Statute of Limitations/Repose

Settling Questions Before Settling an Estate

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Francisco Contreras and his wife, Sandra, hired Fluxgold & Baron, P.C. (“Fluxgold”) to represent them in a lawsuit against a hospital and its staff.  The matter settled for $18.75 million.  Francisco then hired Waterville Advisors, LLC (“Waterville”) to help him purchase four annuities for himself using approximately one-third of the settlement money.  Waterville prepared an annuitant checklist for Francisco, who input his personal information, but failed to designate a beneficiary.  Waterville notified Fluxgold, and received a new signed checklist with Sandra designated the primary beneficiary, and her and Francisco’s minor daughter the secondary.  When Francisco died intestate two years later, Sandra was appointed representative of his estate.

Francisco’s three adult sons from a previous relationship filed a petition for citation to recover assets in the probate court, arguing that Sandra had exercised undue influence over Francisco to insert herself and her daughter as beneficiaries of the annuities, rather than no one.  The court converted Sandra’s role from an independent to a supervised administrator, at which Francisco’s sons moved to have Sandra’s position terminated entirely.  Francisco’s sons sued Fluxgold and its employees as well, insisting that Fluxgold and several employees were negligent and breached their duty to Francisco, his estate, and heirs by permitting Sandra to exercise her influence over Francisco and failing to use reasonable care and diligence.  Fluxgold successfully moved to dismiss, citing the statute of repose for actions against attorneys where the injury does not occur until the death of the person for whom the legal services were rendered (735 ILCS 5/13-214.3(d)).

On appeal, the First District held that “this cause most certainly falls within the auspices of section 13214.3(d),” but that questions still remained which precluded its application.  Id. at ¶46.  Specifically, facts had not yet been established as to “whether plaintiffs’ legal malpractice action against defendants was commenced ‘within the time for filing claims against the estate’ as provided in the Probate Act via incorporation by section 13-214.3(d).”  Id. at ¶68.  This was due in part to Sandra’s as yet undetermined status as a supervised administrator.  Were she to be removed, it would “directly impact when plaintiffs were required to file their claim.”  Id. at ¶74.  Also, proper publication and notice to the creditors of Francisco’s estate still needed to be accomplished.  Doing so could “restart the clock” for filing claims against the estate.  Id.  In light of so many open issues, the First District reversed and remanded, holding that the trial court lacked the “reasonable certainty” necessary for dismissal.  ¶78.

Estate of Contreras by Contreras v. Fluxgold, 2019 IL App (1st) 172916-U

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

 

Neuman v. Gaffney, 2018 IL App (2d) 180184-U

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In September 1997, a Federal District Court ruled partially in favor of a class of plaintiffs against the State of Illinois for hiring discrimination, although the ruling did not address back pay or other pay relief.  In April 1999, attorney John Gaffney (“Gaffney”) filed a putative class action against the State of Illinois for back pay on behalf of John Mittvick (“Mittvick”) and Edward Urban as plaintiffs and class representatives.  The State moved to dismiss without prejudice, asserting the plaintiffs had failed to timely file charges of discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  Before that motion could be granted, Gaffney filed his own motion to dismiss without prejudice, which was granted.  Gaffney notified his clients of this by letter, telling them he could no longer represent them and that they should join another class action on this matter already in progress.

Nearly sixteen years later, Robert Neuman (“Neuman”) filed a petition to intervene in the 1999 case, having supposedly just learned of it.  He claimed that he was an absent class member in the 1997 and 1999 cases, and that the 1999 case had not been validly dismissed.  The District Court dismissed Neuman’s petition, holding that dismissal of the 1999 case was valid.  Neuman appealed, but lost when the Seventh Circuit held that he “was already aware of a possible case in 2001 and that a diligent person would have investigated.”  Id. at ¶9.  Neuman then sued Gaffney for legal malpractice, alleging Gaffney had breached his fiduciary duty to notify unknown and unnamed absent class members prior to dismissal of the 1999 suit.  Gaffney successfully moved to dismiss because the six-year statute of repose for legal malpractice claims in Illinois had already lapsed.

On appeal, Neuman argued that the statute of repose should not have been applied because Gaffney had fraudulently concealed important information like the fact that the 1999 case had been voluntarily dismissed, which caused Mittvick not to pursue it further. This alleged concealment, he argued, would toll the statute of repose.  However, the appellate court held that whether or not Gaffney specified to Mittvick that his case had been dismissed voluntarily made no difference.  After reviewing Gaffney’s letter to Mittvick, the Court declared, “there is no indication that he attempted to conceal anything relevant from Mittvick.  He told Mittvick that the complaint had been dismissed and that Mittvick would have to seek a new attorney going forward.”  Id. at ¶22.  Despite Neuman’s insistence that Gaffney’s letter contained misrepresentations, the Court held that “such misrepresentations, even fraudulent ones, are not equivalent to acts of fraudulent concealment.”  Id.

