Divorce attorney seeks sanctions against former client, attorney for allegedly filing frivolous legal malpractice suit

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | May 2, 2017

An O’Fallon attorney who was suspended for her handling of a family matter now seeks sanctions against her former client and plaintiff attorney and former Madison County Judge Thomas Hildebrand for allegedly filing a frivolous legal malpractice suit that they knew was time barred.

An O’Fallon attorney who was suspended for her handling of a divorce case now seeks sanctions against her former client and his attorney, former Madison County Judge Thomas Hildebrand, for allegedly filing a frivolous legal malpractice suit that they knew was time barred.

On April 7, defense attorney Roy Dripps of Armbruster Dripps Winterscheidt & Blotevogel LLC in Maryville requested an order sanctioning Hildebrand of Granite City and plaintiff Christopher Nolan. The request was filed on behalf of defendant Amanda Kelton Bradley Verett.

Dripps argues that Hildebrand knew Nolan’s complaint was frivolous and filed it to extort money.

“The Court should sanction both plaintiff and plaintiff’s counsel for filing a frivolous suit not grounded in the law because the statute of limitations expired on this case nearly a decade ago,” the motion states.

He says Hildebrand argued that the statute of limitations did not begin to run until Nolan's damages became final and appealable. Dripps alleges that is the “exact opposite of the law.”

“This is a blatantly incorrect legal conclusion,” the motion states.

Dripps claims he wrote Hildebrand on Nov. 3 stating that the case seeking attorney’s fees from the prior divorce proceeding is barred by the statute of limitations and statute of repose.

“Instead of looking up the law, Mr. Hildebrand incredibly wrote nothing less than an extortion letter on November 10, 2016: ‘I disagree with your assertion that he is barred, either your client pays Mr. Nolan’s $25,000 attorney fee assessment or she gets sued,’” the motion states.

Hildebrand allegedly made a second threat to file the suit “unless I have a good reason not to do so” on Jan. 2.

He filed the lawsuit on Jan. 17.

Dripps wrote Hildebrand on March 7 informing him that he filed a motion to dismiss on behalf of Bradley Verett. He gave Hildebrand 30 days to voluntarily dismiss the complaint with prejudice or he would seek sanctions against him and Nolan.

Instead, Hildebrand filed a voluntary motion to dismiss without prejudice even though two motions to dismiss were pending.

Dripps also argues that Hildebrand had an “ethical obligation” to inform the court of all material facts, including the defendants’ pending dispositive motions.

“Mr. Hildebrand’s failure to comply with his ethical obligation is inexcusable,” the motion states. “But it only gets worse.

“Concealing from the Court the existence of the pending dispositive motion was clearly a conscious decision because Plaintiff’s counsel presented the motion for voluntary dismissal but did not even serve it until the day after the Court signed the proposed order.

“This tactic deprived defendants of any opportunity to object to hearing the voluntary dismissal motion before their own motions to dismiss as well as to ask the Court to award costs pursuant to the voluntary dismissal statute,” the motion states.

Dripps claims his hourly rate is $425, and he has charged a total of 16.175 hours in defending this “baseless case.”

He now seeks an order awarding sanctions against Hildebrand and in favor of Bradley Verett for $343.67 for costs and $6,874.37 in attorney’s fees.

Dripps also represented defendant Michael Reid before Nolan filed a motion to disqualify, arguing that Reid and Bradley Verett have “antagonistic defenses” and could not share counsel.

The Brinker & Doyen firm in Clayton, Mo., now represents Reid.

Verett was suspended for 90 days in 2008 for her handling of a family matter between Nolan and his ex-wife.

In his complaint, Nolan alleges Verett deviated from the standard of care of a reasonable attorney by filing and obtaining ex parte relief against his ex-wife, Tanna Nolan, and a Missouri hospital despite knowing she was not entitled to do so.

Reid also collected attorney’s fees for allegedly engaging in strategy conferences with Verett.

In Nolan’s malpractice suit, he claims he was required to pay $25,000 in Tanna Nolan’s attorney’s fees as a result of Bradley Verett’s alleged breach of contract and another $25,000 in fees in defending the assessment of attorney’s fees.

He also alleges Bradley Verett charged him $18,569.03 for services, which provided no benefit and put him in a worse position.

Bradley Verett filed her motion for judgment on March 7, arguing that the complaint is time-barred.

Reid also filed a motion for judgment on the pleadings or, in the alternative, motion to dismiss the suit on March 13.

He argues that the complaint is barred by the statute of limitations, which requires all claims against an attorney for damages to be filed within two years from the time the plaintiff knew or reasonably should have known of the injury for which damages may be sought.

“Assuming the factual allegations of Plaintiff’s Complaint to be true, Plaintiff’s statute of limitations for a cause of action against Mr. Reid began to run on August 2, 2013, when the Court ordered Plaintiff to pay attorneys’ fees as a result (allegedly) of Mr. Reid’s and/or Ms. Verett’s conduct,” the motion states.

Reid further argues that Nolan should have known that he was injured when the circuit court entered an order on April 11, 2007, finding the plaintiff in contempt of court for pursuing a cause of action in Missouri in violation of the presiding court’s injunctive order.

“If Plaintiff intended to pursue a cause of action against Mr. Reid, he was obligated to do so by or before April 11, 2009,” the motion states.

The defendant also argues that the six-year statute of repose has run its course for the suit.

Nolan filed a voluntary motion to dismiss the complaint without prejudice and with leave to reinstate on March 27.

Madison County Circuit Judge William Mudge granted his request and dismissed the suit that same day.

On March 29, Bradley Verett filed a motion to vacate or reconsider its order granting voluntary dismissal while she had a dispositive motion pending.

“Defendant suspects that plaintiff’s counsel hand-delivered the voluntary dismissal motion to the presiding judge ex parte, failed to inform the court of the pending dispositive motion, and obtained the Court’s signature without accurately representing the docket status of the mater,” the motion states.

Reid also filed a motion to set aside and/or reconsider on March 30.

He argues that just before the plaintiff voluntarily dismissed the complaint, the defendants’ motions to dismiss were set for hearing on April 12, which was the earliest date available with the court.

Reid alleges he was not provided advance notice of Nolan’s intent to nonsuit prior to the court’s order.

He argues that the Illinois Supreme Court has “endorsed the trial court’s determination to deny a plaintiff’s motion for a voluntary dismissal ‘was plainly made ‘in the face’ of a potentially dispositive motion and was used to ‘avoid a potential decision on the merits.’’”

“Because Plaintiff neglected to serve his Motion on Reid before the hearing, failed to notify Reid of the hearing on said Motion, and did not give any notice to Reid of his plan to nonsuit, … and because Plaintiff’s nonsuit neglected to require payment of Defendants’ costs, … the validity and effect of Plaintiff’s nonsuit is in question.

“Had Reid been notified of Plaintiff’s intent to nonsuit, he would have attended the hearing on Plaintiff’s Motion, at which time he would have notified the Court of Defendants’ pending Motions and requested that the Court exercised its discretion to hear Defendants’ Motion before effectuating the nonsuit,” the motion states.

A motion hearing is scheduled for May 24 at 1 p.m.

Madison County Circuit Court case number 17-L-27

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Armbruster, Dripps, Winterscheidt and Blotevogel Illinois Supreme Court Madison County Circuit Court

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