Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division
from the Circuit Court of Cook County, No. 16 L 6855 The
Honorable Margaret Ann Brennan, Judge, presiding.
PRESIDING JUSTICE HYMAN delivered the judgment of the court,
with opinion. Justices Neville and Mason concurred in the
judgment and opinion.
1 After losing a breach of contract lawsuit against his
former employer, plaintiff Dwight Nelson sued his lawyers for
malpractice. Nelson alleged that his lawyer and his law firm
had negligently represented him when negotiating an
employment agreement when he took a position with the
employer. Because the trial court did not err in holding that
Nelson's suit was filed outside the two-year statute of
limitations, we affirm. Nelson's claim of malpractice
against his lawyer is "inseparable" from his claims
against his employer, and his legal malpractice claim accrued
at least by the time he filed his suit against the employer
because by then it was "plainly obvious" that he
had been injured as a result of legal malpractice.
3 In 2011, Dwight Nelson decided to leave his branding and
packaging design business, HBN Brandesign, and join another
company, Launch Creative Marketing, while bringing his HBN
clients to Launch. Nelson hired Donald Lee Padgitt and
Padgitt, Padgitt, & Peppey, Ltd., to represent him in
negotiating an employment agreement with Launch. Nelson
signed the agreement on June 6, 2011.
4 Six months later, on January 19, 2012, Launch terminated
Nelson's employment. The letter informing Nelson of his
firing specified that under the employment agreement Launch
could terminate Nelson for cause if the revenue collected
from Nelson's old clients totaled less than $250, 000
over the first six months of employment.
5 On October 31, 2012, Nelson sued Launch and one of its
employees for breach of contract and fraud. In the complaint,
Nelson alleged that Launch breached the obligations of good
faith and fair dealing by failing to define Nelson's job
description and to support his work and unnecessarily
reducing and delaying the billing of the clients Nelson had
brought to Launch. Had Launch not done so, Nelson alleged, he
would have met the $250, 000 target during his first six
months of employment and not been fired for cause. Nelson
attached to the complaint a copy of the employment agreement
and the January 19 letter terminating his employment.
6 On December 4, 2014, the trial court granted summary
judgment in Launch's favor. In a written decision, the
trial court pointed out that Nelson was "a successful
businessman, and was represented by competent counsel
throughout the negotiation of his employment agreement."
The trial court attributed the outcome to "Nelson's
failure to properly negotiate on his own behalf, " which
gave Launch much discretion under the employment agreement.
In sum, "Nelson was in a position at the bargaining
table to ensure none of these complications arose by better
protecting his interests through negotiation."
7 On July 7, 2015, Nelson sued Padgitt and his firm for legal
malpractice. Nelson alleged he hired Padgitt based on
Padgitt's experience in transactional matters and told
Padgitt his goal of securing a steady income for the next few
years and eventually retiring. Padgitt negotiated the
employment agreement with Launch, and Nelson signed it on
Padgitt's recommendation. But Nelson alleged Padgitt
neglected to tell him that (1) the agreement did not provide
steady income past six months, (2) Launch could fire Nelson
after six months if the revenue from his customers fell short
of the specified target, (3) Launch had the ability to insure
that Nelson would not meet his target, (4) Launch had broad
discretion in billing and defining Nelson's job
description, or (5) the agreement lacked a specific start
date. Nelson alleged that any reasonable attorney would have
negotiated an agreement that would have better protected
Nelson. Finally, Nelson alleged that he had suffered damages,
including future benefits from employment with Launch, the
value of the customers he brought to Launch, the cost of
settling his suit with Launch, and the cost of suing Launch.
He estimated these damages exceeded $100, 000.
8 On February 10, 2016, the trial court dismissed
Nelson's complaint with prejudice for the reason that the
two-year statute of limitations for legal malpractice barred
his claims. (The trial court did not consider extra-record
evidence submitted by Padgitt, and neither will we.)
9 STANDARD OF REVIEW
10 We review a trial court's dismissal of a complaint
based on the statute of limitations de novo.
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