012), ECF No. [69]). While Carl once again attempts to explain away his
    failure to timely pursue discovery in his brief submitted in opposition to the instant motion, the
    Court finds his renewed arguments neither appropriate nor availing. See Carl Opp’n at 3-7.
            On August 17, 2012, Marbury filed its now pending [73] renewed motion for summary
    judgment on the issue of whether Carl’s failure to appoint an expert is fatal to all of his claims,
    which Carl has opposed. Further, on September 25, 2012, Carl filed a [79] motion requesting
    leave to file a sur-reply to Marbury’s reply brief, which attaches a copy of the proposed sur-
    reply, and to which Marbury has not filed an opposition. Because Carl’s proposed sur-reply
    addresses certain arguments which Marbury raised for the first time in its opposition brief, the
    Court shall grant Carl’s motion for leave and shall consider his sur-reply. Marbury’s motion for
    summary judgment is therefore fully briefed and ripe for adjudication.
                                         II. LEGAL STANDARDS
    A. Summary Judgment
            Summary judgment is appropriate where “the movant shows that there is no genuine
    dispute as to any material fact and [that it] . . . is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R.
    Civ. P. 56(a). The mere existence of some factual dispute is insufficient on its own to bar
    summary judgment; the dispute must pertain to a “material” fact, and therefore “[o]nly disputes
    over facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing law will properly
    preclude the entry of summary judgment.” Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 
    477 U.S. 242
    , 255
    (1986). Nor may summary judgment be avoided based on just any disagreement as to the
    relevant facts; the dispute must be “genuine,” meaning that there must be sufficient admissible
    evidence for a reasonable trier of fact to find for the non-movant. Id.
           In order to establish that a fact is or cannot be genuinely disputed, a party must (a) cite to
    specific parts of the record—including deposition testimony, documentary evidence, affidavits or
    declarations, or other competent evidence—in support of its position, or (b) demonstrate that the
    materials relied upon by the opposing party do not actually establish the absence or presence of a
    genuine dispute. Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(c)(1). Conclusory assertions offered without any factual basis
    in the record cannot create a genuine dispute sufficient to survive summary judgment. Ass’n of
    Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO v. U.S. Dep’t of Transp., 
    564 F.3d 462
    , 465-66 (D.C. Cir.
    2009). Moreover, where “a party fails to properly support an assertion of fact or fails to properly
    address another party’s assertion of fact,” the district court may “consider the fact undisputed for
    purposes of the motion.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e).
           When faced with a motion for summary judgment, the district court may not make
    credibility determinations or weigh the evidence; instead, the evidence must be analyzed in the
    light most favorable to the non-movant, with all justifiable inferences drawn in his favor. Liberty
    Lobby, 477 U.S. at 255. If material facts are genuinely in dispute, or undisputed facts are
    susceptible to divergent yet justifiable inferences, summary judgment is inappropriate. Moore v.
    571 F.3d 62
    , 66 (D.C. Cir. 2009). In the end, the district court’s task is to determine
    “whether the evidence presents a sufficient disagreement to require submission to a jury or
    whether it is so one-sided that one party must prevail as a matter of law.” Liberty Lobby, 477
    U.S. at 251-52. In this regard, the non-movant must “do more than simply show that there is
    some metaphysical doubt as to the material facts,” Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co., Ltd. v. Zenith
    Radio Corp., 
    475 U.S. 574
    , 586 (1986); “[i]f the evidence is merely colorable, or is not
    sufficiently probative, summary judgment may be granted,” Liberty Lobby, 477 U.S. at 249-50
    (internal citations omitted).
    B. Legal Malpractice
       1. Choice of Law
           Because jurisdiction over Carl’s legal malpractice claims is founded on diversity of
    citizenship, the Court must first determine which state law to apply. In their briefing in
    connection with the instant motion, neither party provided even a cursory choice of law analysis.
    Although Marbury cites nearly exclusively to District of Columbia cases, it appeared upon the
    Court’s preliminary analysis that Virginia law should instead apply. For this reason, the Court
    issued an order directing that if either party objects to the application of Virginia law to Carl’s
    counterclaims, that party shall file a notice stating that objection and the basis therefore. See
    Order (June 27, 2013), ECF No. [80].
