California’s Fourth District Court of Appeals has upheld a lower court’s dismissal of a legal malpractice action on the basis that it was barred by the applicable statute of limitations. In Torres v. Blankenship, a client hired an attorney to represent her in various legal proceedings over a two year period. Unbeknownst to the client, the attorney had been under investigation by the State Bar of California, and was suspended from practicing law for the final two months of his representation. The attorney subsequently informed the client of his suspension and she terminated his services.
Two and one half years later, the client filed a lawsuit against the attorney, alleging that his failure to disclose his suspension constituted negligence and fraud. At trial, the lower court granted the attorney’s motion for judgment on the pleadings, finding that the one-year statute of limitations for a negligence action against an attorney had expired and that the attorney’s conduct did not constitute fraud. The client appealed the decision.
The Appellate Court upheld the judgment in favor of the attorney, reasoning that because the substance of the client’s claim was legal malpractice, she could not avoid the limitations period by pleading alternative theories, such as fraud. Ultimately, the Court found that her attorney’s unlicensed representation was fundamentally negligent legal service, not fraudulent conduct.
Decision: Torres v. Blankenship