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Judges rule legal malpractice claim untimely

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A family who sued an Allen County attorney after finding out he did not properly obtain ownership of a railroad right-of-way in 1995 lost its appeal before the Indiana Court of Appeals because the family’s lawsuit is barred by the statute of limitations.

Ronald Felger served as Fred Dickes’ attorney. In 1995, Felger negotiated with the railroad company in order to get a quitclaim deed to transfer ownership of an abandoned railroad right-of-way on Dickes’ property. But the legal description in the deed actually was the legal description for the interurban right-of-way on Dickes’ property, which he already owned.

Dickes died in 2000, and his family discovered through another attorney in 2006 that they didn’t own the abandoned railroad right-of-way and sued Felger and the firm Shambaugh Kast Beck & Williams LLP in 2009 for legal malpractice. Allen Superior Judge Nancy Eshcoff Boyer granted summary judgment to Felger and the firm, citing the two-year-statute of limitations.

Legal malpractice actions are subject to the discovery rule, so the statute of limitations doesn’t begin to run until the time the plaintiffs could have discovered they had been injured by Felger’s actions. Because the family filed their suit on March 5, 2009, if their action happened before March 5, 2007, the statute of limitations would bar their claim.

The designated evidence shows the family should have known no later than June 2006 that they did not own the right-of-way based on property tax issues, a letter Felger sent to the family in February 2006, and correspondence with their attorney Terry Cornelius, who discovered that a title search didn’t reveal any deed transfer to Dickes.

“Plaintiffs were aware that, despite the 1995 negotiations with the railroad and the deed, they in fact did not own the abandoned railroad right-of-way. Further, they were clearly aware that they had been damaged, as the right-of-way was interfering with their proposed development of the property. Although Plaintiffs were not able to definitively point to the wrong legal description on the deed as Attorneys’ exact error until the summer of 2007, they were aware of the issues with Attorneys’ work long before that time,” Judge Michael Barnes wrote in Byram E. Dickes, Ruth E. Logar, et al. v. Ronald D. Felger, and Shambaugh, Kast, Beck & Williams, LLP, 02A03-1206-PL-302.

 

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  3. 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.

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