           Subsequently, Marbury filed a [81] notice representing that it has no objection to the
    application of Virginia law. Carl, however, filed a [82] notice asserting an objection to the
    application of Virginia law, arguing that District of Columbia law should apply. Marbury filed a
    [83] response to Carl’s notice, as instructed by the Court. Upon consideration of these
    submissions, and the applicable choice of law rules, the Court determines that it shall apply
    Virginia law to Carl’s counterclaims for the below reasons.
           As jurisdiction over Carl’s legal malpractice claims is founded on diversity of citizenship,
    the Court must apply this forum’s choice of law rules – i.e., the choice of law rules of the District
    of Columbia. Klaxon Co. v. Stentor Electric Manufacturing Co., 
    313 U.S. 487
    , 496 (1941). The
    District of Columbia uses “a modified ‘governmental interests analysis’ which seeks to identify
    the jurisdiction with the ‘most significant relationship’ to the dispute.” Washkoviak v. Student
    Loan Mktg. Ass’n, 
    900 A.2d 168
    , 180 (D.C. 2006) (internal citations omitted). Under this
    approach, the court considers the four factors outlined in the Restatement (Second) of Conflict of
    Laws § 145: (1) the place of where the injury occurred; (2) the place where the conduct causing
    the injury occurred; (3) the domicile or place of incorporation of the parties; (4) the place where
    the relationship is centered.
           Almost every factor weighs in favor of Virginia. Marbury is a firm that is organized
    under Virginia law, with its offices in Fairfax, Virginia. See Am. Countercl. ¶ 2. The two
    transactions that gave rise to this action occurred in (and gave rise to judgments from) two courts
    located in Virginia. See id. ¶¶ 6, 24. In fact, it was Carl’s sale of property which he and his
    company owned in Virginia which gave rise to the Bankruptcy Case. See Pl. and Counter-Def.
    Marbury Law Group’s Reply to Def. and Counter-Pl. Bernard J. Carl’s Notice Regarding Use of
    Virginia Law, ECF No. [83], at 2. Further, the retainer agreement between Carl and Marbury was
    prepared by and signed by Marbury in Virginia, and all work was performed by Marbury in
    Virginia. Id. at 2-3. Indeed, it appears that the only consideration favoring the election of District
    of Columbia law would be Carl’s residency in the District (and the resulting fact that Marbury’s
    phone, mail, and e-mail communications with Carl were directed to him while he was located in
    the District). See Am. Countercl. ¶ 1; Counter-Pl. Carl’s Notice Regarding Use of Virginia Law,
    ECF No. [82], at 2-4. However, this alone is insufficient to counterbalance the multitude of
    considerations favoring the application of Virginia law. See, e.g. Nelson v. Nationwide Mortgage
    659 F. Supp. 611
    , 615 (D.D.C. 1987) (choosing Virginia law for legal malpractice claim,
    where firm was in Virginia and the only factor in favor of the application of District of Columbia
    law was the plaintiff’s domicile).
           The arguments asserted in Carl’s notice of objection fail to convince the Court otherwise.
    For instance, Carl raises several comparisons between both his and Marbury’s various contacts
    with the District of Columbia and Virginia generally. See generally Counter-Pl. Carl’s Notice
    Regarding Use of Virginia Law, ECF No. [82]. While such a “contacts” analysis may be
    appropriate for a jurisdictional inquiry, they are inapposite for purposes of the instant choice of
    law determination. The Court likewise finds unavailing Carl’s contention that the settlement
    agreement that the parties allegedly negotiated in connection with the instant case was to be
    governed by District of Columbia law. This action concerns Carl’s counterclaims for legal
    malpractice; it is not an action for enforcement of the purported settlement of those
    counterclaims, which is an entirely distinct issue that the Court has already found is not properly
    before it. See supra Part I.
           For all of the foregoing reasons, Virginia law shall be applied to Carl’s malpractice and
    breach of fiduciary duty counterclaims. In any event, the Court notes that even if it were to apply
    District of Columbia law to Carl’s counterclaims, an identical ruling would likely result, as the
    law in both jurisdictions regarding the need for expert testimony is essentially the same.
    Compare cases discussed infra Part II.B.2 with Chase v. Gilbert, 
    499 A.2d 1203
    , 1211 (D.C.
    1985) (“Expert testimony must be presented to establish the standard of care ‘unless the
    attorney’s lack of care and skill is so obvious that the trier of fact can find negligence as a matter
    of common knowledge.’”).
