LINDA L. ROZEN ET AL.
WOLFF ARDIS, P.C.
Session September 18, 2019
from the Circuit Court for Shelby County No. CT-003797-16
Valerie L. Smith, Judge
filed a legal malpractice action against their former law
firm after two civil judgments were not renewed after a
ten-year period. After a bench trial, the trial court ruled
that the appellants' claim was filed beyond the statute
of limitations. The trial court also found that no
attorney-client relationship existed to impose a duty on the
law firm to renew the civil judgments before they expired. We
find no reversible error in the trial court's ruling
regarding the statute of limitations. As such, we affirm the
decision of the trial court.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Circuit
Sadler Bailey and J. Vance Montgomery, Memphis, Tennessee,
for the appellants, Linda L. Rozen, and Doron Rozen.
Russell E. Reviere and Dale Conder, Jr., Jackson, Tennessee,
for the appellee, Wolff Ardis, P. C.
Steven Stafford, P.J., W.S., delivered the opinion of the
court, in which Kenny Armstrong and Carma Dennis McGee, JJ.,
STEVEN STAFFORD, JUDGE
case involves a claim of legal malpractice following the
failure to renew two civil judgments ten years after they
were first issued. Appellants Doron Rozen and Linda L. Rozen
("the Rozens") hired a law firm, Appellee Wolff
Ardis, P.C. ("Wolff Ardis"), after they discovered
that an employee, Jessica Trotter-Lawson ("Ms.
Trotter"), and her then-boyfriend, Andrew Burton
("Mr. Sheriff"), had embezzled hundreds of thousands of
dollars from the Rozens' jewelry business in Memphis. The
Rozens signed an engagement agreement with Wolff Ardis on
January 8, 2003. The agreement stated that Wolff Ardis would
represent the Rozens and their business, Town & Country
Jewelers, Inc., "in the investigation, pursuit, and if
appropriate, prosecution of any claim and/or lawsuit arising
out of the activities of [Ms. Trotter] and/or [Mr.
Rozens sought civil judgments against Ms. Trotter and Mr.
Sheriff. The Shelby County Chancery Court issued a $493,
685.81 judgment against Ms. Trotter on April 23, 2003, and a
$519, 357.47 judgment against Mr. Sheriff on August 11, 2003.
When each civil judgment was issued, the Rozens were
represented by Sharon Petty ("Ms. Petty"), who then
worked as an attorney at Wolff Ardis. Pursuant to Tennessee
Code Annotated section 28-3-110(a)(2), civil judgments are
effective for ten years; judgments may, however, be renewed
by the filing of a timely petition. Ms. Trotter and Mr.
Sheriff separately pleaded guilty to two counts of theft over
$60, 000 on January 13, 2004, and were each sentenced to a
maximum of eight years in prison. Because Ms. Trotter and Mr.
Sheriff had no demonstrable assets and would be incarcerated
for some time, Wolff Ardis encouraged the Rozens to wait to
collect on the judgments until both people had collectable
income or assets. The Rozens were willing to wait and pursue
their judgments against Ms. Trotter and Mr. Sheriff as long
as necessary. Both Ms. Trotter and Mr. Sheriff were
eventually released on probation.
Ardis represented the Rozens again in 2006 to ensure that the
Rozens' judgment against Mr. Sheriff was not discharged
after he was released from prison and filed for bankruptcy.
The bankruptcy court entered an order on May 8, 2008, that
declared that the Rozens' judgment could not be
discharged. On May 20, 2008, the Rozens received a letter
from Wolff Ardis stating that "this matter is
completed" and requesting that the Rozens pay for the
legal services performed for them.
years after obtaining the judgments and the conclusion of
bankruptcy matter, Mr. Rozen continued to contact Wolff Ardis
about renewing the judgments before they
expired. Typically, Mr. Rozen would discuss the
judgments with Wolff Ardis staff, including paralegal Cindy
Tupis ("Ms. Tupis") and legal assistant Cynthia
Dayne ("Ms. Dayne"). After one such conversation, Ms.
Dayne sent an email to Mr. Rozen on June 29, 2011, stating in
It appears that the Order Granting Default Judgment against
Jessica Trotter was in April of 2003 and the Order Granting
Default Judgment against Andy Sheriff was in June of 2003.
Judgments have to be renewed in 10 years, so in 2013 we will
have to renew.
We will docket a reminder for this in our system for January
I am copying Sharon Petty on this email - Sharon please
confirm that I am correct.
reminders were directed to Ms. Dayne and Ms. Petty about
renewing the Rozens' judgments. Unbeknownst to Ms. Dayne
at the time, those reminders were never received due to
technical issues. Neither Ms. Dayne nor Ms. Petty worked for
Wolff Ardis when the present lawsuit was filed. At trial, the
parties stipulated that Ms. Petty would testify that she
never received the calendar invite. Mr. Rozen continued to
contact Wolff Ardis regarding the judgments, including in
2012 after Ms. Trotter was accused of stealing from a church
in Johnson City.
2013 renewal dates on both judgments passed without
intervention from either the Rozens or Wolff Ardis.
Specifically, Wolff Ardis did not work to renew the judgments
and did not issue a bill to the Rozens during that time. The
Rozens contacted Wolff Ardis again about the judgments in
June 2016, when Mr. Rozen asked the law firm to send him case
files and complete a background check on Mr. Sheriff. At that
time, Mr. Rozen indicated his belief that the judgments had
been renewed. While conducting the background check, Ms.
Tupis learned the judgments against Ms. Trotter and Mr.
Sheriff were never renewed and arguably invalid. Ms. Tupis
told her supervisor, Patrick M. Ardis ("Mr.
Ardis"), about the expired judgments. Mr. Ardis told Ms.
Tupis that they should try to help the Rozens if they could.
Without approval from the Rozens, Wolff Ardis filed Motions
and Requests for Scire Facias to Revive Judgments against Ms.
Trotter and Mr. Sheriff on June 20, 2016. Ms. Tupis completed
the background check and emailed Mr. Rozen about the results
on June 21, 2016. Ms. Tupis and Mr. Ardis unsuccessfully
attempted to contact the Rozens personally and alert them of
the judgments. Ms. Tupis eventually emailed Mr. Rozen on July
28, 2016 to inform him of the expired judgments and the
motions that had been filed to revive them. After a hearing
on August 15, 2016, the Motions and Requests for Scire Facias
to Revive Judgments were denied by the Shelby County Chancery
Court. Mr. Ardis sent a letter to the Rozens on August 17,
2016 informing them of the expired judgments, the failed
efforts to revive them, and the law firm's plans to
appeal the rulings at its own expense.
Rozens, along with Town & Country Jewelers, Inc., filed
the present legal malpractice action against Wolff Ardis in
Shelby County Circuit Court ("the trial court") on
September 15, 2016. Wolff Ardis answered the complaint with
multiple affirmative defenses on November 1, 2016, including
expiration of the legal malpractice statute of limitations.
Wolff Ardis moved for summary judgment on April 27, 2017, and
the Rozens separately moved for summary judgment on May 30,
2017. The trial court was also asked whether Wolff Ardis
could present evidence about the collectability of the
judgments as part of its defense. The trial court denied both
motions for summary judgment and additionally allowed Wolff
Ardis to present evidence at trial regarding collectability.
The Rozens moved ...