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Justices rule on legal malpractice procedural issue

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An Indiana Supreme Court decision allows an Indianapolis attorney and a local law firm to raise a statute of limitations on legal malpractice claims against them.

In a nine-page ruling late Thursday in Joseph J. Reiswerg and Cohen Garelick & Glazier v. Pam Statom, 49S02-0906-CV-280, the court tackled a procedural issue that hadn’t specifically come up in Indiana before and found in favor of both the contract attorney and Indianapolis law firm.

The case stems from a medical malpractice action that Pam Statom raised following a 1998 sinus surgery at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Indianapolis. Several problems surfaced because of that procedure and Statom retained Joseph Reiswerg, who shared office space with Cohen Garelick & Glazier and worked as a contract attorney with the law firm. He filed a tort claim notice about her intent to sue for medical malpractice, but the VA determined it wasn’t received within the two-year statute of limitations period and denied the claim as untimely. Reiswerg withdrew as the woman’s attorney after filing a notice of appeal in federal court about the administrative rejection of her claim, and Statom proceeded pro se but eventually lost in April 2004 on grounds that the suit was time-barred.

In November 2005, Statom filed this legal malpractice claim in Marion Superior Court on grounds that Reiswerg failed to timely file a federal tort claims notice, as well as fraud and constructive fraud claims against both defendants. The attorney and the firm relied on the statute of limitations as affirmative defenses in the legal malpractice case.

After a year of discovery, Statom moved for partial summary judgment and sought a ruling that both Reiswerg and CG&G were “negligent as a matter of law.” Neither defendant raised the statute of limitations in response to her partial summary judgment, arguing later that it wasn’t required because of her partial motion that didn’t address their legal malpractice liability. Both the firm and attorney later moved for summary judgment because of the statute of limitations expiration, and Statom moved to strike them. Marion Superior Judge David Shaheed granted Statom’s motion to strike for both, but certified his judgment for appeal.

In a December 2008 ruling, the Court of Appeals affirmed the trial court’s striking of Reiswerg’s motion for summary judgment but reversed the order striking a summary judgment order from CG&G. The appellate panel in March 2009 reviewed its decision on rehearing but affirmed what it had previously ruled, and the Supreme Court later granted transfer on the novel issue.

Justices reversed the trial court and held that a party doesn’t waive an affirmative defense by failing to raise it in response to a partial summary judgment motion that wouldn’t dispose of the main liability issue of the case. That means both Reiswerg and CG&G can raise that defense on remand.

“No Indiana case has heretofore addressed this issue in the context of a motion for partial summary judgment on less than liability,” Justice Theodore Boehm wrote. “However, decisions from other jurisdictions are consistent with our view. Where, as here, the plaintiff moves only for partial summary judgment on an issue or an element but not as to liability, the defendant is under no obligation to present all of its affirmative defenses at the summary judgment stage.”

The court found Statom didn’t move for full or partial summary judgment on liability, and so the full liability issue wasn’t included in the judgment in her favor.

“She cannot now claim a victory greater than she sought and greater than she placed in issue,” Justice Boehm wrote.

Justice Robert D. Rucker, joined by Justice Frank Sullivan, issued a separate opinion that concurred and dissented in part, saying the trial court correctly struck Reiswerg’s motion for summary judgment. They dissented in regard to Reiswerg’s motion, but concurred in relation to the law firm motion.

Justice Rucker wrote that the majority found Reiswerg didn’t waive his affirmative defense because he wasn’t obligated to raise it at that point.

“This is so, according to the majority, because Statom’s motion sought resolution only on ‘some but not all elements of liability…’ This assertion is not an easy lift for the majority. Indeed the majority labors mightily to support its position. But this case is not complicated,” he wrote.

“Under this State’s long-standing and settled law, Reiswerg could not resurrect his statute of limitations defense in his own motion for summary judgment,” Justice Rucker continued. “The defense had been waived. Easy case. The trial court properly struck Reiswerg’s summary judgment motion, and its decision should be affirmed.”
 

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  1. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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