Summary Judgment Granted for Attorney in Legal Malpractice Case: For Purposes of Statute of Limitations, Relationship Ends When Parties Agree, not When Attorney Files Notice of Withdrawal

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[author: Mark Hancock]

In a legal malpractice case, the United States District Court for the Southern District of California recently granted a defendant attorney’s motion for summary judgment on the ground that the action was barred by the one-year statute of limitations.  See Cal. Code Civ. Proc. § 340.6.   The court found that the statute was not tolled under the continuous-representation rule where the undisputed facts showed that the attorney-client relationship ended more than one year prior to the filing of the complaint.  The decision was issued in Casas-Cordero v. Salz, 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 82800, on June 14, 2012.

The claim for malpractice stemmed from work the attorney performed in a family-law matter.  The wrongdoing had allegedly occurred by January 2008, and the attorney did no further work in the case after December 2008.  Also, communications between the parties indicated that they considered the attorney-client relationship to have ended by December 2008.  The attorney did file a notice of withdrawal in December 2010.  However,  “for the purposes of statute of limitations, the attorney’s representation is concluded when the parties so agree, and that result does not depend upon formal termination, such as withdrawing as counsel of record.”  Worthington v. Rusconi (1994) 29 Cal.App.4th 1488, 1497. 

Because the representation ended in December 2008, and the plaintiff was not entitled to tolling after that date under the continuous-representation rule, the filing of the complaint in August 2011 was untimely.