Pennsylvania Record

Friday, August 23, 2019

Arrested when his uncle crashed his car, man waits too long to sue his lawyers for failed lawsuit against police


By Charmaine Little | Mar 15, 2019

PHILADELPHIA - The Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia has ironed out a legal malpractice issue between attorneys and their former client, granting on Feb. 21 the attorneys’ motion for summary judgment to dismiss the claim against them.

James Johnson claimed his wife’s uncle, Kenneth Smith, backed Johnson's Ford Explorer into another car in a parking lot in Ewing Township, New Jersey. Smith allegedly left the scene without telling Johnson that he even borrowed the car to begin with, and Johnson was later served a bench warrant stemming from citations issued in his name for the car accident.  

When he became aware of the warrant, Johnson turned himself in and hired attorneys Steven Schatz and Vincent Presto. He was represented by them in suing the police officer who issued the citations in his name, stating he was falsely arrested and illegally detained. 

The officer was granted his motion for summary judgment as the court determined there was “nothing unconstitutional” about the arrest.

Johnson then filed a legal malpractice lawsuit against Schatz and Presto alleging negligence, saying they didn’t argue the proper claims. 

Judge Frederica A. Massiah-Jackson granted their motion for summary judgment on Feb. 21.

“Johnson initiated this professional negligence action against the Attorney-Defendants more than two years after the entry of judgment by the District Court of New Jersey,” she wrote, noting that was beyond the statute of limitations.

The court also determined the law of case doctrine or the coordinate jurisdiction rule were violated in this case.

“The plaintiff is not able to rely on the discovery exception where, as here, he admitted at his deposition he read the court’s opinion, challenged Attorney-Schatz and asked ‘Where is the information about the warrant?’ This plaintiff had awareness of the ‘breach.’ It was his duty to exercise reasonable diligence to institute this malpractice suit in a timely manner,” the court said.

The court also said Johnson failed to display an actual case such as the duty of the attorneys or their failure to show skill and knowledge; factors that could prove they operated in negligence.

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Court of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Pennsylvania

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