When May One Begin a Legal Malpractice Case?

A persistent problem in legal malpractice (and in accounting malpractice) cases is the delayed damages issue.  Put simply, attorney advises on how to accomplish a goal and prepares papers on January 2.  Client uses the advice and paperwork to start a process and the other side resists.  Litigation ensues and 4 years later the other side wins.  When does the statute of limitations end?

For the most part, the rule is that the statute of limitations commences on the day the negligent advice is given, and is extended only by continuous representation.  This is true, even though no damages existed until the other side won, a year after the statute ran,

in XE Partners, LLC v Skadden Arps Slate Meagher &  Flom LLP    2014 NY Slip Op 30668(U)
March 6, 2014  Sup Ct, New York County  Docket Number: 152994/2013  Judge: Eileen Bransten we see this issue:

"Under New York law, "[i]t is well settled that a legal malpractice claim accrues when all the facts necessary to file the cause have occurred and the injured party can obtain relief in court.'' Creditanstalt Inv. Bank AG v. Chadbourne & Parke LLP, 14 A.D.3d 414, 415 (1st Dep't  2005). "What is important is when the malpractice was committed, not when the client discovered it." McCoy v. Feinman, 99 N.Y.2d 295, 301 (2002).


As explained by the Court of Appeals in the accounting malpractice context: "the claim accrues upon the client's receipt of the accountant's work product since this is the  point that a client reasonably relies on the accountant's skill and advice and, as a consequence of such reliance, can become liable for tax deficiencies.'' Ackerman v. Price Waterhouse, 84 N.Y.2d 53, 541 (1994). Receipt of the accountant's advice "is the time when all the facts necessary to the cause of action have occurred and an injured party can obtain relief." Id. The reasoning of Ackerman has been extended to attorney malpractice claims. For example, in Proskauer Rose Goetz & Mendelsohn LLP v. Munao, 270 A.D.2d 150 (1st Dep't 2000), the First Department cited Ackerman in holding that a client's legal malpractice counterclaims accrued when the client received defendant's purportedly
negligent work product. See id. at 151 ("The counterclaims accrued in April 1991, when plaintiff allegedly gave defendants negligent advice that they could shelter income through a certain joint venture."). The First Department likewise held in Nuzum v. Field, 106 A.D.3d 541, 541 (1st Dep't 2013), deeming legal malpractice claims brought in connection with the drafting of promissory notes time-barred where brought more than three years after the allegedly defective documents were prepared. See also Mark v. Dechert, LLP, 58 A.D.3d 553, 554 (lst Dep't 2009) ("Plaintiffs' legal
malpractice claim is barred by the statute of limitations (CPLR 214[6]), which began to run in January 2000, when the merger of the corporate plaintiffs was completed and defendant law firm filed the merger documents."). Viewed in this framework, Plaintiffs legal malpractice cause of action is clearly barred by the statute of limitations. Plaintiffs claim accrued when Defendants' allegedly negligent work product was received by Defendants. To paraphrase Ackerman, this was
the time when all the facts necessary to the cause of action occurred and when Plaintiff was able to obtain relief. Since the advice was given in 2008, Plaintiffs 2013 filing was untimely. 

In opposition, Plaintiff contends that it did not suffer an "actionable injury" until the adverse arbitral finding, and as such~ had no claim until that point. However, the First Department rejected a similar argument in Lincoln Place, LLC v. RVP Consulting, Inc.,  70 A.D.3d 594 (1st Dep't 2010), dismissing a claim asserting legal malpractice in the drafting of a lease assignment as time-barred where the claim was brought five years after lease assignment was executed. While the plaintiff-client argued that its claim did not accrue until it was found liable for outstanding rent due to the faulty assignment, the First Department held otherwise, stating that the collateral adjudication "was not a prerequisite to the existence of an actionable injury." Id. at 594. Likewise here, the resolution of the arbitration was not a prerequisite to a pleading of"actionable injury" by XE Partners. Accordingly, Plaintiffs claim did not accrue after the arbitration ruling in 2010; instead,
consistent with Ackerman, such claim accrued when the legal advice was received. Plaintiff cites to a Second Department case, Frederick v. Meighan, 75 A.D2d 528 (2d Dep't 20l0) for the contrary proposition. Even accepting Plaintiffs reading of Frederick as correct for the sake of argument, this reading is in conflict with Ackerman and its First Department progeny and therefore is not controlling.

Thus, for the foregoing reasons, Defendants' motion to dismiss is granted on statute of limitations grounds.

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