CACI No. 611. Affirmative Defense - Statute of Limitations - Attorney Malpractice - Four- Year Limit (Code Civ. Proc., § 340.6)

Judicial Council of California Civil Jury Instructions (2020 edition)

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611.Affirmative Defense - Statute of Limitations - Attorney
Malpractice - Four-Year Limit (Code Civ. Proc., § 340.6)
[Name of defendant] contends that [name of plaintiff]’s lawsuit was not
filed within the time set by law. To succeed on this defense, [name of
defendant] must prove that [his/her/nonbinary pronoun/its] alleged
wrongful act or omission occurred before [insert date four years before
date of filing].
[If, however, [name of plaintiff] proves
[Choose one or more of the following four options:]
[that [he/she/nonbinary pronoun/it] did not sustain actual injury until
on or after [insert date four years before date of filing]][,/; or]]
[that on or after [insert date four years before date of filing][name of
defendant] continued to represent [name of plaintiff] regarding the specific
subject matter in which the wrongful act or omission occurred[,/; or]]
[that on or after [insert date four years before date of filing][name of
defendant] knowingly concealed the facts constituting the wrongful act or
omission[,/; or]]
[that on or after [insert date four years before date of filing]
[he/she/nonbinary pronoun/it] was under a legal or physical disability that
restricted [his/her/nonbinary pronoun/its] ability to file a lawsuit[,/;]]
the period within which [name of plaintiff] had to file the lawsuit is
extended for the amount of time that [insert tolling provision, e.g., [name
of defendant] knowingly concealed the facts].]
New April 2007; Revised April 2009
Directions for Use
Use CACI No. 610, Affırmative Defense - Statute of Limitations - Attorney
Malpractice - One-Year Limit, if the one-year limitation provision is at issue.
If no tolling provision from Code of Civil Procedure section 340.6 is at issue, read
only through the end of the first paragraph. Read the rest of the instruction if there
is a question of fact concerning a tolling provision. If so, the verdict form should
ask the jury to find (1) the date on which the alleged wrongful act or omission
occurred; (2) whether the tolling provision applies; and (3) if so, for what period of
time. The court can then add the additional time to the date on which the alleged
wrongful act or omission occurred and determine whether the action is timely.
The court may need to define the term “actual injury” depending on the facts and
circumstances of the particular case.
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Sources and Authority
• Statute of Limitation for Attorney Malpractice. Code of Civil Procedure section
340.6.
• Persons Under Disabilities. Code of Civil Procedure section 352.
• “Under section 340.6, the one-year limitations period commences when the
plaintiff actually or constructively discovers the facts of the wrongful act or
omission, but the period is tolled until the plaintiff sustains actual injury. That is
to say, the statute of limitations will not run during the time the plaintiff cannot
bring a cause of action for damages from professional negligence.” (Jordache
Enterprises, Inc. v. Brobeck, Phleger & Harrison (1998) 18 Cal.4th 739, 751 [76
Cal.Rptr.2d 749, 958 P.2d 1062].)
• “Actual injury refers only to the legally cognizable damage necessary to assert
the cause of action. There is no requirement that an adjudication or settlement
must first confirm a causal nexus between the attorney’s error and the asserted
injury. The determination of actual injury requires only a factual analysis of the
claimed error and its consequences. The inquiry necessarily is more qualitative
than quantitative because the fact of damage, rather than the amount, is the
critical factor.” (Truong v. Glasser (2009) 181 Cal.App.4th 102, 113 [103
Cal.Rptr.3d 811].)
• “ ‘[S]ection 340.6, subdivision (a)(1), will not toll the limitations period once the
client can plead damages that could establish a cause of action for legal
malpractice.’ ‘[T]he limitations period is not tolled after the plaintiff sustains
actual injury [even] if the injury is, in some sense, remediable. [Citation.]
