Meeks v. Dashiell

Decision Date26 January 2006
Docket NumberNo. 638, September Term, 2004.,638, September Term, 2004.
Citation890 A.2d 779,166 Md. App. 415
PartiesCharles E. MEEKS, Jr. v. Charles R. DASHIELL, Jr., et al.
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland

James MacAlister (Morton Edelstein, on the brief), Baltimore, for appellant.

Alvin I. Frederick (Jeffrey W. Bredeck, on the brief), Baltimore, for appellee.

Panel: MURPHY, C.J., DAVIS, HOLLANDER, SALMON, JAMES R. EYLER, KENNEY, DEBORAH S. EYLER, ADKINS, KRAUSER, BARBERA, SHARER, MEREDITH, PAUL E. ALPERT (Retired, specially assigned), JJ.

MEREDITH, J.

Charles E. Meeks, Jr. ("Meeks"), appellant, filed suit in the Circuit Court for Wicomico County, alleging legal malpractice on the part of his former attorneys, Charles R. Dashiell, Jr., and Dashiell's law firm, Hearne and Bailey, P.A. (collectively referred to as "Dashiell" or "appellees"). Meeks alleged that he had engaged Dashiell to draft a prenuptial agreement in 1989, prior to his marriage to Melanie Davis ("Davis"). Meeks alleged that Dashiell reviewed with him a draft of the agreement that included, among other provisions, a waiver of alimony on the part of Davis. Meeks further alleged that Dashiell, without consulting Meeks, deleted the alimony waiver from the final draft, and then directed Meeks to sign the agreement without rereading it. As a consequence, Meeks alleged, he did not learn until approximately 12 years later, when the marriage disintegrated, that his prenuptial agreement lacked a waiver-of-alimony provision. Nevertheless, during the course of the divorce proceedings subsequently initiated by Meeks, Meeks filed a motion for the court to declare the prenuptial agreement enforceable as executed. The motion was granted, and Meeks ended up paying alimony to Davis.

Meeks then sued Dashiell, alleging that Dashiell was negligent in deleting the alimony waiver and counseling Meeks to sign the prenuptial agreement without rereading it. Dashiell responded to the complaint with a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment, arguing that the malpractice claim was barred by judicial estoppel, or barred by the three-year statute of limitations, or fatally defective in its allegations as to causation. After a hearing, the motion judge ruled that judicial estoppel did not bar the claim, but nevertheless granted appellees' motion for summary judgment, ruling that the statute of limitations period had expired three years after the date Meeks signed the prenuptial agreement. This appeal followed.

Meeks contends that the motion judge erred in failing to apply the discovery rule. In response, Dashiell urges us to affirm the motion court's ruling that the malpractice claim was barred by the statute of limitations. Alternatively, Dashiell contends that, even if the motion court erred in granting the motion on the basis of the statute of limitations, we should nevertheless affirm the judgment for the appellees by ruling that the motion court erred in failing to grant the motion based upon the doctrine of judicial estoppel.

We shall hold that the motion court erred in ruling as a matter of law that the malpractice claim was barred by the statute of limitations; and we shall not disturb the motion court's denial of the summary judgment motion based upon judicial estoppel. Accordingly, we shall vacate the judgment and remand the case for further proceedings.

BACKGROUND

Because this case was decided by the Circuit Court for Wicomico County in a ruling upon Dashiell's motion for summary judgment, we must consider the facts in a light most favorable to Meeks as the nonmoving party. International Broth. of Teamsters v. Willis Corroon Corp., 369 Md. 724, 728, 802 A.2d 1050 (2002). As this Court has stated many times, in our review of a summary judgment ruling, "we evaluate `the same material from the record and decide[] the same legal issues as the circuit court.'" Mitchell v. AARP, 140 Md.App. 102, 114, 779 A.2d 1061 (2001) (quoting Lopata v. Miller, 122 Md.App. 76, 83, 712 A.2d 24, cert. denied, 351 Md. 286, 718 A.2d 234 (1998)).

In his complaint filed against Dashiell in this case, which we will set forth in full, Meeks alleged the following:

1. In approximately mid-October, 1989, [Meeks] retained Charles R. Dashiell, Jr., principal, employee and agent of the law firm of Hearne & Bailey, P.A., to draw an antenuptial agreement between his fiancé, Melanie Davis[,] and himself.

2. The agreement, among other provisions, was to contain a waiver of alimony by Melanie Davis.

3. [I]n fact, an initial draft of the agreement contained a clause in which Ms. Davis waived her right to alimony.

4. [O]n or about November 3, 1989, the parties signed the antenuptial agreement and then married on the following day.

5. Prior to Mr. Meeks executing the antenuptial agreement, Mr. Dashiell assured Mr. Meeks that everything was fine and directed him to sign the same.

6. Mr. Meeks, at all times during the drafting and execution of the agreement, relied upon the advice and representations of Charles R. Dashiell, Jr.

