United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division
ORDER ON DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR SUMMARY
WALTON PRATT, JUDGE
matter is before the Court on a Motion for Summary Judgment
filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56 by
Defendant Christopher T. Lane (“Lane”)
(Filing No. 44). Plaintiffs Elizabeth and Robert
Bilbija (“the Bilbijas”), brought this lawsuit
for legal malpractice against Lane, alleging that Lane
engaged in a prohibited dual representation of them along
with non-party Ryan Thompson (“Thompson”), in
documenting a loan from the Bilbijas to Thompson. They
further contend that Lane failed to secure the loan through
payments to Thompson from a Major League Baseball
(“MLB”) pension. Lane, an Indianapolis attorney,
seeks summary judgment, asserting that no attorney-client
relationship existed with the Bilbijas to support a legal
malpractice claim, and there is no cause of action for their
conflict of interest claim. For the following reasons, the
Court grants in part and denies in part the
Motion for Summary Judgment.
following facts are not necessarily objectively true, but as
required by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56, the facts are
presented in the light most favorable to the Bilbijas as the
non- moving parties. See Zerante v. DeLuca, 555 F.3d
582, 584 (7th Cir. 2009); Anderson v. Liberty Lobby,
Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 255 (1986).
Thompson is a retired major league baseball player. In 2014,
the Bilbijas and Thompson met through their sons, as both of
their sons played college basketball. Thompson and the
Bilbijas are Christians and they became close friends.
(Filing No. 49-2 at 10-11.) The Bilbijas considered Thompson
part of their family. Id. 11. On June 9, 2014, the
Bilbijas executed a promissory note with Thompson and his
wife, Charon Thompson, for the amount of $70, 000.00
(Filing No. 49-1 at 2). Lane was not involved in
preparing this promissory note (Filing No. 49-2 at
6-7). The Bilbijas loaned $70, 000.00 to the Thompsons
to assist them with their financial troubles, and the
promissory note memorialized the debt and obligation to repay
the debt. Id. at 10-11.
following month, in July 2014, Thompson informed the Bilbijas
that he had ongoing financial troubles and legal problems and
asked them to loan him an additional $42, 500.00 to help him
avoid jail for fraud charges. Id. at 11-12. However,
Thompson did not inform the Bilbijas that he had already
entered a guilty plea on the fraud charge in January 2014.
Id. at 18. The Bilbijas told Thompson that the only
way they would loan him an additional $42, 500.00 was if an
attorney helped with the transaction. Id. at 15.
informed the Bilbijas that he could protect the loan with his
Major League Baseball pension, from which he received $8,
000.00 per month, and he could repay them $2, 000.00 per
month from this pension if they agreed to loan him the
additional money (Filing No. 49-2 at 25). He also
told them that he would be able to repay them within 120 days
of July 23, 2014, because he anticipated obtaining a large
contract worth more than $300, 000.00 through a business
venture. Id. at 45.
talking with Thompson's criminal defense attorney, the
Bilbijas decided to loan the additional money to Thompson.
Id. at 31. The Bilbijas explained to Thompson that
“the only way [they] would ever lend him more money is
that [they] needed security, and he agreed to put the money,
the $42, 500, on a promissory note drawn up by a lawyer to
secure it.” Id. at 20.
they lived in Canada, the Bilbijas asked Thompson to find an
attorney for them to assist in the transaction. Id.
at 15. An attorney who knew Thompson called Lane in July 2014
and asked if he could provide Lane's telephone number to
Thompson. Lane was unfamiliar with Thompson and Lane had
never previously represented Thompson. (Filing No. 49-6
at 6, 10.) Thompson did not tell the Bilbijas that Lane
would be representing both the Bilbijas and Thompson, but he
did tell them that he had “an attorney who can draw up
this promissory note for us.” (Filing No. 49-7 at
to meeting with the Bilbijas and Thompson, Lane had never
prepared a promissory note that was secured by anything, and
he had never secured a debt with any type of professional
sports pension. His law practice at that time involved
criminal defense, family law, credit issues, and small
business law (Filing No. 49-6 at 6-9). Lane and
Thompson did not execute a written attorney-client fee
agreement even though Lane generally used such fee
agreements. Id. at 32. On July 23, 2014, Lane met
with the Bilbijas and Thompson for approximately two hours at
his law office (Filing No. 49-2 at 33-34). The
Bilbijas believed that Lane was representing them as well as
Thompson in the promissory note transaction. Lane verbally
communicated to Mrs. Bilbija that he was representing all of
them. Id. at 27-28. If Lane had explained to them
that he was representing Thompson only, the Bilbijas would
have walked out of his office. Id. at 53. Mrs.