       2. Legal Malpractice Claims under Virginia Law
           Under Virginia law, a party alleging legal malpractice must prove that (1) an attorney-
    client relationship existed giving rise to a duty (2) that the attorney neglected or breached that
    duty, and (3) that the neglect or breach of the duty was a proximate cause of damages. Gregory
    v. Hawkins, 
    468 S.E.2d 891
    , 893 (Va. 1996). “Each of these elements is necessary to establish a
    prima facie case of legal malpractice, a mere allegation of negligence or breach of a duty being
    insufficient to support an action for legal malpractice.” Id. (citing Campbell v. Bettius, 
    421 S.E.2d 433
    , 436 (Va. 1992)).
           Furthermore, the Supreme Court of Virginia has held that “unless a malpractice case
    turns upon matters within the common knowledge of laymen . . . or upon rules which have
    ripened into rules of law . . . , expert testimony is required to establish the appropriate
    professional standard, to establish a deviation from that standard, and to establish that such a
    deviation was the proximate cause of the claimed damages.” Seaward Int’l, Inc. v. Price
    391 S.E.2d 283
    , 287-88 (Va. 1990) (citing, as examples, Easterling v. Walton, 
    208 Va. 214
    , 218, 
    156 S.E.2d 787
    , 790-91 (1967) (expert testimony unnecessary to show negligence
    where surgeon left foreign object in patient’s body), and Spainhour v. B. Aubrey Huffman &
    237 Va. 340
    , 346, 
    377 S.E.2d 615
    , 619 (1989) (land surveyor was negligent as a matter
    of law due to failure to follow binding rules of law regarding hierarchy of inconsistencies in land
    description)). Cf. Whitley v. Chamouris, 
    574 S.E.2d 251
     (Va. 2003) (finding expert testimony
    unnecessary to prove causation in legal malpractice involving “case within the case” evidence
    where plaintiff must present virtually the same evidence that would have been presented in the
    underlying action, and the expert testimony the attorney argued was necessary constituted only
    predictions of what the jury would have concluded and improper opinion testimony of the legal
    merits of the relevant claims).
           The class of legal malpractice claims falling within the “common knowledge” exception
    is exceedingly narrow. See, e.g., McCabe v. Reed, 55 Va. Cir. 67, 
    2001 WL 34037268
    , *4 (Va.
    Cir. Ct. Mar. 13, 2001) (finding that a missed statute of limitations deadline in an employment
    discrimination case involving complex procedural requirements required expert testimony);
    accord Mavity v. Fraas, 
    456 F. Supp. 2d 29
    , 33 (D.D.C. 2006) (“Examples of actions that fall
    within the common knowledge exception include allowing the statute of limitations to run,
    allowing entry of default judgment against a client, not instructing a client to answer discovery
    requests, failing to assert affirmative defenses, and billing a client for time not spent rendering
    services.”) (applying District of Columbia law) (internal citations omitted).
           This is because “without expert assistance, lay juries cannot understand most litigation
    issues, legal practices, or the range of considerations that influence the manner in which an
    attorney should act or advise.” Shortt v. Immigration Reform Law Inst., Civ. A. No. 1:11cv144,
    2011 WL 4738657
    , *3 (E.D. Va. Oct. 3, 2011) (citations omitted).                  Therefore, in the
    “overwhelming majority” of legal malpractice cases, “standard of care, breach, and causation
    issues require expert testimony.” Id. (citation omitted).
                                            III. DISCUSSION
           Preliminarily, the Court pauses to make two overarching observations about the nature of
    Carl’s submissions in this case. First, Carl’s articulation of the allegations underlying his
    counterclaims are far from a model of clarity. The Amended Counterclaim states the claims in
    only the broadest of terms, and Carl’s opposition brief and multiple statements of facts are
    disjointed and, at times, difficult to decipher. Second, to the extent that Carl has actually disputed
    the facts presented by Marbury, he offers only his own affidavit in support without a single item
    of documentary corroboration. This evidentiary proffer pales in comparison to the over fifty
    exhibits accompanying Marbury’s submissions and must be borne in mind when determining
    whether there exists sufficient admissible evidence for a reasonable trier of fact to find for Carl
    on the facts alleged. See Arrington v. United States, 
    473 F.3d 329
    , 343 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (“When
    a plaintiff relies entirely on his own self-serving testimony, which lacks any corroboration and is
    contradicted by all the available physical evidence, a court is not obligated to reward the plaintiff
    with a jury trial.”).
