Court of Appeals of Minnesota Affirms Summary Judgment for Attorney in Legal Malpractice Action

The Court of Appeals of Minnesota appellate court has affirmed a summary judgment in favor of an attorney in a legal malpractice case. In Vitamin v. Vermeulen, a client sued her former attorney for negligence related to her divorce proceedings. She alleged that she had failed to argue that real property held by her husband and her was a marital asset.

The former husband had purchased the property prior to their marriage, but it was where the couple had their marital home. Two years into the marriage, the husband transferred title to himself and to his wife, as tenants in common, allegedly for estate planning reasons. Eight years later, the couple transferred the property to themselves as joint tenants, so that the wife could obtain a loan for her business.

After a trial, the court awarded the property to the husband as a non-marital asset. The client appealed without success. She then filed a claim against the attorney, alleging that she had failed to put in evidence to demonstrate that the property was a marital asset. The attorney then moved for summary judgment, the Court allowed the motion, and the client appealed.

The appellate court affirmed the judgment. Under Minnesota law, the intent of the grantor is the most important factor in determining the treatment of a transfer of property within a marriage. The husband had testified at trial that he never intended for the wife to have an interest in the property. He claimed that he had made the first transfer for estate planning reasons, and that the second transfer was equivalent to co-signing for her loan, and that based on this intent, the property remained a non-marital asset. The appellate court ruled that the divorce attorney’s failure to argue otherwise did not constitute malpractice.

Decision: Vitamin v. Vermeulen


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