November 20, 2019

Two-Year Statute Governs Legal Malpractice Claims, Even if the Plaintiff Alleges Fraud; Saylor v. Reid

Category: Indianapolis Law Club | Author: | Share:

Statutes of limitations are always important to litigators, because they can bar an otherwise meritorious claim. And lawyers may be even more interested to see how the courts deal with the statute of limitations in a legal malpractice context.

Saylor was charged and convicted for molesting his stepdaughter. Saylor, at some point, paid Attorney Reid $5,000.

In April 2014, after his conviction, Saylor filed a petition for post-conviction relief, in which he indicated that he had retained Attorney Reid to represent him in that proceeding. That same page includes a line for “Signature of Petitioner” at the end of the facts in support of the petition. A handwritten “James E. Saylor / ar” is written above the signature line. “AR” are Reid’s initials. The petition was notarized by Reid’s paralegal. The post-conviction petition was denied, but that denial was reversed in part 13 and remanded for a new trial with respect to the habitual offender allegation in May 2016.

Saylor filed a complaint against Reid, alleging “fraud, forgery, fraudulent misrepresentation, negligence res ipsa loquitor legal malpractice and claim for compensatory, actual and punitive damages.” The gravamen of Saylor’s complaint is that Reid forged Saylor’s signature, and that this damaged him. Reid moved to dismiss the complaint, arguing that it was barred by the statute of limitations. The trial court granted that motion.

On appeal, the Court found that Saylor’s allegations, whether complaining of fraud, forgery, or negligence, “substantively constitute or are a part of his claim of legal malpractice.” Thus, it found that the two-year statute of limitations for legal malpractice, rather than the six-year statute applicable to claims of fraud, applied.

And in this case, all dates on which the claim could have accrued occurred more than two years before Saylor filed his claim. The alleged malpractice took place in 2014, and the case within which occurred was finished in May 2016. Thus, Saylor missed his deadline when he filed his complaint in June 2018.

While the Court did not need to do so, it also expressed its “concern about the practice of an attorney signing a client’s name.” While not saying it was impermissible, the Court noted that when someone makes a written statement of oath, the better practice is to have the person making that statement be the one who signs it.

Lessons:

1. Legal malpractice claims are legal malpractice claims, no matter how creatively a plaintiff tries to plead them.
2. It is unwise to sign a client’s name, for even if you have permission to do so, you may be causing trouble for yourself in the future.