            Notwithstanding these deficiencies, the Court has painstakingly combed through Carl’s
    Amended Counterclaim, opposition brief, numerous statements of facts, affidavit, and sur-reply
    to gain an understanding of the allegations underlying his claim. Based on that understanding,
    and for all of the foregoing reasons, the Court finds that Marbury is entitled to summary
    judgment on all three of Carl’s counterclaims.
    A. First Counterclaim (Legal Malpractice in connection with the Website Case)
            Preliminarily, the Court notes that Carl’s opposition brief and responsive statements of
    facts focus exclusively on the Bankruptcy Case. Carl has elected not to respond to the portion of
    Marbury’s statement of facts addressing the Website Case; nor has he briefed any arguments
    relating to the Website Case. See generally Carl Stmt.; Carl Opp’n. What is more, Carl appears
    to concede that he cannot prevail on his First Counterclaim without expert testimony. See Carl
    Stmt., ECF No. [2], at 2 (“Carl acknowledges that, without expert testimony, his claims with
    regard to the website case may be properly subject to summary judgment. Hence, he will not
    respond to the statements contained in ¶¶ 1-30 of the Marbury Facts because the accuracy (or
    inaccuracies, of which there are many) of those paragraphs is now irrelevant.”).
           “It is well understood in this Circuit that when a plaintiff files an opposition to a
    dispositive motion and addresses only certain arguments raised by the defendant, a court may
    treat those arguments that the plaintiff failed to address as conceded.” Hopkins v. Women’s Div.,
    Gen. Bd. of Global Ministries, 
    284 F. Supp. 2d 15
    , 25 (D.D.C. 2003) (citing FDIC v. Bender,
    127 F.3d 58
    , 67–68 (D.C. Cir. 1997); Stephenson v. Cox., 
    233 F. Supp. 2d 119
    , 121 (D.D.C.
    2002)), aff’d, 98 Fed. Appx. 8 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Further, under the Local Rules of this Court,
    “[i]n determining a motion for summary judgment, the court may assume that facts identified by
    the moving party in its statement of material facts are admitted, unless such a fact is controverted
    in the statement of genuine issues filed in opposition to the motion.” LCvR 7(h)(1). Accordingly,
    the Court, accepting as true those facts pertaining to the Website Case stated in Marbury’s
    statement of facts, see Marbury Stmt. ¶¶ 2-30, concludes that Carl’s First Counterclaim cannot
    survive without expert testimony because the conduct on which it is based is not so obvious as to
    be within the jury’s common knowledge.
           As background, Marbury prepared and filed Carl’s complaint in the Website Case in the
    United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia against a website known as
    “” and its sponsors – whom Carl alleged published defamatory statements that
    Carl failed to pay certain debts. Id. ¶¶ 2, 5, 7. In the end, four of Carl’s five counts were
    dismissed and Carl was awarded compensatory and punitive damages totaling $30,000 on his
    libel claim. See id. ¶ 28. Carl now alleges, inter alia, that Marbury should never have pursued (or
    billed him for) two of the five counts because basic legal research would have revealed that those
    counts were futile, and that Marbury should have objected to the recommendations of a
    magistrate judge that Carl’s cyber-squatting and cyber-piracy claims be dismissed. See Am.
    Countercl. ¶¶ 4-23.
           The claims that formed the basis for the Website Case concern complicated issues of
    intellectual property law that are beyond the ken of even the average lawyer. And Carl’s
    allegations in this case involve questions of the sufficiency of Marbury’s research and litigation
    tactics which clearly necessitate an understanding of those intellectual property law issues, such
    as, for example: whether it was reasonable to not object to the recommendations of a magistrate
    judge that Carl’s cyber-squatting and cyber-piracy claims be dismissed, and, if so, whether this
    would have made any difference as to whether Carl ultimately prevailed on those claims;
    whether a reasonable amount of legal research was conducted with respect to Marbury’s
    determination to bring claims under the Lanham Act and related common law claims alleging
    unfair trade practices; and whether Marbury’s actions as a whole in connection with its
    representation in the Website Case failed to meet the professional standards expected of a
    reasonable attorney.