Furthermore, the statutory scheme does not depend on the plaintiff’s recognizing
actual injury. Actual injury must be noticeable, but the language of the tolling
provision does not require that it be noticed.’ On the other hand, ‘the statute of
limitations will not run during the time the plaintiff cannot bring a cause of
action for damages from professional negligence’ because the plaintiff cannot
allege actual injury resulted from an attorney’s malpractice.” (Croucier v. Chavos
(2012) 207 Cal.App.4th 1138, 1148 [144 Cal.Rptr.3d 180], internal citations
omitted.)
• “[A]ctual injury exists even if the client has yet to ‘sustain[] all, or even the
greater part, of the damages occasioned by his attorney’s negligence’; even if the
client will encounter ‘difficulty in proving damages’; and even if that damage
might be mitigated or entirely eliminated in the future. [¶ ] However, ‘actual
injury’ does not include ‘speculative and contingent injuries . . . that do not yet
exist . . . .’ ” (Shaoxing City Maolong Wuzhong Down Products, Ltd. v. Keehn
& Associates, APC (2015) 238 Cal.App.4th 1031, 1036 [190 Cal.Rptr.3d 90],
internal citations omitted.)
• “[B]ecause ‘determining actual injury is predominately a factual inquiry’ to the
extent a question remains on this point, the matter is properly resolved by the
trier of fact . . . .” (Callahan v. Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP (2011) 194
Cal.App.4th 557, 576 [125 Cal.Rptr.3d 120].)
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• “[W]here, as here, the ‘material facts are undisputed, the trial court can resolve
the matter [of actual injury] as a question of law in conformity with summary
judgment principles.’ ” (Shaoxing City Maolong Wuzhong Down Products, Ltd.,
supra, 238 Cal.App.4th at pp. 1037-1038.)
• “[P]rior to the enactment of section 340.6 the running of the statute of
limitations coincided with accrual of the plaintiff’s malpractice cause of action,
including damages. By contrast, under the provisions of section 340.6, discovery
of the negligent act or omission initiates the statutory period, and the absence of
injury or damages serves as a tolling factor.” (Adams v. Paul (1995) 11 Cal.4th
583, 598 fn. 2 [46 Cal.Rptr.2d 594, 904 P.2d 1205], internal citations omitted.)
• “[A] defendant must prove the facts necessary to enjoy the benefit of a statute of
limitations.” (Samuels v. Mix (1999) 22 Cal.4th 1, 10 [91 Cal.Rptr.2d 273, 989
P.2d 701], internal citations omitted.)
• “In ordinary tort and contract actions, the statute of limitations, it is true, begins
to run upon the occurrence of the last element essential to the cause of action.
The plaintiff’s ignorance of the cause of action, or of the identity of the
wrongdoer, does not toll the statute. In cases of professional malpractice,
however, postponement of the period of limitations until discovery finds
justification in the special nature of the relationship between the professional
man and his client.” (Neel v. Magana, Olney, Levy, Cathcart & Gelfand (1971) 6
Cal.3d 176, 187-188 [98 Cal.Rptr. 837, 491 P.2d 421], footnote omitted.)
• “If the allegedly negligent conduct does not cause damage, it generates no cause
of action in tort. The mere breach of a professional duty, causing only nominal
damages, speculative harm, or the threat of future harm - not yet realized - does
not suffice to create a cause of action for negligence. Hence, until the client
suffers appreciable harm as a consequence of his attorney’s negligence, the client
cannot establish a cause of action for malpractice.” (Budd v. Nixen (1971) 6
Cal.3d 195, 200 [98 Cal.Rptr. 849, 491 P.2d 433], internal citations omitted.)
• “A plaintiff who is aware of, and has been actually injured by, attorney
malpractice in a matter need not file suit for malpractice while that attorney is
still representing him on the same ‘specific subject matter.’ ” (Shaoxing City
Maolong Wuzhong Down Products, Ltd., supra, 238 Cal.App.4th at p. 1038.)
