Downs v. Dib, No. 319372: Michigan Court of Appeals Remands Dismissal of Legal Malpractice Case

The Michigan Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal of a legal malpractice action after determining that a material question of fact remained concerning when the attorney-client relationship had ended, and whether or not the malpractice claim had been brought within the applicable limitations period.  In Downs v. Dib, a client hired an attorney to represent her in a medical malpractice case, stemming from the death of her daughter during childbirth. 

The trial court dismissed the medical malpractice case after the defendant successfully moved to strike the testimony of the client’s expert witnesses.  The attorney hired a second lawyer to take an appeal. However, the Supreme Court of Michigan ultimately affirmed the dismissal.

The client subsequently brought a legal malpractice action against the attorney and his firm.  The attorney moved to dismiss, arguing that the claim was time-barred under the applicable statute of limitations, because he had not represented her since the date of the trial court’s dismissal, more than 3 years prior to filing.  The client argued that the attorney had continued his representation through the appellate proceedings, as he had continued to sign pleadings.  He also sent her a letter after the Supreme Court dismissed the appeal, notifying her that as of that date, he would no longer be her legal representative.  The trial court agreed with the attorney, and the client appealed.

The Court of Appeals considered that Michigan law allows for a legal malpractice claim to be brought either (1) within 6 months of when the plaintiff reasonably should have known about the malpractice, or (2) within 2 years of when the attorney-client relationship ends.  The Appeals Court determined that a material question remained as to whether the attorney had continued his legal representation through the appeals process, and if he had, the client’s legal malpractice action was brought timely.  The Appeals Court reversed the dismissal and remanded the case for further proceedings.

Decision: Downs v. Dib

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