In a familiar scenario, plaintiff retains attorneys to handle a transaction, and then somewhat later, hires the attorney to sue over the transaction. In Goodman v Weiss, Zarett, Brofman, Sonnenklar & Levy, P.C.
2021 NY Slip Op 05957 Decided on November 3, 2021 Appellate Division, Second Department the transaction was an employment contract and the litigation was over interpretation of the employment contract. In unrelated cases the transaction could be a matrimonial settlement with later litigation over interpretation of that matrimonial settlement. In either setting, the gap between signing the contract and suing over the contract can be too long, dooming the legal malpractice claim.
“The plaintiff contends that the defendant’s malpractice consisted of improperly negotiating his separation from his previous employer and his new employment contract with the hospitals. However, an action alleging legal malpractice must be commenced within three years from the date of accrual (see CPLR 214). A claim accrues when the malpractice is committed, not when the client discovers it (see Shumsky v Eisenstein, 96 NY2d 164, 166). “Causes of action alleging legal malpractice which would otherwise be time-barred are timely if the doctrine of continuous representation applies” (DeStaso v Condon Resnick, LLP, 90 AD3d 809, 812). “In the legal malpractice context, the continuous representation doctrine tolls the statute of limitations where there is a mutual understanding of the need for further representation on the specific subject matter underlying the malpractice claim” (id. at 812). Application of the continuous representation doctrine is generally “limited to the course of representation concerning a specific legal matter . . . ; [t]he concern, of course, is whether there has been continuous [representation], and not merely a continuing relation” between the client and the lawyer (Shumsky v Eisenstein, 96 NY2d at 168 [internal quotation marks omitted]).
Contrary to the plaintiff’s contention, the legal malpractice cause of action at issue was time-barred under CPLR 214(6), and the continuous representation doctrine did not toll the statute of limitations. That doctrine “tolls the running of the statute of limitations on a cause of action against a professional defendant only so long as the defendant continues to represent the plaintiffs in connection with the particular transaction which is the subject of the action and not merely during the continuation of a general professional relationship” (Maurice W. Pomfrey & Assoc., Ltd. v Hancock & Estabrook, LLP, 50 AD3d 1531, 1533 [internal quotation marks omitted]). Although the plaintiff alleges that the defendant continued to provide legal services to him between January 2011 and November 2013, he did not seek or obtain the defendant’s legal services at any time during that period and, when the plaintiff did subsequently engage the defendant’s legal services, that engagement was with regard to the performance of distinct services related to a different subject matter. Accordingly, the Supreme Court properly determined that the continuous representation toll was inapplicable and granted that branch of the defendant’s motion which was to dismiss the legal malpractice cause of action as time-barred.”