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Supreme Court declines to hear malpractice case

December 12, 2017

The Indiana Supreme Court has denied transfer to a legal malpractice case stemming from the fraudulent actions of now-disgraced Indianapolis attorney William Conour, letting stand a grant of summary judgment to a former Conour associate.

The high court declined last week to hear the case of Rene DiBenedetto v. Timothy Devereux, 49A05-1609-CT-2146, which began when Rene DiBenedetto filed a legal malpractice claim against Timothy Devereux, a former attorney at the Conour Law Firm. DiBenedetto hired Conour to represent her after she was severely injured with a head-on collision, but spoke with Devereux at the law office on one occasion when she arrived unannounced seeking information about why she had not received a $50,000 settlement check.

Conour was not in the office at the time of DiBenedetto’s visit, so Devereux consulted with a paralegal and the firm’s case-management system and advised Conour’s client that she would not receive the settlement funds until an underinsurance claim had been settled. The underinsurance claim was eventually settled for an additional $50,000, which DiBenedetto also did not receive.

Conour was eventually charted with stealing $4.5 million from at least 25 clients, including the $100,000 from DiBenedetto. He is currently serving a 10-year sentence in West Virginia after pleading guilty and has resigned from the bar.

Devereux left Conour’s firm prior to his criminal charges, but DiBenedetto filed a legal malpractice claim against him, alleging he was negligent and had breached his fiduciary duties and contractual obligations by not providing her with accurate information about her case. The trial court and Indiana Court of Appeals, however, granted summary judgment in favor of Devereux, with the appellate court finding the attorney had not breached his duty to provide truthful, accurate, non-misleading information to Conour’s client.

Specifically, after hearing oral arguments in the case in April, the majority of the appellate panel determined in June that because Devereux had no reason to suspect Conour of wrongdoing at the time of his meeting with DiBenedetto, his advice was not inaccurate or necessarily misleading. Judge Terry Crone, however, dissented, believing there was a genuine issue of material fact as to whether an attorney-client relationship existed between Devereux and DiBenedetto.

The Supreme Court unanimously declined to grant transfer to DiBenedetto’s case against Devereux, thus letting the grant of summary judgment in his favor stand.

The high court did not grant transfer to any cases last week, but instead declined to hear four additional cases. The full list of transfer actions can be viewed here.

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