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Judge denies summary judgment in legal malpractice suit

November 11, 2010

A federal judge denied summary judgment for an attorney and his law firm on legal malpractice and other claims, ruling the defendants failed to present a coherent argument to support summary judgment.

Elizabeth Stefan, a resident of Hungary, was a passenger in a car driven by Lajos Vesgo when it was in an accident. She became a quadriplegic as a result of the crash. At some point she hired Jeffrey J. Stesiak of Sweeney Pfeifer Morgan and Stesiak in South Bend to recover money for her injuries. Stefan was trying to recover from Vesgo’s insurance policies.

Stesiak filed a suit on Stefan’s behalf against Vesgo in April 2000 to try to recover under an Auto Owners policy. This case concluded May 21, 2003, when the court accepted the parties’ stipulation of dismissal with prejudice. Stesiak claimed he learned the policy had an exclusion that made Stefan’s lawsuit meritless and he discussed this with Zoltan Hankovszky, a New York attorney who agreed to help Stefan communicate with Stesiak while she was living in Hungary. It’s unknown if or when Stefan learned of the dismissal. She claimed to not have known until 2008.

The record also showed that Stefan had various other individuals communicate with Stesiak over the years, including an attorney named E. Spence Walton, who was asked to contact Stesiak by an attorney in Tucson. Stesiak wrote to Walton Nov. 9, 2003, explaining that once he realized there was no coverage for Stefan’s claim, he dismissed the lawsuit. Walton claimed to have sent the information along, but the record isn’t clear to whom he sent it.

In October 2008, Stefan sued Stesiak and his firm, alleging legal malpractice, breach of contract based on a covenant not to sue or execute, fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty. Stefan argued Stesiak erred in failing to properly pursue recovery under the Auto Owners policy.

Both parties moved for summary judgment and U.S. District Senior Judge James T. Moody denied both motions in Elizabeth Stefan aka Stefan Gyorgne v. Jeffrey J. Stesiak, Esq. and Sweeny Pfeifer Morgan & Stesiak, No. 3:08-CV-471.

“…defendants have not shown that there are no genuine issues of material fact relevant to what date plaintiff’s claims accrued,” he wrote. “Instead, defendants have merely confused the facts and have failed to present a coherent argument justifying summary judgment.”

Stesiak moved for summary judgment claiming that the complaint was filed after the statute of limitations. He repeatedly claimed that Stefan’s lawsuit against Vesgo was dismissed Nov. 9, 2003, but the dismissal order is dated May 21, 2003. The Nov. 9 date is the date Stesiak allegedly responded by letter to Walton about the status of the case. But Stesiak doesn’t even argue that’s the date Stefan should be charged with knowing of the lawsuit’s dismissal. He also made other confusing or factually unsupported assertions in his motion, noted the judge.

Stefan also “muddled the water” in this litigation because although she claims to be the one entitled to summary judgment she never meaningfully developed this argument.

“As this order reveals, there are ample issues of material fact that have yet to be resolved,” wrote Judge Moody.
 

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