Continuous Representation Doctrine

Lavelle-Tomko v Aswad & Ingraham, 191 AD3d 1142 [3d Dept 2021] discusses the continuous representation doctrine, holding:

“An action to recover damages arising from legal malpractice must be commenced within three years after accrual” (Zorn v. Gilbert, 8 N.Y.3d 933, 933–934, 834 N.Y.S.2d 702, 866 N.E.2d 1030 [2007] [citation omitted]; see CPLR 214[6]), which occurs at the time of the injury and not at the time that the injury is discovered (see McCoy v. Feinman, 99 N.Y.2d 295, 301, 755 N.Y.S.2d 693, 785 N.E.2d 714 [2002]). In seeking to obtain dismissal of the action based on the statute of limitations, defendants bore the initial burden of demonstrating that the time within which to commence had expired, including establishing the date that the cause of action accrued (see Matter of Steinberg, 183 A.D.3d 1067, 1070, 124 N.Y.S.3d 98 [2020]; Haynes v. Williams, 162 A.D.3d 1377, 1378, 79 N.Y.S.3d 365 [2018], lv denied 32 N.Y.3d 906, 2018 WL 4997517 [2018]; Krog Corp. v. Vanner Group, Inc., 158 A.D.3d 914, 915, 72 N.Y.S.3d 178 [2018]). If defendants met that initial burden, “the burden then shift[ed] to … plaintiff to raise a question of fact as to whether the statute of limitations has been tolled or was otherwise inapplicable” (Krog Corp. v. Vanner Group, Inc., 158 A.D.3d at 916, 72 N.Y.S.3d 178 [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; see International Electron Devices [USA] LLC v. Menter, Rudin & Trivelpiece, P.C., 71 A.D.3d 1512, 1512, 898 N.Y.S.2d 388 [2010]).

Defendants demonstrated, and plaintiff does not dispute, that her cause of action accrued on August 19, 2007, the date that she executed the settlement agreement in the first action. Plaintiff commenced this action on October 25, 2016, more than nine years after accrual and well beyond the three-year statute of limitations (see CPLR 214[6]). Defendants thus met their initial burden on their motion for summary judgment based on that defense (see Haynes v. Williams, 162 A.D.3d at 1378, 79 N.Y.S.3d 365). The burden then shifted to plaintiff to demonstrate that the statute of limitations was tolled or otherwise inapplicable, or at least that there is a question of fact to prevent summary judgment to defendants on that issue. Similarly, on the portion of plaintiff’s cross motion seeking dismissal of defendants’ statute of limitations defense, plaintiff had to prove as a matter of law that her action is not time-barred (see Red Zone LLC v. Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft LLP, 27 N.Y.3d 1048, 1049–1050, 34 N.Y.S.3d 397, 54 N.E.3d 69 [2016]).

To meet her burden, plaintiff primarily relies on the continuous representation doctrine. “This doctrine applies where there is continuing trust and confidence *114 in the relationship between the parties and the attorney’s continuing representation pertains to the specific matter in which the attorney committed the alleged malpractice, not merely the continuity of a general professional relationship” (Deep v. Boies, 53 A.D.3d 948, 950, 863 N.Y.S.2d 269 [2008] [internal quotation marks and citations omitted]; see McCoy v. Feinman, 99 N.Y.2d at 306, 755 N.Y.S.2d 693, 785 N.E.2d 714; Shumsky v. Eisenstein, 96 N.Y.2d 164, 168, 726 N.Y.S.2d 365, 750 N.E.2d 67 [2001]; Deep v. Boies, 121 A.D.3d 1316, 1318, 995 N.Y.S.2d 298 [2014], lv denied 25 N.Y.3d 903, 2015 WL 1526052 [2015]). “The continuous representation doctrine tolls the statute of limitations where there is a mutual understanding of the need for further representation on the specific subject matter underlying the malpractice claim” (Zorn v. Gilbert, 8 N.Y.3d at 934, 834 N.Y.S.2d 702, 866 N.E.2d 1030 [internal quotation marks, ellipsis and citations omitted]). “For the continuous representation doctrine to apply to an action sounding in legal malpractice, there must be clear indicia of an ongoing, continuous, developing, and dependent relationship between the client and the attorney, which often includes an attempt by the attorney to rectify an alleged act of malpractice” (International Electron Devices [USA] LLC v. Menter, Rudin & Trivelpiece, P.C., 71 A.D.3d at 1512–1513, 898 N.Y.S.2d 388 [internal quotation marks, ellipsis, brackets and citations omitted]; see Leeder v. Antonucci, 174 A.D.3d 1469, 1471, 106 N.Y.S.3d 490 [2019]; see also Matter of Lawrence, 24 N.Y.3d 320, 342–343, 998 N.Y.S.2d 698, 23 N.E.3d 965 [2014]; Creative Rest., Inc. v. Dyckman Plumbing & Heating, Inc., 184 A.D.3d 803, 805, 126 N.Y.S.3d 498 [2020]).

R. A. Klass
Your Court Street Lawyer

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