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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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