Barbara J. Boyd (defendant) and her husband William L. Boyd practiced law under the firm name, Boyd & Boyd. They did not have a partnership agreement and were never actually partners in the firm. After defendant left the firm and retired from the practice of law, William L. Boyd continued to practice under the firm name. The firm provided legal services to decedent, Renee M. Barbuto, and her estate later obtained a legal malpractice default judgment against the firm.
The estate claimed defendant was liable for the default judgment under N.J.S.A. 42:1A-20(a) and (b), which define the liability of purported partners under the Uniform Partnership Act (1996), N.J.S.A. 42:1A-1 to -56. At trial on the claim, plaintiff conceded defendant was not an actual partner in the law firm but argued defendant was liable because inclusion of her last name in the law firm's name constituted a representation she was a partner. Following presentation of plaintiff's evidence at trial, the court granted defendant's motion for dismissal. The trial court determined defendant is not liable for the firm's malpractice as a purported partner because plaintiff did not present any evidence decedent relied on a representation that defendant was a partner when decedent employed the firm to provide legal services.
The court affirms the dismissal. The plain language of N.J.S.A. 42:1A-20(a) and (b) imposes liability only where a plaintiff demonstrates reasonable reliance on a representation that the purported partner is a partner. The court rejects plaintiff's contention partnership liability may be imposed based on violations of RPC 7.5(c) and (d), which establish standards for inclusion of deceased and retired partner's names in law firm names, because RPC violations do not give rise to civil causes of action