Once plaintiffs and their neighbors negotiated a new easement, the neighbors were no longer necessary parties in plaintiffs’ legal malpractice action against the law firm that allegedly failed to discover and disclose the neighbors’ original easement.
We affirm the circuit court’s dismissal of the neighbors from the lawsuit.
The plaintiff-buyers hired the defendant-law firm to conduct a closing. The law firm allegedly failed to discover and disclose an easement over plaintiff’s property in favor of plaintiffs’ neighbors. Plaintiffs sued the law firm for legal malpractice
On the law firm’s motion, the neighbors were added as necessary parties. Thereafter, plaintiffs and the neighbors negotiated a new, narrower easement. The circuit court then dismissed the neighbors from this action.
The neighbors’ rights against plaintiffs are determined by the new easement, not the old one. Consequently, the circuit court does not need to ascertain the neighbors’ rights before it can determine the dispute about the old easement between plaintiffs and the law firm.
We have not been able to identify any interest the neighbors could have in this suit. The neighbors have no claim against the law firm for legal malpractice. They also have no interest in the original easement.
We do not see any practical problems created by dropping the neighbors, nor do we see a risk of inconsistent judgments. Plaintiffs may win or lose their malpractice case, and we see no way either outcome affects the new easement between plaintiffs and the neighbors. Therefore, the neighbors are not necessary parties.
Rule 21, SCRCP, gives the circuit court broad authority to drop a party “at any stage of the action and on such terms as are just.” We do not see anything unjust about the circuit court’s decision to drop the neighbors.
When the neighbors were joined, their rights were determined by the same easement at the center of plaintiffs’ malpractice claim. That easement no longer exists. The neighbors do not want to be in the case, they have no claim against the other parties and, as far as we can see, dropping the neighbors does not prevent or impair the law firm from asserting any of its claims about the original easement’s validity.
As we read the filings, the law firm seeks a declaratory judgment on the validity of the original easement, but the neighbors no longer claim any interest in that easement. Accordingly, dismissal for misjoinder was proper.
The law firm seeks a ruling on the new easement’s validity as well as the old one. We do not see how the law firm could have standing to challenge the new easement, which (by all accounts) was a voluntary agreement between the neighbors and plaintiffs. We do not see how the new easement affects the law firm or its defense that the original easement was not valid.
There is undoubtedly a cause-and-effect relationship between the two agreements. If the original easement turns out to be invalid or waived, that may show that plaintiffs’ decision to participate in the new easement was unwise or imprudent. Either way, it seems apparent that the neighbors will not be affected by a declaratory judgment on the original easement’s validity.
Jones v. Rogers Townsend & Thomas, P.C. (Lawyers Weekly No. 012-017-22, 8 pp.) (Per Curiam) Appealed from Berkeley County Circuit Court (Deadra Jefferson, J.) Warren Powell and Chelsea Jaqueline Clark for appellants; Jay Hulst and Robert Wade Maring for respondents. S.C. App. Unpub.