7. Unbeknownst to Mr. Meeks, the waiver of alimony provision that had been contained in the draft was not contained in the antenuptial agreement that was presented to the parties for signature.

8. On or about May 10, 2001, the Plaintiff and his wife, Melanie Davis Meeks[,] separated.

9. As a result of the separation, Mr. Meeks turned his attention to the antenuptial agreement and discovered that he may be responsible for the payment of alimony because the waiver of alimony provision was not contained in the executed agreement.

10. The Defendant, Charles R. Dashiell, Jr., was negligent in drawing the antenuptial agreement without a waiver of alimony provision; was further negligent in not being aware that the agreement did not have a waiver of alimony provision; and/or was negligent in not advising the Plaintiff that the agreement did not contain a waiver of alimony; and was negligent in directing the Plaintiff to sign the agreement when the [sic] Charles R. Dashiell, Jr. knew or should have known that the alimony waiver provision was not contained therein and knew or should have known that the Plaintiff did not know that the original draft had been modified.

11. The Plaintiff was not contributorily negligent.

12. As a result of the negligence of the Defendants, the Plaintiff has been caused to incur legal fees and has been required to pay alimony.

Wherefore, the Plaintiff claims damages of Seven Hundred[] Fifty Thousand Dollars ($750,000.00) against both Defendants.

No answer was filed in the case. Instead, Dashiell's initial response to Meeks's complaint was a motion entitled "Motion to Dismiss, or in the alternative, Motion for Summary Judgment." Because the motion relied upon three attached exhibits that were not part of the complaint, we shall treat Dashiell's motion as a motion for summary judgment. See Maryland Rule 2-322(c).

In the motion for summary judgment, Dashiell asserted that "the material facts in this case are undisputed and judgment should be entered for the Defendants as a matter of law." The motion set forth three alternative bases for entering judgment for Dashiell: "[1] The Plaintiff's claim is barred under the doctrine of judicial estoppel. [2] The Plaintiff's claim is also barred under the applicable statute of limitations. [3] The Plaintiff's cause of action fails since the Defendants did not cause the alleged damages."

Dashiell attached to the motion for summary judgment a supporting memorandum of points and authorities, as well as three exhibits. There was no supporting affidavit filed with the motion, but in a footnote in Dashiell's supporting memorandum, Dashiell urged the court to take judicial notice of the exhibits. The footnote stated:

Maryland Rule 5-201 provides that "a judicially noticed fact must be one that is not subject to reasonable dispute in that it is ... capable of accurate and ready determination by resort to sources whose accuracy cannot be reasonably questioned." Attached hereto as Exhibit 1 is the Complaint for Divorce in the matters styled as Meeks v. Meeks, Case No. 23-C-02-0156 in the Circuit Court for Worcester County. Exhibit 2 is the Motion to Enforce the Antenuptial Agreement in the matters styled as Meeks v. Meeks, Case No. 23-C-02-0156 in the Circuit Court for Worcester County. Exhibit 3 is the Docket Entries in the matters styled as Meeks v. Meeks, Case No. 23-C-02-0156 in the Circuit Court for Worcester County. The Court may take judicial notice of these proceedings.

In Dashiell's supporting memorandum, he emphasized that Meeks's Complaint for Divorce, filed in the Worcester County divorce action, included as one of its several prayers for relief a request that Davis "be awarded rehabilitative alimony." Dashiell further emphasized that, in the divorce action, Meeks had filed a motion asking the Circuit Court for Worcester County to enforce the antenuptial agreement dated November 3, 1989. There was no mention in Meeks's motion of any dissatisfaction on his part with the terms of that agreement. The docket entries from the divorce action reflect that after Meeks filed the motion to enforce the prenuptial agreement, the Circuit Court for Worcester County conducted a hearing and granted the motion. The docket entry for June 11, 2003, states: "Court finds the Antenuptial Agreement to be a valid agreement, and Grants the Motion to Enforce the Antenuptial Agreement."

Meeks filed an opposition to Dashiell's motion for summary judgment. Meeks asserted that there were genuine disputes of material facts, and that Dashiell was not entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Meeks supported his opposition with a legal memorandum and five exhibits. Two of the exhibits Meeks submitted were duplicates of two of the exhibits to Dashiell's motion, namely, Meeks's Complaint for Divorce and Meeks's Motion to Enforce Antenuptial Agreement. In addition, Meeks filed a copy of Davis's answer to the complaint for divorce,...

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  • Larocca v. Creig Northrop Team, P.C., 0766
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • 25 June 2014
    ...ruling, concluding that the claim was not barred by the statute of limitations. Id. at 158, 913 A.2d 10 (citing Meeks v. Dashiell, 166 Md.App. 415, 890 A.2d 779 (2006) (en banc)). Dashiell appealed and the Court of Appeals granted certiorari. The Court began its analysis by acknowledging th......
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