Attorney didn't commit conversion, malpractice

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share

The Indiana Court of Appeals today affirmed the dismissal of conversion and legal malpractice claims filed in LaPorte County against an Illinois attorney following the settlement of a wrongful death claim in Illinois.

In Jerry Storey v. Theodore S. Leonas Jr. and Leonas & Associates, Ltd., No. 46A03-0806-CV-300, Jerry Storey brought the legal malpractice and conversion claims against attorney Theodore Leonas, alleging he breached his fiduciary duty to Storey. Storey's adult daughter, an Illinois resident, had been killed in a car accident in Michigan City, Ind. Storey's ex-wife, Delia Blair, hired Leonas to file a wrongful death action in Illinois, which doesn't have statutory cap on wrongful death damages.

Before determining whether Indiana or Illinois law applied, Blair settled and received $650,000. She told Leonas to distribute $144,000 to Storey, but Storey declined and attached metaphorical strings to the acceptance of the funds. As a result of the denial of settlement money, Blair told Leonas not to offer Storey any money.

Storey filed his lawsuit in Indiana in 2002, but waited until only a few weeks before the trial in 2005 to file a motion to determine applicable state law. The trial court denied the motion, finding he didn't give reasonable notice to the parties. The trial court also granted Leonas' motion in limine to bar Storey from presenting evidence that Blair's wrongful death action in Illinois could have resulted in more money than she would have received in Indiana and his motion to bar Storey's legal experts from testifying.

The Court of Appeals affirmed the finding Storey failed to provide "reasonable notice" of his intent to request the application of Illinois law. He waited more than 2 ½ years before raising the law issue, wrote Chief Judge John Baker. When he did raise it, the complaint only mentioned the underlying wrongful death action was filed in Illinois and that Leonas was questioned about Illinois law in his deposition, which is insufficient for his motion to succeed. However, the appellate court found the trial court erred by preventing Storey from introducing evidence of the wrongful death statutory scheme in Illinois because "to pretend that this settlement occurred with everyone knowing with certainty that Indiana law would apply is to ignore the facts, which we cannot countenance and which the choice of law decision does not require," he wrote.

The trial court didn't abuse its discretion in barring Storey's experts from testifying because he waited until discovery was just closing to supply Leonas with a witness list that failed to provide the experts' reports or summaries of their opinions. Because Storey's experts were barred, he couldn't meet his burden of proving legal malpractice, and the claim was properly dismissed, wrote the chief judge.

The trial court also properly dismissed his conversion claim because Leonas was acting on behalf of Blair when he was directed to deny any further disbursement after Storey refused the money. Even if Storey was owed the money from the settlement, at most, Blair's refusal to give him money would be wrongful withholding of funds and failure to pay a debt, which isn't conversion as a matter of law, wrote Chief Judge Baker.


Post a comment to this story

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
Subscribe to Indiana Lawyer
  1. Joe, you might want to do some reading on the fate of Hoosier whistleblowers before you get your expectations raised up.

  2. I had a hospital and dcs caseworker falsify reports that my child was born with drugs in her system. I filed a complaint with the Indiana department of health....and they found that the hospital falsified drug screens in their investigation. Then I filed a complaint with human health services in Washington DC...dcs drug Testing is unregulated and is indicating false positives...they are currently being investigated by human health services. Then I located an attorney and signed contracts one month ago to sue dcs and Anderson community hospital. Once the suit is filed I am taking out a loan against the suit and paying a law firm to file a writ of mandamus challenging the courts jurisdiction to invoke chins case against me. I also forwarded evidence to a u.s. senator who contacted hhs to push an investigation faster. Once the lawsuit is filed local news stations will be running coverage on the situation. Easy day....people will be losing their jobs soon...and judge pancol...who has attempted to cover up what has happened will also be in trouble. The drug testing is a kids for cash and federal funding situation.

  3. (A)ll (C)riminals (L)ove (U)s is up to their old, "If it's honorable and pro-American, we're against it," nonsense. I'm not a big Pence fan but at least he's showing his patriotism which is something the left won't do.

  4. While if true this auto dealer should be held liable, where was the BMV in all of this? How is it that the dealer was able to get "clean" titles to these vehicles in order to sell them to unsuspecting consumers?

  5. He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good. He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance. He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation: For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent: He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.. He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless [ ] Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions. GOD BLESS THE GOVERNORS RESISTING! Count on the gutless judiciary to tie our children down and facilitate the swords being drawn across their throats. Wake Up America ...