           As detailed in Marbury’s statement of facts, Marbury made a number of tactical decisions
    in the course of representation of Carl in the Website Case and engaged Carl throughout this
    process. This given, and due to the complex nature of each of the inquiries catalogued above, it is
    apparent that this is not a situation where the propriety or impropriety of Marbury’s conduct is
    “obvious from ordinary human knowledge and experience.” Lyle, Siegel, Croshaw & Beale, P.C.
    v. Tidewater Capital Corp., 
    457 S.E.2d 28
    , 33 (Va. 1995) (internal quotation marks omitted). It
    is likewise far from obvious that, had Marbury taken different tactics or engaged in additional
    research, the outcome of Carl’s case would have changed. Accordingly, expert testimony is
    required on the issues of standard of care, breach, and proximate cause with respect to Carl’s
    allegations concerning the Website Case. Seaward, 391 S.E.2d at 287. Because Carl has declined
    to appoint an expert, the Court shall grant Marbury summary judgment on Carl’s First
    Counterclaim, both on the merits and as conceded.
    B. Second Counterclaim (Legal Malpractice in Connection with the Bankruptcy Case)
           In 2007, Carl and his company, 6450 Kedleston, LLC, retained Marbury to represent
    them as creditors in the Bankruptcy Case to recover damages for the alleged breach of a real
    estate contract by the debtor. See Am. Countercl. ¶¶ 24-26. During the course of discovery in
    that case, evidence of potential fraud by the debtor was uncovered, suggesting that the debtor had
    received from a third-party benefactor cash and other assets that were not reported as part of the
    estate. See id. ¶¶ 28-32; Marbury Ans. ¶¶ 28-32. Based on the information learned from that
    discovery, Marbury and the trustee filed an adversary proceeding, seeking to vacate the debtor’s
    discharge. Marbury Stmt. ¶ 43. Marbury subsequently withdrew as counsel prior to the
    resolution of the case and pursuant to a consent motion for withdrawal, entered on March 5,
    2009. Am. Countercl. ¶ 52; Marbury Ans. ¶ 52. Thereafter, Carl appeared on behalf of himself
    and his company in the matter until May 4, 2009, at which time he obtained new counsel.
    Marbury Stmt. ¶¶ 53-54. On March 23, 2009, the trustee filed a motion seeking court approval of
    a settlement to resolve the adversary proceeding, which was opposed by Carl, and which the
    bankruptcy judge approved on May 7, 2009. Id. ¶¶ 55-59; Carl Opp’n at 10. The adversary
    proceeding was closed on June 24, 2004. Marbury Stmt. ¶ 65. Carl alleges that because he was
    unable to reach beyond the debtor’s reported assets, he received only $98,835 of the $800,000 to
    which he was entitled. Am. Countercl. ¶ 65.
           The majority of the allegations underlying Carl’s Second Counterclaim need not detain
    the Court long. In essence, Carl challenges the quality of Marbury’s litigation preparation and
    strategy. See, e.g., Am. Countercl. ¶¶ 36-38, 74 (failing to research and answer “specific
    questions of bankruptcy law” critical to Carl’s claims in the adversary proceeding on a timely
    basis); id. ¶¶ 46-48, 73 (being “woefully unprepared” for the deposition of the debtor and failing
    to ask critical questions therein); id. ¶¶ 60-61, 76 (failing to take the depositions of two allegedly
    key witnesses); id. ¶ 73 (failure to be adequately prepared for discovery); id. ¶ 76 (failing to
    “meet minimum professional standards in its representation of Carl”). Because all of these
    allegations involve nuanced questions regarding how a reasonable attorney should conduct itself
    in a complicated adversary action within a bankruptcy case, they clearly fall beyond the purview
    of the “common knowledge” exception and require expert testimony. See, e.g., Umphreyville v.
    662 F. Supp. 2d 501
    , 508 (W.D. Va. 2009) (applying Virginia law and holding that the
    plaintiff’s malpractice claim based upon an alleged failure of his attorney “to adequately prepare
    for [an] Article 32 proceeding” and “adequately represent [his] interests during the Article 32
    hearing” required expert testimony); Shortt, 
    2011 WL 4738657
     at *3 (applying Virginia law and
    stating that expert testimony is required when the malpractice allegations “involve matters of
    litigation preparation and strategy – the prosecution of discovery, the selection and identification
    of witnesses, whether to interview witnesses prior to trial, the participation in discovery
    depositions of third-party witnesses on written questions, and written and oral advocacy in
    connection with submissions and exhibits to an adjudicatory tribunal”).