Neuman v. Gaffney, 2018 IL App (2d) 180184-U

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

Doyle v. Hood, 2018 IL App (2d) 171041

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Harry Doyle retained the defendants, attorney Thomas Hood and Thomas B. Hood Law Offices, P.C., to prepare his will and a revocable living trust for his disabled wife, Patricia.  The living trust established a supplemental trust, with Patricia as its bene-ficiary.  Harry executed the necessary documents in December 2011.  Upon Harry’s death in January 2012, his son, Michael, became executor of his will and trustee of both trusts.  In late 2013, Patricia was admitted to a long-term-care facility.  Six months after that, an application for long-term benefits was filed on her behalf before the Department of Human Services.  The DHS subtracted a $2,000.00 asset allowance from the supple-mental trust, and imposed a spend-down of the remaining funds.  An appeal was filed on Patricia’s behalf, but the DHS found instead that a considerably higher penalty was owed.

Michael, as trustee, sued the defendants for professional negligence in May 2017.  He alleged that no penalty would have been assessed if the defendants had created the trust from Harry’s will instead of the living trust.  The defendants moved to dismiss, arguing that the claim was time-barred because it was filed more than two years after Harry’s death.  The trial court granted the motion, and Michael appealed.  The appellate court agreed with the defendants that the two-year statute of limitations applied, since the injury in this case occurred “when the Supplemental Trust could no longer be amended or revoked and was actually funded, both of which occurred upon Harry’s death.”   Id. at ¶ 28; (“When the injury caused by the act or omission does not occur until the death of the person for whom the professional services were rendered, the action may be com-menced within 2 years after the date of the person’s death…”), 735 ILCS 5/13-214(d).  The appellate court clarified that this exception “’applies instead of […] the six-year statute of repose.’”  Id. at ¶ 22, citing Wackrow v. Niemi, 231 Ill. 2d 418, 427 (2008).

Doyle v. Hood, 2018 IL App (2d) 171041

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

Arjmand v. Mirabelli, 2017 IL App (1st) 162225-U

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In this unpublished opinion, the First District affirmed the dismissal of a malpractice claim on statute of limitations grounds. The court rejected the plaintiff’s argument that defendants were equitably estopped from raising a statute of limitations defense because defendants told plaintiff that their strategy was correct finding that the defendants did not knowingly make any false representations. The court held that a trial court order vacating a marital settlement agreement damaged the malpractice plaintiff because it imposed costs of further litigation, even though the damages may have been speculative at that time. The court further held that the plaintiff knew of the injury when he received the order.

Arjmand v. Mirabelli, 2017 IL App (1st) 162225-U

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

 

 

Barefoot Architect , Inc. v. Sabo & Zahn, 2017 IL App (1st) 162616-U

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In this unpublished opinion, the First District affirmed the dismissal of a legal malpractice claim on statute of limitations grounds and a breach of fiduciary duty claim resulting from a bankruptcy case where the plaintiff had hired attorneys other than the defendants to represent in those proceedings. The court held that, ordinarily, a cause of action for malpractice accrues when a court enters an adverse judgment against a malpractice plaintiff. Here, the statute of limitations had run even using the date the appellate court entered an adverse judgment against the plaintiff. The court held that the lawyers’ statements that the court had erred did not establish were insufficient to preclude application of the statute of limitations under theories of fraudulent concealment or equitable estoppel.

Barefoot Architect , Inc. v. Sabo & Zahn, 2017 IL App (1st) 162616-U

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)

Short v. Grayson

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The District Court for the Northern District of Illinois granted in part and denied in part motions to dismiss legal malpractice claims. The court dismissed the plaintiff’s claim that his attorneys committed malpractice by failing to bring derivative claims in the underlying action because the plaintiff had sold his stock in the relevant company before initiating the underlying litigation and, thus, lacked standing to bring any derivative claims on its behalf. The court further dismissed a claim that the plaintiff alleged should have been asserted against an individual because the statute of limitations on that claim had expired before the defendant attorney took over the underlying case for the plaintiff. The court denied the motion as to the plaintiff’s various other claims generally holding that the plaintiff had alleged sufficient facts to survive the motions to dismiss.

Short v. Grayson , No. 16 C 2150, 2017 WL 977001 (N.D. Ill. Mar. 14, 2017)

Hill v. Simmons

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In this unpublished opinion, the First District held that a complaint against a lawyer was properly dismissed as time-barred.   The court held that the plaintiff’s claims for fraud, aiding and abetting fraud, breach of fiduciary duty and conspiracy were properly subject to the two year attorney statute of limitations, and that the statute began to run when the plaintiff learned of the lawyer’s alleged misrepresentations.

Hill v. Simmons, 2017 IL App (1st) 160577-U

(This is for informational purposes and is not legal advice.)