ILNews

High court rules on client-attorney relationship

Jennifer Nelson
January 1, 2007
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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.
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  1. The practitioners and judges who hail E-filing as the Saviour of the West need to contain their respective excitements. E-filing is federal court requires the practitioner to cram his motion practice into pigeonholes created by IT people. Compound motions or those seeking alternative relief are effectively barred, unless the practitioner wants to receive a tart note from some functionary admonishing about the "problem". E-filing is just another method by which courts and judges transfer their burden to practitioners, who are the really the only powerless components of the system. Of COURSE it is easier for the court to require all of its imput to conform to certain formats, but this imposition does NOT improve the quality of the practice of law and does NOT improve the ability of the practitioner to advocate for his client or to fashion pleadings that exactly conform to his client's best interests. And we should be very wary of the disingenuous pablum about the costs. The courts will find a way to stick it to the practitioner. Lake County is a VERY good example of this rapaciousness. Any one who does not believe this is invited to review the various special fees that system imposes upon practitioners- as practitioners- and upon each case ON TOP of the court costs normal in every case manually filed. Jurisprudence according to Aldous Huxley.

  2. Any attorneys who practice in federal court should be able to say the same as I can ... efiling is great. I have been doing it in fed court since it started way back. Pacer has its drawbacks, but the ability to hit an e-docket and pull up anything and everything onscreen is a huge plus for a litigator, eps the sole practitioner, who lacks a filing clerk and the paralegal support of large firms. Were I an Indiana attorney I would welcome this great step forward.

  3. Can we get full disclosure on lobbyist's payments to legislatures such as Mr Buck? AS long as there are idiots that are disrespectful of neighbors and intent on shooting fireworks every night, some kind of regulations are needed.

  4. I am the mother of the child in this case. My silence on the matter was due to the fact that I filed, both in Illinois and Indiana, child support cases. I even filed supporting documentation with the Indiana family law court. Not sure whether this information was provided to the court of appeals or not. Wish the case was done before moving to Indiana, because no matter what, there is NO WAY the state of Illinois would have allowed an appeal on a child support case!

  5. "No one is safe when the Legislature is in session."

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