Supreme Court of Montana Affirms Summary Judgment for Attorney in Legal Malpractice Claim


The Supreme Court of Montana has affirmed a summary judgment for an attorney in a legal malpractice action, finding that the claim was barred by a three year statute of limitations. In Polejewski v. Lulf-Sutton, a client sued her former attorney, alleging negligent representation in her criminal proceedings.

The client was charged with several counts of animal cruelty and related crimes. The client maintained that her attorney told her she could win the case at trial. The attorney then recommended a plea agreement, which the client accepted. The client pleaded guilty to nine counts of failure to vaccinate and tag animals and no contest to one count of cruelty to animals. Sentencing took place several days later.

Unhappy with the sentence and with her attorney, who successfully moved to withdraw, the client filed a notice of appeal. However, the trial court ruled that the client had waived her right to appeal by signing the plea agreement.

Three and one half years later, the client filed a malpractice action against the attorney, alleging she had falsely led her to believe that she would not be convicted. In Montana, the statute of limitations for a malpractice claim arising from a criminal proceeding is three years of the discovery of the attorney’s error, regardless of any pending post-conviction relief. The attorney filed a motion for summary judgment, which the trial court granted. The client appealed.

The Supreme Court of Montana affirmed, finding that the claim was time barred on the basis that the latest time when the client could have discovered the attorney’s omission was the date of the sentencing order, which was over three years from the filing date of the action.

Decision: Polejewski v. Lulf-Sutton

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