           Moreover, even assuming arguendo that these allegations amount to obvious breaches,
    Carl must nevertheless establish that the alleged conduct was the proximate cause of a concrete
    injury. See, e.g., Baserva v. Remes, Civ. A. No. 1:08cv997, 
    2009 WL 1392532
    , *2 (E.D. Va.
    May 18, 2009) (although breach and duty fell within the common knowledge exception, expert
    testimony was necessary to prove causation on the issue of whether the plaintiff’s attorney’s
    failure to file a motion to re-open immigration proceedings proximately caused the immigration
    authorities to detain plaintiff). Where, as here, “the alleged malpractice occurs in litigation or
    litigation-related matters, the client cannot establish causation if he would not have prevailed in
    the prior action even if competently represented.” Shortt, 
    2011 WL 4738657
     at *4. Stated
    differently, “there must be sufficient evidence of causation to convince the fact-finder in the
    malpractice action that the plaintiff would have prevailed in the underlying case or proceeding
    absent the attorney’s alleged negligence.” Id. Because Carl has failed to proffer an expert on the
    issue of whether he would have obtained a larger judgment in the Bankruptcy Case but for
    Marbury’s allegedly deficient research and discovery, summary judgment must be granted with
    respect to these allegations. While Carl cursorily argues that the trustee – who ultimately moved
    for settlement of the Bankruptcy Case – could testify on the issue of causation, see Carl Opp’n at
    23, the Court finds this argument misguided. Carl has not proffered the trustee as an expert
    witness, and the trustee therefore cannot testify as to how a complex bankruptcy proceeding may
    have played out differently had Marbury engaged, or not engaged, in certain conduct. See Fed. R.
    Evid. 701(c) (barring testimony of lay witnesses on areas of specialized knowledge within the
    scope of Rule 702). Further, any testimony as to how the trustee himself would have altered his
    litigation strategy would be pure speculation and therefore inadmissible. See Fed. R. Evid. 701(a)
    (witness testimony must be “rationally based on the witness’s perception”).
           In addition to his more generalized attacks on Marbury’s litigation performance, Carl also
    asserts several more specific allegations of malpractice, each of which also require summary
    judgment in Marbury’s favor. The Court shall begin with Carl’s allegation that Marbury failed to
    timely move to vacate the discharge of the debtor, see Am. Countercl. ¶¶ 39-43. This allegation
    requires dismissal for three reasons. First, this claim is without factual support, as Marbury filed
    the motion on December 30, 2008, exactly one day before the statute of limitations had run. See
    Marbury Stmt. ¶ 43; Marbury Mem at 20. Second, insofar as Carl argues that waiting nearly one
    year after the discharge was ordered was unreasonable because time was of the essence due to
    the debtor’s financial situation, it remains incumbent upon Carl to appoint an expert to explain
    what a reasonable amount of time to file would have been in light of the discovery in which
    Marbury and the trustee had been engaged during the time leading up to the filing. Finally, even
    assuming arguendo that Marbury’s delay constituted an obvious breach of the applicable
    standard of care falling within the common knowledge exception, an expert would still be
    necessary on the proximate cause issue – i.e., to explain what the effects of the delay in filing
    were. See Baserva, 
    2009 WL 1392532
    , *2. For all of the foregoing reasons, summary judgment
    must be granted as to Carl’s allegations regarding the timeliness of the motion to vacate.
