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Judge denies summary judgment in legal malpractice suit

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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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  1. Frankly, it is tragic that you are even considering going to an expensive, unaccredited "law school." It is extremely difficult to get a job with a degree from a real school. If you are going to make the investment of time, money, and tears into law school, it should not be to a place that won't actually enable you to practice law when you graduate.

  2. As a lawyer who grew up in Fort Wayne (but went to a real law school), it is not that hard to find a mentor in the legal community without your school's assistance. One does not need to pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to an unaccredited legal diploma mill to get a mentor. Having a mentor means precisely nothing if you cannot get a job upon graduation, and considering that the legal job market is utterly terrible, these students from Indiana Tech are going to be adrift after graduation.

  3. 700,000 to 800,000 Americans are arrested for marijuana possession each year in the US. Do we need a new justice center if we decriminalize marijuana by having the City Council enact a $100 fine for marijuana possession and have the money go towards road repair?

  4. I am sorry to hear this.

  5. I tried a case in Judge Barker's court many years ago and I recall it vividly as a highlight of my career. I don't get in federal court very often but found myself back there again last Summer. We had both aged a bit but I must say she was just as I had remembered her. Authoritative, organized and yes, human ...with a good sense of humor. I also appreciated that even though we were dealing with difficult criminal cases, she treated my clients with dignity and understanding. My clients certainly respected her. Thanks for this nice article. Congratulations to Judge Barker for reaching another milestone in a remarkable career.

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