On May 19, 2023, the Appellate Court of Illinois, First Division dismissed Sylvia Rouvas’ (“Plaintiff”) legal malpractice claim for failure to comply with court rules and failure to provide expert testimony regarding the applicable standard of care. Rouvas v. Eckert & Smestad, LLC, No. 1-21-1654, 2023 WL 3563217, at ¶ 2 (IL App. 1st May 19, 2023).
On June 28, 2018, Plaintiff filed a legal malpractice claim against Defendants Emily J. Eckert and Adam B. Smestad; their law firm, Eckert & Smestad, LLC; and referring attorney Michael J. Nykaza, and his law firm, the Law Offices of Michael J. Nykaza (collectively “Defendants”). Id. Plaintiff’s complaint alleged Defendants failed to present evidence from a key witness. Id.at ¶ 8. Plaintiff further alleged that this evidence would have saved her case from summary judgment in the underlying matter. Id.at ¶ 6.
On appeal, Defendants argued that Plaintiff failed to file a brief in compliance with local court rules. Id. at ¶ 32. The Court acknowledged Plaintiff’s pro se status, but refused to apply a more lenient standard. Id. at ¶ 34 (citing Gillard v. Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 2019 IL App (1st) 182348, ¶ 45). Plaintiff’s brief did not provide a statement of jurisdiction nor a statement of facts and failed to present a clear legal argument. Id. at ¶ 33. Plaintiff only cited one case in passing and provided no application of legal authority to the facts of the pending case. Id. at ¶ 35. Thus, the Court found that Plaintiff’s brief failed to comply with applicable rules and procedures. Id. at ¶ 34 (citing Ill. S. Ct. R. 341(h)(6)–(7)). Finding that “[p]oints not argued are forfeited,” the Court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Defendants. Id. at ¶ 35 (quoting Ill. S. Ct. R. 341(h)(7)). Still, the Court addressed the merits of the case on appeal. Id. at ¶ 36. In Illinois, the standard of care in a legal malpractice case is commonly established through expert testimony. Id. at ¶ 38. An expert witness is not required in rare “cases in which the common knowledge or experience of lay persons is extensive enough to recognize or infer negligence from the facts, or where an attorney’s negligence is so grossly apparent that a lay person would have no difficulty in appraising it.” Id. at ¶ 39 (quoting Fox v. Seiden, 2016 IL App (1st) 141984, ¶ 23). Nevertheless, on Feb. 4, 2021, the trial court entered an agreed case management order in which Plaintiff stated that she would not be disclosing an expert witness and agreed to waive the right to do so . Id. at ¶ 10. On appeal, Plaintiff argued that the trial court should have held a hearing to decide if an expert witness was necessary. Id. at ¶ 40. The Court rejected this argument. Id. at ¶ 42. In support of its holding, the Court found that no legal precedent supported Plaintiff’s position, and that even if the evidence had been presented, it was not dispositive. Id. at ¶ 40–42. Likewise, the Court concluded that the trial court, as a neutral arbitrator, could not prevent Plaintiff from entering into a fatal agreement, even though Plaintiff was proceeding pro se. Id. at ¶ 44.
Rouvas v. Eckert & Smestad, LLC, No. 1-21-1654, 2023 WL 3563217, at ¶ 2 (IL App. 1st May 19, 2023)