           Carl also contends that Marbury coerced him into consenting to its withdrawal from the
    Bankruptcy Case by threatening to “expose the entire strategic plan” of the case in a contested
    motion for withdrawal. See Carl’s Opp’n at 9; Carl Stmt., ECF No. [75-2] at 2; Carl Stmt., ECF
    No. [75-6] at ¶ 35; Carl Aff. ¶ 9. This allegation also requires dismissal for three reasons. First,
    the allegation is nowhere stated in the Amended Counterclaim; quite to the contrary, the
    Amended Counterclaim states only that “In January 2009, Marbury advised Carl that it intended
    to withdraw from the Bankruptcy proceedings and received an acknowledgment from Carl that
    he would not oppose Marbury’s anticipated motion to withdraw.” Am. Countercl. ¶ 49. It is well-
    established that a plaintiff cannot amend his complaint by including new claims in opposition to
    the defendant’s motion. Arbitraje Casa de Cambio, S.A. de C.V. v. U.S.P.S., 
    297 F. Supp. 2d 165
    , 170 (D.D.C. 2003). Second, Carl has failed to provide any factual support for this broad
    allegation beyond the equally broad and conclusory assertion contained within his own affidavit,
    see Carl Aff. ¶ 19, which is contradicted by the evidence proffered by Marbury, see Marbury
    Reply, Ex. 53 (e-mail from lead counsel to Carl discussing the parties’ fee dispute and informing
    Carl that if he does not consent to the withdrawal motion, Marbury would “have to file [it] as a
    non-consent motion” such that the “judge may request that I be more specific as to the reasons I
    am withdrawing”). Accordingly, summary judgment is appropriate. See Carranza v. Fraas, 
    820 F. Supp. 2d 118
    , 124 (D.D.C. 2011) (“Summary judgment is appropriate when a plaintiff’s claim
    is supported by only [his] own self-serving affidavit and is undermined by other evidence”)
    (citations omitted); see also Arrington, 473 F.3d at 343 (D.C. Cir. 2006) (“When a plaintiff relies
    entirely on his own self-serving testimony, which lacks any corroboration and is contradicted by
    all the available physical evidence, a court is not obligated to reward the plaintiff with a jury
    trial.”). Finally, even accepting the allegation as true, expert testimony is required to explain
    what the effects of Marbury’s coercion were – i.e. whether Carl would have recovered more
    money in the Bankruptcy Case had Marbury not withdrawn in the manner that it allegedly did.
    See Baserva, 
    2009 WL 1392532
    , *2. Because Carl has failed to offer expert testimony on
    proximate cause, summary judgment must be granted with respect to this allegation.
           Carl’s next allegation fails for similar reasons. Carl contends that Marbury refused to turn
    over all discovery and pleadings files to him for a period of nearly three years under an
    “attorney’s lien” until Marbury’s disputed legal bills were fully paid – an allegation which
    Marbury disputes. See Carl Opp’n at 2, ¶ 9; Carl Stmt., ECF No. [75-3] at 1, 2, 4, 5; Carl Stmt.,
    ECF No. [75-6] at ¶¶ 47-49; Carl Stmt., ECF No. [75-4] at ¶¶ 10-14; Carl Aff. ¶¶ 22-23;
    Marbury Reply at 4. However, Carl nowhere asserts this allegation in his Amended
    Counterclaim, and as already noted, a plaintiff cannot amend his complaint by including new
    claims in opposition to the defendant’s motion. Arbitraje Casa de Cambio, 297 F. Supp. 2d at
    170. Furthermore, Carl once again fails to present anything other than his own affidavit to
    support this allegation. Nor does he produce any documentation reflecting a request for files, or
    any affidavit or other documentation showing that his replacement attorney ever complained to
    Marbury about this alleged “attorney’s lien” or requested documents that had not been turned
    over. Finally, even if the Court were to find that Carl has proffered sufficient evidence to show
    that this fact is in dispute, the lack of expert testimony on the issue of proximate cause is
    nevertheless again fatal to his claim. See Baserva, 
    2009 WL 1392532
    , *2. The Court would be
    hard-pressed to conclude that the average juror could perceive the effects of a lack of access to
    certain documents during the final stages of a multi-party adversary action within a complex
    bankruptcy case. Accordingly, summary judgment must be granted with respect to Carl’s
    “attorney lien” allegation.
           Carl also alleges that Marbury rescheduled the deposition of Frank Coviello, the attorney
    of the allegedly “secret” benefactor who had been funneling unreported funds to the debtor, for a
    date after Marbury’s withdrawal from the case but failed to advise Carl as to the rescheduled
    date, causing Carl to forfeit that discovery. See Am. Countercl. ¶¶ 53-59; Carl Opp’n at 2, 9, 10,
    13, 21, 24; Carl Stmt., ECF No. [75-2] at 2-3; Carl Stmt., ECF No. [75-3] at 4; Carl Stmt., ECF
    No. [75-6] at ¶¶32-34. The parties do not dispute that the Coviello deposition was initially
    scheduled for January 29, 2009, and that on January 21, 2009 – after Marbury told Carl that it
    intended to withdraw from the case, but before the motion to withdraw had been filed – Marbury
    contacted the other counsel in the case and that counsel ultimately rescheduled the deposition for
    March 9, 2002 (four days after Marbury formally withdrew). See Marbury’s Stmt. ¶44-49; Carl’s
    Opp’n at 9. The parties do appear to dispute, however, whether Marbury informed Carl as to the
    rescheduled date. See Marbury’s Stmt. ¶ 51; Carl’s Stmt., ECF No. [75-2] at 3. Because there is
    no documentary evidence – beyond the self-serving affidavits filed by the respective parties –
    upon which the Court can determine whether or not Carl was informed as to the rescheduled
    date, the Court finds that this fact remains genuinely disputed.
