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Legal Memorandum: Statute of Limitations and Legal Malpractice

Issue: Where an Iowa resident retained a South Dakota lawyer, what statute of limitations would apply to a legal malpractice claim?

Area of Law: Litigation & Procedure, Personal Injury & Negligence
Keywords: Statute of limitations; Legal malpractice
Jurisdiction: Iowa, South Dakota
Cited Cases: 407 N.W.2d 597; 935 F. Supp. 1333
Cited Statutes: Restatement (Second) of Conflict of Laws § 142, 143; Iowa Code § 614.7
Date: 03/01/2010

In Washburn v. Soper, 319 F.3d 338 (8th Cir. 2003), the Eighth Circuit applied Iowa law in a diversity case that alleged legal malpractice.  The plaintiffs in Washburn were residents of Illinois who retained an Iowa attorney to represent them in an Illinois state court proceeding.  The state court action involved Illinois residents, businesses, trust agreements, and contracts.  The only Iowa connection with the case was that the attorney was an Iowa resident, and he was licensed to practice in Iowa, as well as in Illinois.  The Eighth Circuit applied the shorter Illinois statute of limitations, holding that Illinois had a “more significant relationship to the parties and the occurrence.”  Id. at 343.  Although Iowa had an interest in maintaining the integrity of the bar, that interest was not substantial in the particular case.

The question has been addressed by the Iowa courts in other types of negligence cases.  In the case of Cameron v. Hardisty, 407 N.W.2d 595 (Iowa 1987), the court held that Iowa courts would apply the Iowa two-year statute of limitations, rather than the Nebraska four-year statute, in a case brought in Iowa against an Iowa resident by a Minnesota resident injured in a collision in Nebraska.  The court concluded that Iowa law would apply in that case “because the forum always has a primary interest in protecting its courts and litigants from stale claims.”  407 N.W.2d 597. 

The court noted that statutes of limitations are considered “procedural […]