Legal malpractice claim barred by statute of limitations.

Where a pro se plaintiff knew about defendants’ alleged legal malpractice more than one year before he filed suit, summary judgment based on the statute of limitations was affirmed.

In Garrett v. Weiss, No. E2022-01373-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. May 25, 2023), plaintiff filed a legal malpractice claim against defendant attorneys based on their representation of him in an underlying divorce case, which included an order of protection against plaintiff. The order of protection was entered on May 30, 2017, and stated that plaintiff could no longer reside at a Tellico Plains residence, but the order was supposed to specify a different residence located in Sweetwater.

Beginning in June 2017, “Plaintiff informed Defendants on more than one occasion that the Circuit Court had erred in its May 30, 2017 amended of or protection by listing the incorrect address[.]” In August 2017, plaintiff was arrested due to his refusal to leave the Tellico Plains address, and he was incarcerated for six months. On March 5, 2018, plaintiff filed a pro se motion to alter or amend the order of protection by correcting the address, which was granted in April 2018.

Plaintiff filed this legal malpractice suit against defendants on April 1, 2019, based on their failure to have the order of protection corrected. Defendants moved for summary judgment based on the one-year statute of limitations for legal malpractice claims, which the trial court granted and the Court of Appeals affirmed.

A legal malpractice claim is subject to a one-year statute of limitations which begins to run “once: (1) the plaintiff suffers an ‘actual injury’ as a result of the defendant’s allegedly wrongful or negligent conduct, and (2) the plaintiff knew or in the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known that this injury was caused by the defendant’s alleged wrongful or negligent conduct.” (internal citations and quotation omitted). Here, plaintiff’s arrest and incarceration were clear injuries under the discovery rule. Further, it was undisputed that plaintiff informed defendants of the mistake on the order of protection in the summer of 2017. Based on these facts, the Court held that “Plaintiff had knowledge of the injury by June 2017, when he first informed Defendants of the error, and, in any event, no later than March 5, 2018, the date he filed his motion [to alter or amend the order of protection]. Any of these dates triggered accrual of the action more than one year prior to its commencement on April 1, 2019.”

Summary judgment based on the statute of limitations was accordingly affirmed.

This opinion was released 2.5 months after the case was assigned on briefs.

Note:  Chapter 72, Section 5 of Day on Torts: Leading Cases in Tennessee Tort Law has been updated to include this decision.

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