Attorney-Client Relationship Formation

Indiana Couple Defeat Summary Judgment in Legal Malpractice Claim Against Former Attorney in Handling of Loan to Former MLB Player

A couple who brought a legal malpractice claim against their former attorney in connection with his drafting of a promissory note executed by a former MLB player will proceed after they defeated a motion for summary judgment.  Here, in 2014, Elizabeth and Robert Bilbija lent $42,500 to their friend, former MLB player Ryan Thompson.  To document the transaction, Thompson was referred to Christopher T. Lane, who was engaged by Thompson to draft a promissory note.  Notably, he was paid $500 for his services, which was paid evenly by both Thompson and the Bilbijas

Lane drafted the promissory note which provided that Thompson would repay the $42,500 and it was secured by his MLB pension of approximately $8,000 a month.  However, Thompson failed to repay the money and later would file bankruptcy.  The Bilbijas thereafter attempted to claw Thompson’s pension payments by way of the Note to satisfy the debt; but, were informed by the pension authorities that it was only subject to execution for child support or similar debts and they would require a judgment.  This option was not available however due to Thompson’s bankruptcy.

Lane was then sued by the couple for legal malpractice for failing to protect their interests in the transaction.  He subsequently moved for summary judgment on the basis that he owed no duty to the Bilbijas because he allegedly never represented them or communicated through words or actions that he represented them in the transaction.  Arguing that the Bilbijas’ unilateral belief that they were his client does not create a duty.  Hacker v. Holland, 570 N.E.2d 951, 955 (Ind. Ct. App.).  However, the Court disagreed with this argument, concluding that the Bilbijas insisted that Lane represented them and designated evidence of conduct that would indicate as such. See In re Anonymous, 655 N.E.2d 67, 70 (Ind. 1995).  Therefore, the Court concluded a question of fact existed to defeat the motion under the principle that the formation of an attorney-client relationship does not need to be express, rather, it may be created by the implied conduct of the parties. 

The Court did grant summary judgment in favor of the attorney on the couples' allegations that Lane breached his duty owed to them due to a conflict of interest.  Indiana has previously held that violations of the rules of ethical conduct alone - including conflicts - cannot create a basis for a claim.  See Rosenbaum v. White, 692 F.3d 593, 604 (7th Cir. 2012).

Alex Passo handles legal malpractice actions throughout Illinois and Indiana.  If you have a matter that you would like to discuss with Alex, you can contact him at or (312) 284-6256.