MOUNT VERNON – Former prisoner Justin Studer can pursue a claim that lawyer Paul Storment Jr. overcharged him on a civil case, appellate judges ruled on June 20.
Three Fifth District judges reversed St. Clair County Circuit Judge Robert LeChien, who dismissed Studer's suit against Storment in 2005.
LeChien applied a two year statute of limitations, but Fifth District judges decided Studer sued within an absolute six year limit on malpractice claims.
Presiding Judge Melissa Chapman wrote, "The legal malpractice statute of limitations is not a simple two year period; it allows for a claim to be filed two years from the date a person reasonably should have discovered the claim.
"The period of time from the date Justin contracted with Storment until the date he filed suit against Storment is four years and four months, well within the six year statute of repose."
Storment claimed Studer should have checked his work, but Chapman disagreed.
"In this case, there was nothing in the public domain for Justin to access in order to check up on the work that his attorney was or was not doing," she wrote.
In 1999, while Studer served time in Graham Correctional Center at Hillsboro, an accident killed his father, Rodney Studer.
Rodney carried a $160,000 life insurance policy, with Justin as sole beneficiary.
His mother, Tamara Nichols, no longer Rodney's wife, retained Edward Blake Jr. to establish an estate for a house, a vehicle, and personal property.
Blake received the life insurance check, which didn't belong to the estate, and he mailed it to Studer at the prison.
Studer's keepers seized it, to pay for his lodging.
In 2000, Studer paid Storment $15,000, to oppose the confiscation.
Storment settled, with Studer to receive $8,000.
Storment then sued Blake on behalf of Studer, claiming he mailed the proceeds to the prison against orders of Studer and his mother.
Studer alleged that Blake diverted some of his money to his mother, sold the home below market value, and charged excessive fees.
In 2003, Illinois regulators suspended Storment's law license for two years.
His partner, Jennifer Teague, briefly represented him but withdrew.
In 2004, Studer retained George Ripplinger, who added Storment to the complaint.
By then, Studer had served his time and regained freedom.
Ripplinger's complaint alleged that Studer "did not discover that the fee charged by Storment and Teague was excessive until he consulted with his present counsel."
Storment moved to dismiss, citing the two year limit, and LeChien granted it in 2005.
Rippingler moved to amend the complaint again, and LeChien denied it in 2009.
LeChien also granted summary judgment for Blake, finding Studer suffered no damage.
On appeal, Blake preserved his victory but Storment did not.
Chapman wrote, "Bearing in mind the specific facts of this case, we believe that there are issues of material fact regarding when Justin should have reasonably discovered his claim."
She wrote that LeChien abused his discretion in denying an amended complaint.
Justices Richard Goldenhersh and Bruce Stewart agreed.