MICHELLE R. SKADBURG, Appellant,
GARY GATELY and WHITFIELD & EDDY, P.L.C., Appellees.
review from the Iowa Court of Appeals.
from the Iowa District Court for Cerro Gordo County, Rustin
lawyer and his firm seek further review of a court of appeals
decision finding a genuine issue of material fact as to when
the cause of action accrued.
C. Riley of Tom Riley Law Firm, P.L.C., Cedar Rapids, for
Dodson Critelli and Nick Critelli of Critelli Law, P.C., Des
Moines, for appellees.
client appealed the district court's grant of summary
judgment in favor of her attorney and the attorney's law
firm in her legal negligence action. The client argued the
court erred in finding the statute of limitations barred her
action. She also contended the court erred in declining to
apply the discovery rule, the continuous-representation rule,
or the doctrine of fraudulent concealment.
transferred the case to the court of appeals, which reversed
the judgment of the district court. The attorney and his firm
applied for further review, which we granted. On further
review, we hold no genuine issue of material fact exists as
to when the cause of action accrued and the statute of
limitations bars the client's action because the cause of
action accrued more than five years before she filed suit. We
also hold the client may not use the discovery rule, the
continuous-representation rule, or the doctrine of fraudulent
concealment to circumvent the limitations period.
Accordingly, we vacate the decision of the court of appeals
and affirm the judgment of the district court.
Background Facts and Proceedings.
Skadburg is the daughter and sole heir of Barbara Haffner,
who passed away in August 2008. As the designated beneficiary
of both Haffner's life insurance policy and 401k account,
Skadburg received $20, 000 and $87, 054.65, respectively. The
estate was insolvent because the debts exceeded the probate
November 6, the court appointed Skadburg as the administrator
of Haffner's estate. Skadburg designated Gary Gately of
Whitfield & Eddy, P.L.C. as the administrator's
attorney. The next day, Skadburg signed the notice of
appointment and notice to creditors. Upon Gately's
advice, Skadburg alleges, she used the funds from
Haffner's life insurance policy and 401k account to pay
the debts of Haffner's estate. Skadburg further alleges
Gately failed to advise her that these funds were exempt from
any claims against the estate.
August 18, 2010, the district court closed the estate and
discharged the administrator. Gately forwarded this order to
Skadburg in a letter dated August 31, informing her the court
had closed the estate and had discharged her as the
August 19, 2015, Skadburg filed suit against Gately and
Whitfield & Eddy, alleging Gately was negligent in his
representation of her in connection with the probate of the
estate and asserting Whitfield & Eddy was vicariously
liable for Gately's negligence. Gately answered, denying all
claims and asserting the affirmative defense of the statute
August 18, 2016, Gately filed a motion for summary judgment,
arguing the statute of limitations barred Skadburg's
action. Calculating the accrual date most favorably to
Skadburg, Gately argued the latest date on which the cause of
action accrued was August 18, 2010, and Skadburg filed suit
on August 19, 2015, one day after the five-year limitations
period. Skadburg resisted, arguing she submitted her petition
at law on August 18, 2015,  and asserting Gately represented
her as administrator of the estate until August 31, 2010,
when he sent the letter informing her the court had closed
supplemental response to Gately's motion for summary
judgment, Skadburg alleged Gately never advised her that her
ability to pay debts was very limited until four months after
the second publication of the estate notice. Rather, Gately
allegedly told her to pay all the debts and keep the leftover
money. Skadburg further alleged Gately never told her the
proceeds from the life insurance policy and the 401k account
were exempt from any claims against the estate and she could
keep those funds.
first glance, it appears Skadburg made two claims, but these
claims make up her overall claim that Gately negligently gave
her incorrect legal advice. "Our law does not allow the
splitting of a cause of action, and any effort to do so to
avoid the commencement of the statute of limitations would be
inconsistent with the purpose of cutting off stale
claims." Rathje v. Mercy Hosp., 745 N.W.2d 443,
458 (Iowa 2008). Thus, we will treat her allegations as one
legal negligence claim.
court granted Gately's motion for summary judgment.
First, based on emails sent by Skadburg to Gately, the court
held under the discovery rule Skadburg had actual or imputed
knowledge of her potential action no later than March 26,
2010. Thus, the limitations period began to run from that
date. The court also found neither the
continuous-representation rule nor the doctrine of fraudulent
concealment applied. In sum, the court ruled the statute of
limitations barred Skadburg's action. Skadburg filed a
rule 1.904(2) motion for enlargement of findings, which the
appealed. We transferred the case to the court of appeals.
The court of appeals reversed the judgment of the district
court and remanded the case for further proceedings. It held
there was a genuine issue of material fact as to when
Skadburg attained knowledge regarding her cause of action.
Thus, a genuine issue of material fact exists as to when the
statute of limitations commenced. Alternatively, the court of
appeals applied the continuous-representation rule and held
the statute of limitations did not begin to run until August
31, 2010, when Gately sent Skadburg the letter informing her
the court had closed the estate and had discharged her as the
applied for further review, which we granted. We lay out
additional facts as necessary.
only issue we must decide is whether the statute of
limitations precludes Skadburg's action.
Scope of Review.
review the district court's grant or denial of a summary
judgment motion for correction of errors of law. Hook v.
Lippolt, 755 N.W.2d 514, 519 (Iowa 2008). If there is no
genuine issue as to any material fact and the moving party is
entitled to a judgment as a matter of law, the district court
should grant the motion for summary judgment. Nationwide
Mut. Ins. v. Kelly, 687 N.W.2d 272, 274 (Iowa 2004);
accord Iowa R. Civ. P. 1.981(3). The moving party
has the burden of showing the absence of a genuine issue of
material fact. Hlubek v. Pelecky, 701 N.W.2d 93, 95
(Iowa 2005). We view the facts contained in the record in the
light most favorable to the nonmoving party. Nelson v.
Lindaman, 867 N.W.2d 1, 6 (Iowa 2015). We also draw
every legitimate inference in favor of the nonmoving party.
Id. at 6-7.
Statute of Limitations.
contends the district court erred in dismissing her legal
negligence action based on the statute of limitations.
Skadburg is not claiming a written contract existed between
her and Gately. Therefore, the five-year limitations period
in Iowa Code section 614.1(4) (2015) is applicable to her
legal negligence claim. See Vossoughi v. Polaschek,
859 N.W.2d 643, 648 (Iowa 2015) (applying section
614.1(4)'s five-year limitations period to a legal
negligence claim). Iowa Code section 614.1(4) provides,
Actions may be brought within the times herein limited,
respectively, after their causes accrue, and not afterwards,
except when otherwise specially declared:
4. Unwritten contracts-injuries to
property-fraud- other actions. Those
founded on . . . all other actions not otherwise provided for
in this respect, within five years . . . .
Code § 614.1(4).
concedes Gately's negligence occurred from the time of
her appointment as the administrator on November 6, 2008,
through December of 2008. In her answers to interrogatories,
Skadburg stated, "At the time the estate was opened, Mr.
Gately told me to pay all bills and I could keep the
remaining money." Skadburg further stated, "In
December of 2008, he told me to pay the U.S. Bank credit card
and that I could forward any other creditors to him[, ]"
and "I told him all other bills had been paid."
also admits she filed her petition at law more than five
years after the acts of negligence occurred. However, our
inquiry does not focus on when Gately's negligence
occurred. Rather, the question is when her cause of action
accrued. See Vossoughi, 859 N.W.2d at 649-50. If the
cause of action accrued more than five years before Skadburg
filed her petition at law, we must then address whether the
discovery rule or the continuous-representation rule tolls
the limitations ...