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IL: Statue of Repose trumps Statute of Limitations

Snyder v. Heidelberger, 953 N.E.2d 415 (Ill. 2011)

IL: Statute of limitations, statute of repose, malpractice, injury

Student Contributor: Rachel Vincent

Facts: Plaintiff Judith Snyder brought legal malpractice action against attorney Elliot Heidelberger. According to plaintiff, on May 23, 1997, attorney negligently prepared a quitclaim deed that failed to convey the marital home of plaintiff and her husband. At the time of the conveyance, the husband was the sole owner of the home and the deed was to transfer the home into both of their names as joint tenants with right of survivorship. Husband died in December of 2007 and his son (Steven Snyder) commenced an action to have plaintiff removed from the property. Defendant filed a motion to dismiss alleging the six-year statute of repose applicable to legal malpractice actions barred that plaintiff’s suit. The lower court granted defendant’s motion to dismiss and plaintiff appealed. The intermediate court reversed and remanded.

(1) If the statute of repose applies, what is the relevant injury, the husband’s death, or the conveyance of the deed?
(2) Whether the legal malpractice action is governed by the statute of limitations, which incorporates the “discovery rule” (allows two years after husbands death), or the statute of repose, which begins to run when a specific event occurs?

Ruling: Plaintiff is barred from suing because:
(1) Injury occurred to husband in May of 1997 when the attorney prepared the deed, not at the time of husband’s death in 2007.
(2) Six-year statute of repose, not two-year statute of limitations for legal malpractice causing injury at time of person’s death governed malpractice action.

Lesson: The relevant injury occurred when the deed was drafted because the deed failed to create a joint tenancy between plaintiff and her husband at the time it was prepared. However, if this were a conveyance that was to take effect after the husband’s death, then his death would have been the relevant injury. 

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Posted in: Illinois