Hughes Tolling Rule
What is The "Hughes Tolling Rule" ?
In Hughes v. Mahaney & Higgins, 821 S.W.2d 154, 155 (Tex. 1991), the Texas Supreme Court addressed "the proper application of the statute of limitations in a legal malpractice case when the attorney allegedly commits malpractice while providing legal services in the prosecution or defense of a claim which results in litigation."
In that case, Robert M. Mahaney, an attorney who was retained by James and Patti Hughes to assist them with an adoption, obtained a signed affidavit of relinquishment of parental rights from the child's biological mother that named Mahaney, as opposed to the Hughes, as the child's temporary managing conservator. Id. The Hughes filed a lawsuit to terminate the mother's rights and adopt the child; however, the biological mother had a change of heart and filed a motion to dismiss the Hughes' lawsuit. Id.
The motion to dismiss alleged the Hughes lacked standing to bring the suit because they were not named in the affidavit as the temporary managing conservators. Id. The trial court denied the motion; however, the appellate court reversed, holding the Hughes lacked standing. Id. at 156.
The application for writ of error challenging the appellate court's holding was denied, and the motion for rehearing on the application was overruled on July 10, 1985. Id.
On May 21, 1987, the Hughes sued Mahaney for legal malpractice, alleging they would have had standing if they had been named temporary managing conservators in the affidavit. Id.
Mahaney filed a motion for summary judgment based on limitations, arguing the malpractice cause of action accrued as early as February 17, 1983, the date the biological mother revoked her affidavit of relinquishment. Id. at 157. The Texas Supreme Court concluded that the statute of limitations was tolled until all of the Hughes' appeals in the termination action were exhausted regardless of when the cause of action accrued. Id. at 156.
The court held "when an attorney commits malpractice in the prosecution or defense of a claim that results in litigation, the statute of limitations on the malpractice claim against the attorney is tolled until all appeals on the underlying claim are exhausted." Id. at 157. The court gave two justifications or policy reasons for its holding. Id.
First, requiring the Hughes to file the malpractice lawsuit while the termination/adoption proceeding was still pending would require the Hughes to take "inherently inconsistent positions" by arguing that Mahaney's actions were negligent in the malpractice case while also arguing that the affidavit and Mahaney's actions did not affect their standing in the termination/adoption case. Id.
Second, limitations must be tolled for the malpractice cause of action because the viability of the malpractice cause of action was dependent on the outcome of the termination/adoption proceeding. Id.
If the courts ultimately held that the affidavit did not affect the Hughes' standing, the Hughes would not have a malpractice claim.