P. J., COOMER and MARKLE, JJ.
Edwards brought this legal malpractice action against her
divorce attorneys, Tracy Ann Moore d/b/a Tracy Ann Moore, P.
C., and Banks & Stubbs, LLP n/k/a Banks, Stubbs &
McFarland, LLP (collectively, "Defendants"),
alleging that she was wrongfully denied alimony due to their
negligent mishandling of her case. She appeals from the trial
court's order granting summary judgment to Defendants and
denying her motion for partial summary judgment as to
Defendants' liability. Finding no error, we affirm.
Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine
issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment
as a matter of law. In reviewing the grant or denial of a
motion for summary judgment, we apply a de novo standard of
review, and we view the evidence, and all reasonable
conclusions and inferences drawn from it, in the light most
favorable to the nonmovant.
omitted.) Grizzle v. Norsworthy, 292 Ga.App. 303,
303-304 (664 S.E.2d 296) (2008).
2011, Edwards's marriage was struggling. She hired an
attorney, who is not a party to this suit, to draft a
separation agreement. Notably, the agreement provided that
Edwards would receive monthly alimony in the amount of $2,
800 "for so long as the parties are legally separated,
or until May 1, 2026, whichever shall first occur." It
also provided that it would be incorporated into the final
divorce decree if the parties proceeded to
divorce. The separation agreement was executed in
June 2011. Edwards's husband was not represented by
independent counsel at the time the separation agreement was
drafted or executed.
March 2012, the separation agreement was approved and
incorporated into a final judgment in Edwards's separate
maintenance action. In October of that year, Edwards's
husband filed for divorce. During the pendency of the divorce
action, Edwards hired new counsel, who is also not a party to
this suit, to represent her. That attorney filed Edwards's
verified answer and counterclaims in August 2013. In her
counterclaim, Edwards requested that the separation agreement
be incorporated in the final divorce judgment because it
resolved all the issues between the parties. Following the
withdrawal of Edwards's second counsel, she retained
Moore to represent her in the divorce.
thereafter, Moore filed Edwards's motion for judgment on
the pleadings, contending that all of the issues in the
divorce, including alimony, were resolved under the
separation agreement. In April 2014, the parties filed a
joint consent agreement for judgment on the pleadings, and
the following day, the divorce court entered its final
judgment and decree, incorporating the settlement agreement
and granting the divorce.
the divorce, Edwards's former husband ceased paying
alimony. He took the position that he was no longer obligated
to pay alimony under the settlement agreement because the
couple was no longer "legally separated." Moore
filed Edwards's motion for contempt for nonpayment of
alimony, but the divorce court denied the motion, finding
that under the plain and unambiguous language of the alimony
provision in the settlement agreement, the husband was
relieved from paying alimony once the divorce was final.
Moore then moved to modify the final judgment, but Edwards
terminated Moore during the pendency of that motion and hired
her current counsel shortly thereafter.
later, Edwards sued Moore and the two law firms Moore was
affiliated with, bringing claims for legal malpractice,
breach of fiduciary duty, breach of contract, and fraudulent
concealment. An expert affidavit was attached to the
complaint, pursuant to OCGA § 9-11-9.1. In the
affidavit, the expert opined that Defendants breached the
applicable standard of care by failing to recognize that the
alimony provision in the settlement agreement was unfavorable
to Edwards and by failing to pursue an alimony award before
the divorce court. Defendants moved for summary judgment, and
Edwards filed a cross-motion for partial summary judgment
with respect to Defendants' liability on the malpractice
claim. The trial court granted Defendants' motion for
summary judgment and denied Edwards's motion, finding
that Edwards could not prove, as a matter of law, that
Defendants proximately caused the cessation of her alimony,
nor could she prove her damages. This appeal followed.
Edwards first argues that the trial court erred by granting
Defendants' motion for summary judgment because it
improperly concluded that the Settlement Agreement, as
incorporated into the final divorce decree, precluded her
from pursuing either alimony in her divorce or a modification
of the amount in the future. In response, Defendants contend
that Edwards cannot show that their acts were the proximate
cause of damages to Edwards. We agree with Defendants.
To prevail on a legal malpractice claim, a client must prove
that (1) [s]he employed the defendant attorney; (2) the
attorney failed to exercise ordinary care, skill, and
diligence; and (3) this failure was the proximate cause of
damages to the client. To establish proximate cause, the
client must show that but for the attorney's error, the
outcome would have been different; any lesser requirement
would invite speculation and conjecture. The defendant
attorney is entitled to summary judgment if [s]he shows that
there is an absence of proof adduced by the client on the
issue of proximate cause.
(Citation omitted.) Benson v. Ward, 343 Ga.App. 551,
552 (807 S.E.2d 471) (2017).
the first element, it is undisputed that Edwards employed
Moore to represent her during the pendency of the divorce
action. Pretermitting whether there is a question of fact as
to Moore's alleged failure to exercise ordinary care,
skill, and diligence, Edwards has failed to establish a
question of fact as to whether Moore's conduct caused her