Hennepin County District Court File No. MP0119196
Considered and decided by Peterson, Presiding Judge, Randall, Judge, and
A legal-malpractice cause of action that is based on a claim that defense counsel's acts in a criminal prosecution were the proximate cause of the defendant's conviction accrues, and the statute of limitations begins to run, when the convicted defendant obtains relief from the conviction.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: Peterson, Judge
In January 1999, a federal district court granted appellant James L. Noske's petition for a writ of habeas corpus and vacated Noske's 1990 assault conviction, based on the court's conclusion that Noske had been denied his Sixth Amendment right to the effective assistance of trial counsel. Noske then brought a legal-malpractice action against respondent Joseph S. Friedberg, who was Noske's defense attorney during the 1990 assault prosecution, and Friedberg's law firm, respondent Joseph S. Friedberg, Chartered. Upon respondents' motion, the district court concluded that Noske's claims were barred by the statute of limitations and dismissed Noske's action. We reverse and remand.
In August 1990, Noske was convicted of second-degree assault. He petitioned for post-conviction relief, claiming that Friedberg provided ineffective assistance at trial. The district court denied the petition, and Noske appealed from his conviction and from the denial of post-conviction relief. This court affirmed the district court in all respects, and the supreme court denied further review. Noske v. State, No. CO-91-2486, 1992 WL 365990 (Minn. App. Dec. 15, 1992), review denied (Minn. Jan. 28, 1993).
On May 25, 1993, Noske filed a petition for a writ of habeas corpus in federal district court seeking reversal of his assault conviction and relief from supervised release on the bases that he was denied due process of law by the trial court's failure to instruct the jury as to self-defense and that he was denied effective assistance of counsel. In January 1999, the federal district court found that "contrary to the legal conclusion of the state court, [Noske] was denied his Sixth Amendment right to effective assistance of counsel and was prejudiced thereby." Noske v. Stender, No. 4-93-518, slip op. at 22 (D. Minn. Jan. 8, 1999). Therefore, the federal court concluded, Noske was subject to custody in violation of the United States Constitution and entitled to federal habeas relief. Id. The court granted Noske's petition for a writ of habeas corpus, vacated his 1990 assault conviction, and ordered that Noske may be retried on the assault charge within 90 days. Id. at 23. The state declined to retry Noske and did not appeal the order granting habeas relief.
In September 2001, Noske served respondents with a summons and complaint alleging legal malpractice. Noske claimed that Friedberg's negligent acts caused Noske to be convicted of second-degree assault and incarcerated, prevented him from obtaining a license to practice law in Minnesota, and increased his sentence in a federal tax case. Noske also alleged breach of contract and misrepresentation.
Pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 12.02, respondents moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted, arguing that Noske's claims accrued when Noske was convicted in 1990, and therefore, they were barred by the statute of limitations. The district court granted the motion and dismissed Noske's claims.
Did Noske's legal-malpractice action accrue when he ...