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PA: When the Statute Tolls You're Out of Luck!

Edwards v. Thorpe, 876 F. Supp. 693 (E.D. Pa. 1995).

PA: Underlying FBI investigation

Student Contributor: Laura Binski

Facts: Mr. Edwards (the client) was taken hostage in a robbery attempt of the bank where he worked as an assistant manager. After the event, Mr. Edwards sought legal counsel from Mr. Thorpe (the lawyer). In March of 1989, the lawyer sent a letter to the client’s boss stating: “I am Causley Edwards’ attorney and I have been informed that the FBI considers him a suspect in a recent robbery attempt…” The client claims that the lawyer had no reason to believe the FBI has listed him as a suspect. As a result of the letter, the client was placed on suspension without pay from his job at the bank until the FBI investigation cleared the client’s name or he was prosecuted and acquitted. The client was not exonerated until five years later, in April of 1994. The client filed a suit against the lawyer in October of 1994 for legal malpractice, breach of contract, and defamation.

Issue: Should the client’s claims be subject to Pennsylvania’s two-year statute of limitations? Does the statute of limitations begin to run at the time the alleged breach of fiduciary duty occurs or, as the client claims, when he is harmed?

Ruling:  The client’s claim will be subject to the two-year statute of limitations. Thus, the claim is barred because the complaint was not filed until five years after the alleged breach of fiduciary duty – when the lawyer sent the letter to the bank. The client cannot claim that he did not discover the letter, or the suspension it caused until after the FBI exonerated his suspected involvement in the robbery attempt.

Lesson: The client tried to make the claim that he could not file his lawsuit against the lawyer until after the FBI exonerated him of any involvement on the basis that if he were found to be guilty, he would have suffered no damages as a result of the lawyer’s misconduct. This claim contradicts the client’s assertion that he was harmed as a result of the suspension from his job and damage to his reputation. This case demonstrates the importance of attention to statutes of limitations. If the client had filed his complaint within two-years from the time that the breach of fiduciary duty occurred, it likely would not have been dismissed.

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Posted in: Criminal Law, Pennsylvania