This is a decision dismissing a divorce malpractice claim on statute of limitations grounds. The plaintiff, James Valukas, hired the defendant law firm to represent him in his divorce. Valukas claimed that the law firm negligently drafted a marital settlement agreement, allowing his ex-wife to make a claim for a portion of the payout on certain stock options.
Defendant raised a statute of repose defense, arguing that the alleged error occurred outside of the limitations period. The statute of repose bars any claim against an attorney that occurred more than 6 years prior to the filing of the lawsuit.
Valukas countered that even though he filed his case after the limitations period had run, the limitations period should not apply because of equitable estoppel. Valukas argued that the lawyer misrepresented and concealed a material fact (the alleged error) so the statute of repose should not apply.
The district court, after trial, entered a directed verdict for the defendant. It held that Valukas had knowledge of the problem with the marital settlement agreement before the limitations period had run. Valukas was aware that there were issues surrounding the interpretation of the stock option provision in the marital settlement agreement. Thus, he knew or should have known that there were drafting problems with the agreement. Because Valukas knew or should have known of the problem, equitable estoppel did not apply.
This is a thoughtful opinion and, because the opinion comes after trial, the facts were fully developed by the parties.
Edward X. Clinton, Jr.