Attorney-Client Sexual Relationship In California
Barbara A. v. John G. (1983), 145 Cal. App. 3d 369, does involve a legally recognized fiduciary relationship, with a twist: It concerns an attorney-client relationship that evolved into a sexual relationship.
This blurring of relationship lines raised the question of the boundaries of the fiduciary duty owed from attorney to client.
The case does not support defendants' argument that the existence of a fiduciary duty is always a question of fact.
Barbara A. sued her former attorney for battery and deceit, claiming he tricked her into a sexual relationship with false assurances of his infertility. As a result of John G.'s deception, Barbara A.
suffered a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy which left her sterile. the deception occurred while John G. was acting as Barbara A.'s attorney.
Barbara A. contended the fiduciary duty John G. owed her as a client also extended to their personal, sexual relationship as a matter of law. (Barbara A. v. John G., supra, 145 Cal. App. 3d at p. 382.)
The stakes on this issue were high:
If John G. owed Barbara A. a fiduciary duty within the context of their personal relationship, then John G. would bear the burden at trial of proving consent on the battery claim and disproving justifiable reliance on the misrepresentation claim. (Id. at p. 384.)
The court declined to rule as a matter of law that the range of an attorney's fiduciary duty to a client includes the personal relations between them.
The court explained that the "unique facts" of the case "compel a more cautious approach in imposing on John G., as a matter of law, the highest fiduciary standard in all his relations with Barbara A., social as well as legal.
The existence of a confidential relationship between them is more properly a question of fact for the jury, or court, who can better assess whether the legal relationship was dominant or whether the parties functioned on a more equal basis in their personal relations." (Barbara A. v. John G., supra, 145 Cal. App. 3d at p. 384.)