• “The continuous representation tolling provision in section 340.6, subdivision
(a)(2) ‘was adopted in order to “avoid the disruption of an attorney-client
relationship by a lawsuit while enabling the attorney to correct or minimize an
apparent error, and to prevent an attorney from defeating a malpractice cause of
action by continuing to represent the client until the statutory period has
expired.” ’ ” (Kelly v. Orr (2016) 243 Cal.App.4th 940, 950 [196 Cal.Rptr.3d
901].)
• “The mere existence of an attorney-client relationship does not trigger the
continuous representation rule: ‘Instead, the statute’s tolling language addresses a
particular phase of such a relationship-representation regarding a specific subject
matter. Moreover, the limitations period is not tolled when an attorney’s
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subsequent role is only tangentially related to the legal representation the
attorney provided to the plaintiff. Therefore, “[t]he inquiry is not whether an
attorney-client relationship still exists but when the representation of the specific
matter terminated.” ’ Tolling does not apply where there is a continuing
relationship between the attorney and client ‘involving only unrelated matters.’ ”
(Lockton v. O’Rourke (2010) 184 Cal.App.4th 1051, 1064 [109 Cal.Rptr.3d 392],
original italics, internal citations omitted.)
• “[W]here a client hires a law firm to represent it, the provisions of section 340.6
apply to that firm; the term ‘attorney’ in section 340.6 may embrace the entire
partnership, law corporation, or other legal entity the client retains. [¶ ] That
either an attorney or a firm may be the subject of an action does not support a
reading under which representation by one attorney or firm might toll the
limitations period as to another no longer affiliated attorney or firm. Rather, the
text implies an action against a law firm is tolled so long as that firm continues
representation, just as an action against an attorney is tolled so long as that
attorney continues representation, but representation by one attorney or firm does
not toll claims that may exist against a different, unaffiliated attorney or firm.”
(Beal Bank, SSB v. Arter & Hadden, LLP (2007) 42 Cal.4th 503, 509 [66
Cal.Rptr.3d 52, 167 P.3d 666], original italics.)
• “ ‘[W]hen an attorney leaves a firm and takes a client with him or her, . . . the
tolling in ongoing matters [does not] continue for claims against the former firm
and partners.’ ” (Stueve Bros. Farms, LLC v. Berger Kahn (2013) 222
Cal.App.4th 303, 314 [166 Cal.Rptr.3d 116].)
• “ ‘Ordinarily, an attorney’s representation is not completed until the agreed tasks
or events have occurred, the client consents to termination or a court grants an
application by counsel for withdrawal.’ ‘The rule is that, for purposes of the
statute of limitations, the attorney’s representation is concluded when the parties
so agree, and that result does not depend upon formal termination, such as
withdrawing as counsel of record.’ ‘Continuity of representation ultimately
depends, not on the client’s subjective beliefs, but rather on evidence of an
ongoing mutual relationship and of activities in furtherance of the relationship.’ ”
(Nielsen v. Beck (2007) 157 Cal.App.4th 1041, 1049 [69 Cal.Rptr.3d 435],
internal citations omitted.)
• “[T]he continuous representation tolling provision in section 340.6, subdivision
(a)(2), applies to toll legal malpractice claims brought by successor trustees
against attorneys who represented the predecessor trustee.” (Kelly, supra, 243
Cal.App.4th at p. 951.)
• “[A]bsent a statutory standard to determine when an attorney’s representation of
a client regarding a specific subject matter ends, and consistent with the purposes
of the continuing representation rule, we conclude that for purposes of . . .
section 340.6, subdivision (a)(2), in the event of an attorney’s unilateral
withdrawal or abandonment of the client, the representation ends when the client
actually has or reasonably should have no expectation that the attorney will
provide further legal services. . . . That may occur upon the attorney’s express
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notification to the client that the attorney will perform no further services, or, if
the attorney remains silent, may be inferred from the circumstances. Absent
actual notice to the client that the attorney will perform no further legal services
or circumstances that reasonably should cause the client to so conclude, a client
should be entitled to rely on an attorney to perform the agreed services and
should not be required to interrupt the attorney-client relationship by filing a
malpractice complaint. After a client has no reasonable expectation that the
attorney will provide further legal services, however, the client is no longer
hindered by a potential disruption of the attorney-client relationship and no
longer relies on the attorney’s continuing representation, so the tolling should
end. To this extent and for these reasons, we conclude that continuous
representation should be viewed objectively from the client’s perspective . . . .”
