ILNews

High court rules on client-attorney relationship

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
Keywords
Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
The Indiana Supreme Court today ruled on a case involving an attorney-client relationship, overturning the trial court's grant of summary judgment in favor of the attorney.

In Ronald D. Liggett, d/b/a Liggett Construction Company v. Dean A. and Elisabeth Young, No. 38S0-0703-CV-80, Liggett appealed the trial court ruling in a contract dispute with the Youngs. At the time the Youngs hired Liggett to build their home, Dean Young worked as attorney for Liggett on an unrelated matter.

Liggett initiated a third-party complaint against the Youngs when a supplier of bricks and materials sued Liggett. In turn, the Youngs brought a counterclaim against Liggett seeking damages for allegedly negligent and untimely completion of work under the building contract.

The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the Youngs.

At a later hearing initiated by Liggett, the trial court considered a motion to reconsider the previous ruling. This time, the trial court didn't address the fact Young acted as Liggett's attorney during the drafting of the contract. Dean Young had made some changes to the contract, which was allowed as long as an attorney did the work.

The court affirmed the previous order, as did the Court of Appeals.

At issue is whether Dean Young violated Professional Conduct Rule 1.8 and the Preamble of the Indiana Rules of Professional Conduct by hiring Liggett as his homebuilder and making changes to the standard contract.

The evidence from the trial court doesn't show that Dean Young's transaction with Liggett was fair and honest or was a standard commercial transaction, as is required under Prof. Con. R. 1.8, wrote Justice Brent Dickson. Liggett asserted that Rule 1.8(a) rendered the contract void because Dean Young served as his attorney at the time the contract was entered into.

Of significance in this case, Justice Dickson wrote, is that Liggett's claims against the Youngs are for materials and labor not included in the original base contract but were from additional items Liggett claimed were performed at the Youngs' request. Dean Young inserted language into the contract that allowed changes to be made.

The Supreme Court concluded the evidence on the Youngs' motion for partial summary judgment did not affirmatively establish an absence of an issue of material fact that the building contract transaction was fair and honest. Also, there was nothing to show the transaction should, as a matter of law, be treated as a standard commercial transaction to which common law presumption did not apply.

The Youngs are not entitled to summary judgment on their claims or Liggett's claims against them. The court remanded the matter to the trial court to resolve the remaining claims of both parties.
ADVERTISEMENT

Post a comment to this story

COMMENTS POLICY
We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
 
You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
 
Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in Indiana Lawyer editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
 
No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
 
We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
 

Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

Sponsored by
ADVERTISEMENT
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  2. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

  3. From the article's fourth paragraph: "Her work underscores the blurry lines in Russia between the government and businesses . . ." Obviously, the author of this piece doesn't pay much attention to the "blurry lines" between government and businesses that exist in the United States. And I'm not talking only about Trump's alleged conflicts of interest. When lobbyists for major industries (pharmaceutical, petroleum, insurance, etc) have greater access to this country's elected representatives than do everyday individuals (i.e., voters), then I would say that the lines between government and business in the United States are just as blurry, if not more so, than in Russia.

  4. For some strange reason this story, like many on this ezine that question the powerful, seems to have been released in two formats. Prior format here: http://www.theindianalawyer.com/nominees-selected-for-us-attorney-in-indiana/PARAMS/article/44263 That observed, I must note that it is quite refreshing that denizens of the great unwashed (like me) can be allowed to openly question powerful elitists at ICE MILLER who are on the public dole like Selby. Kudos to those at this ezine who understand that they cannot be mere lapdogs to the powerful and corrupt, lest freedom bleed out. If you wonder why the Senator resisted Selby, consider reading the comments here for a theory: http://www.theindianalawyer.com/nominees-selected-for-us-attorney-in-indiana/PARAMS/article/44263

  5. Why is it a crisis that people want to protect their rights themselves? The courts have a huge bias against people appearing on their own behalf and these judges and lawyers will face their maker one day and answer for their actions.

ADVERTISEMENT