Case Caption: Carl Simon v. Michael A. JosephCase Number: S. Ct. Civ. No. 2012-0011Date: 09/11/2013Author: Hollar, Brenda J.Citation: Summary:

In a legal malpractice action by a prisoner suing pro se against his former court-appointed attorney, the Superior Court committed error when, despite knowing that plaintiff's criminal convictions had never been set aside, it proceeded to adjudicate his claim for legal malpractice and dismiss his lawsuit with prejudice. The requirement that a criminal defendant successfully obtain post-conviction relief is not merely an element of a legal malpractice action-the requirement is an extension of the ripeness doctrine, calling upon a court to defer from ruling on a claim when ongoing or potential future litigation precludes an informed determination of the issues. By not sua sponte invoking the ripeness doctrine to dismiss this complaint and instead proceeding to consider the matter on the merits, the Superior Court disrupted comity amongst federal and local courts by creating inconsistent adjudications of essentially the same factual and legal issues between itself, the Third Circuit, the Ethics and Grievance Committee, and the judge who issued the plaintiff a certificate of probable cause. The possibility that plaintiff might, at some future date, prosecute another local or federal habeas corpus petition also cautioned against resolving these issues on the merits. To avoid potentially inconsistent adjudications, the Superior Court should simply have dismissed the present malpractice complaint on the ground that it was not ripe, without prejudice to its re-filing in the event that plaintiff ever successfully obtains post-conviction relief on some future date. Since it did not do so, it committed a fundamental error that warrants vacating the underlying judgment. Accordingly, the January 11, 2012 Opinion and Order is vacated and the matter is remanded to the Superior Court so that it may dismiss the complaint without prejudice.

Attachment: Open Document or Opinion