Idaho’s highest court rules that when a client sues an attorney for failing to file a timely appeal, the success of the hypothetical appeal is a matter of law for the court to decide, and because the appeal in this case would have failed, the alleged legal malpractice caused no injury. Lanham v. Fleenor (Idaho, No. 45488, Nov. 7, 2018).
Gordon Lanham wrote a will explicitly limiting the inheritance of his son, Thomas Lanham. The will stated that Gordon planned on leaving property to two people, but did not specify who those people were. The will also failed to name a residuary beneficiary. After Gordon died, Thomas hired attorney Douglas Fleenor to file a will contest. Thomas argued that because the will failed to devise the property or name a residuary, the property should pass to him. After a judge ruled against Thomas, Mr. Fleenor did not file an appeal until the deadline had passed, so the appeal was dismissed.
Thomas sued Mr. Fleenor for legal malpractice for failing to file a timely appeal. The trial court ruled that because the appeal would have been unsuccessful, the legal malpractice caused no injury. Thomas appealed, arguing that a jury should decide whether the appeal would be successful.
The Idaho Supreme Court affirms, holding that the success of a hypothetical appeal is a matter of law for the court to decide. According to the court Thomas’s will contest would not succeed because the will explicitly disinherited Thomas and unambiguously granted a general power of appointment to dispose of the property. According to the court, because the appeal would have been unsuccessful, the alleged legal malpractice claim did not cause any injury.
For the full text of this decision, go to: https://cases.justia.com/idaho/supreme-court-civil/2018-45488.pdf?ts=1541614081
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