           However, even accepting Carl’s allegations as true and further assuming arguendo that
    Marbury’s failure to inform Carl of the rescheduled deposition constitutes an obvious breach of
    the applicable standard of care within the common knowledge exception, the Court nevertheless
    finds that Carl cannot prevail on these allegations in the absence of expert testimony that the
    alleged misconduct was the proximate cause of a legally cognizable injury. See Baserva, 
    2009 WL 1392532
    , at *2. Expert testimony would be particularly important on this issue in view of
    the fact that the Coviello deposition was but one piece of discovery in a complex bankruptcy
    proceeding involving multiple parties – including a trustee whom, in fact, was aligned with Carl
    in moving for discovery from Coviello and filing the adversary proceeding in the first instance.
    See Marburty Stmt. ¶¶ 41-43. The impact, if any, that a deposition by Carl of Coviello, had it
    occurred, would have had on Carl’s ultimate recovery in the case is not so obvious as to fall
    within the common knowledge of the average juror.            Accordingly, summary judgment is
           Finally, Carl contends that Marbury failed to keep him informed of negotiations
    regarding settlement of the claims against the third party defendants in the Bankruptcy Case. See
    Am. Countercl. at ¶¶ 64, 77; Carl Opp’n at 2, 10, 18, 19 , 21; Carl Stmt., ECF No. [75-6] at ¶38.
    However, the record reflects that Marbury did, in fact, forward to Carl e-mail correspondence
    reflecting the status of the settlement negotiations and encouraging Carl to contact the trustee’s
    counsel directly, such that Carl could have easily informed counsel of his views on settlement.
    See Marbury Mem., Ex. 33 (E-mail Chain dated February 26, 2009). While the adequacy of
    Marbury’s communications to Carl on this issue may remain contested, such determination
    requires an understanding of the applicable standard of care in the context of bankruptcy
    settlement discussions which is undoubtedly beyond the ken of the average juror. Accordingly,
    the Court finds that this allegation, too, cannot survive absent expert testimony and therefore
    summary judgment is warranted.
    C. Third Counterclaim (Breach of Fiduciary Duty)
           Carl’s Third Counterclaim alleges that Marbury breached its fiduciary duty to Carl in the
    course of its representation of him in the Bankruptcy Case. Under Virginia law, claims of legal
    malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty of an attorney, while sounding in tort, are both
    considered breach of contract claims. O'Connell v. Bean, 
    556 S.E.2d 741
    , 743 (Va. 2002). See
    also Oleyar v. Kerr, 
    225 S.E.2d 398
    , 399-400 (Va. 1976) (“an action for the negligence of an
    attorney in the performance of professional services, while sounding in tort, is an action for
    breach of contract”). Further, where, as here, a malpractice claim and a breach of fiduciary claim
    allege the same failure to provide adequate legal services pursuant to an attorney-client contract,
    these claims are one and the same. See O’Connell, 556 S.E.3d at 743.
           Accordingly, the Court shall dismiss Carl’s Third Counterclaim as duplicative of the
    legal malpractice claim asserted in Carl’s Second Counterclaim, which has now been dismissed.
    See, e.g., Hewlette v. Hovis, 
    318 F. Supp. 2d 332
    , 337 (E.D. Va. 2004); accord General Sec. Ins.
    Co. v. Jordan, Coyne & Savits, LLP, 
    357 F. Supp. 2d 951
    , 961-62 (E.D. Va. 2005) (applying
    Virginia law, dismissing a claim for breach of fiduciary duty as a “mere disguise[ ] for the
    plaintiffs’ legal malpractice claims”).
                                              IV. CONCLUSION
           The Court has considered all other arguments asserted by Carl in his opposition brief and
    sur-reply and finds them without merit.       Accordingly, for all of the reasons stated herein,
    Marbury’s motion for summary judgment is GRANTED and Carl’s Amended Counterclaim is
    dismissed with prejudice in its entirety.
           An appropriate Order accompanies this Memorandum Opinion.