(Laclette v. Galindo (2010) 184 Cal.App.4th 919, 928 [109 Cal.Rptr.3d 660],
original italics.)
• “Continuity of representation ultimately depends, not on the client’s subjective
beliefs, but rather on evidence of an ongoing mutual relationship and of
activities in furtherance of the relationship.” (GoTek Energy, Inc. v. SoCal IP
Law Group, LLP (2016) 3 Cal.App.5th 1240, 1248 [208 Cal.Rptr.3d 428],
original italics.)
• “[T]he fourth tolling provision of section 340.6, subdivision (a) - that is, the
provision applicable to legal and physical disabilities - encompasses the
circumstances set forth in section 351 [exception, where defendant is out of the
state].” (Jocer Enterprises, Inc. v. Price (2010) 183 Cal.App.4th 559, 569 [107
Cal.Rptr.3d 539].)
• “[A] would-be plaintiff is ‘imprisoned on a criminal charge’ within the meaning
of section 352.1 if he or she is serving a term of imprisonment in the state
prison.” (Austin v. Medicis (2018) 21 Cal.App.5th 577, 597 [230 Cal.Rptr.3d
528].)
• “In light of the Legislature’s intent that section 340.6(a) cover more than claims
for legal malpractice, the term ‘professional services’ is best understood to
include nonlegal services governed by an attorney’s professional obligations.”
(Lee v. Hanley (2015) 61 Cal.4th 1225, 1237 [191 Cal.Rptr.3d 536, 354 P.3d
334].)
• “For purposes of section 340.6(a), the question is not simply whether a claim
alleges misconduct that entails the violation of a professional obligation. Rather,
the question is whether the claim, in order to succeed, necessarily depends on
proof that an attorney violated a professional obligation as opposed to some
generally applicable nonprofessional obligation.” (Lee, supra, 61 Cal.4th at p.
1238.)
•“Lee held that ‘section 340.6(a)’s time bar applies to claims whose merits
necessarily depend on proof that an attorney violated a professional obligation in
the course of providing professional services. In this context, a “professional
obligation” is an obligation that an attorney has by virtue of being an attorney,
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such as fiduciary obligations, the obligation to perform competently, the
obligation to perform the services contemplated in a legal services contract into
which an attorney has entered, and the obligations embodied in the State Bar
Rules of Professional Conduct.’ ” (Foxen v. Carpenter (2016) 6 Cal.App.5th 284,
292 [211 Cal.Rptr.3d 372].)
• “In sum, consistent with Lee, section 340.6(a) applies to malicious prosecution
claims against attorneys who performed professional services in the underlying
litigation.” (Connelly v. Bornstein (2019) 33 Cal.App.5th 783, 799 [245
Cal.Rptr.3d 452].)
Secondary Sources
3 Witkin, California Procedure (5th ed. 2008) Actions, §§ 573, 626-655
3 Levy et al., California Torts, Ch. 32, Liability of Attorneys, § 32.60 (Matthew
Bender)
1 Matthew Bender Practice Guide: California Pretrial Civil Procedure, Ch. 4,
Limitation of Actions, § 4.05
7 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 76, Attorney Professional Liability,
§§ 76.170, 76.430 (Matthew Bender)
33 California Forms of Pleading and Practice, Ch. 380, Negligence, § 380.150
(Matthew Bender)
612-699. Reserved for Future Use
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