Beck Redden Wins Important Attorney Immunity Ruling in the Texas Supreme Court
May 21, 2021 Case Study
Haynes and Boone LLP et al. v. NFTD LLC et al.
On May 21, 2021, the Texas Supreme Court ruled unanimously in favor of Beck Redden client Haynes and Boone, LLP. Resolving a question that has been the subject of great interest to the Texas legal community, the Supreme Court held that the attorney immunity doctrine is not limited to litigators, but also applies to transactional attorneys and others in non-litigation practices.
Haynes and Boone was sued for conduct related to its representation of a client in connection with an asset purchase agreement. The trial court granted summary judgment in Haynes and Boone’s favor, finding that the attorney immunity doctrine barred the claims against it. That doctrine holds that, in most instances, a party whose interests are adverse to a lawyer’s client cannot sue the lawyer directly. The doctrine is an essential safeguard for the attorney-client relationship, protecting the duty of loyalty and zealous representation that every lawyer owes to his or her client. As the Supreme Court put it, the attorney immunity doctrine “stem[s] from the broad declaration over a century ago that attorneys are authorized to practice their profession, to advise their clients and interpose any defense or supposed defense, without making themselves liable for damages.” Previously, the Supreme Court had applied the attorney immunity doctrine to claims concerning conduct within the litigation context, but it had not yet expressly decided whether the immunity doctrine also applies to non-litigation attorneys. When the court of appeals held in this case that the doctrine is limited to the litigation context, Beck Redden petitioned for review at the Texas Supreme Court.
In its May 21, 2021 decision, the Supreme Court “confirm[ed] that attorney immunity applies to claims based on conduct outside the litigation context, so long as the conduct is the ‘kind’ of conduct” performed by a lawyer on behalf of a client. The Court agreed with Beck Redden that there is “no meaningful distinction between the litigation context and the non-litigation context when it comes to the reasons [the Supreme Court] recognized attorney immunity in the first place.” The decision clarifies that the attorney immunity doctrine extends to all Texas lawyers with respect to conduct occurring within the scope of legal representation of a client.
This decision is highly important to the legal profession and the case was closely watched by the legal community. Amicus briefs supporting Beck Redden’s position were filed by several Texas lawyers, including one brief filed by consortium of 50 law firms with offices in Texas on behalf of more than 41,000 lawyers.
The appeal was handled by Beck Redden appellate partner Russell Post with the assistance of Nicholas Bruno. Beck Redden partners David J. Beck and Alex Roberts represent Haynes and Boone in the underlying litigation.
The case is Haynes and Boone LLP et al. v. NFTD LLC et al., case number 20-0066, in the Supreme Court of Texas.