Bilbija specifically asked Lane if she and her husband needed
their own attorney, and Lane answered, “[N]o, I do this
all the time, this is what I specialize in, contract law for
athletes. I do garnishments. This is my specialty.”
Id. at 52.
admits that he did not believe the Bilbijas were represented
by another attorney, he did not advise the Bilbijas that they
should be represented by separate counsel, and he did not
specifically advise the Bilbijas that he did not represent
them (Filing No. 49-6 at 26). Moreover, Lane did not
provide a disclaimer to the Bilbijas to inform them that he
was representing Thompson only (Filing No. 49-2 at
time of the meeting on July 23, 2014, Lane informed the
parties that his legal fees were $500.00. The Bilbijas paid
Lane $250.00 in cash. Mrs. Bilbija told Lane that he could
put the $250.00 toward their half of the legal fees. The
Bilbijas asked for a receipt for their payment, but Lane did
not have a receipt book. Id. at 37. Thompson also
paid Lane $250.00. Id. at 40. Lane accepted $500.00
in cash for payment for his legal services. Id. at
the meeting, Lane presented a promissory note to Thompson and
the Bilbijas. Mrs. Bilbija questioned why the note did not
include Mrs. Thompson and she told Lane that the note was not
strong enough. She asked Lane to make it stronger. Lane
explained that Thompson's wife was not employed. Thompson
changed some of the clauses in the note to make it stronger.
Id. at 24. The Bilbijas suggested that the loan
could be secured with Thompson's house, and Lane
responded that Thompson possibly could have multiple
mortgages on his house. Id. at 22. Lane brought up
the possibility of securing the loan with Thompson's MLB
pension (Filing No. 49-7 at 13). Lane also
recommended that the $70, 000.00 loan memorialized in the
June 9, 2014 promissory note be included in the new
promissory note secured by the MLB pension (Filing No.
49-2 at 22, 23, 55). When the Bilbijas asked Lane how
the promissory note secured by the MLB pension would work,
Lane explained that the Bilbijas would simply send the note
to the MLB office, and MLB would start garnishing
Thompson's pension. Id. at 51.
Bilbijas and Thompson signed the promissory note secured by
the MLB pension at the time of their joint meeting at
Lane's law office (Filing No. 49-6 at 17-18).
After they signed the note, Lane “signed off on all
[their] names” as a witness (Filing No. 49-2 at
27). “[H]e signed it off, verbally, that he
represented all of [them].” Id. The Bilbijas
and Thompson signed a second promissory note during the
meeting, which provided an additional repayment option
involving Thompson's other business venture (Filing
No. 49-4 at 2-3). Lane notarized this promissory note,
but he did not prepare the document (Id.; Filing
No. 49-2 at 41).
the promissory note secured by the MLB pension was executed,
the Bilbijas loaned the additional money to Thompson by
wiring the money to his criminal defense attorney. Thompson
failed to pay back the money that he owed the Bilbijas. Mrs.
Thompson informed the Bilbijas in August 2014 that their
financial situation was very bad, and they might file for
bankruptcy. The Bilbijas later learned that Thompson filed
for bankruptcy. The Bilbijas contacted the MLB pension
authorities to receive payment under the promissory note
secured by the MLB pension, and they learned that
Thompson's pension was subject to execution only for
child support or similar debts and a judgment would be
necessary (Filing No. 49-2 at 26, 31-32, 44-45, 48,
response to these developments, the Bilbijas filed this
lawsuit against Lane, asserting claims for legal malpractice
and conflict of interest (Filing No. 1-2 at 7-18).
After filing his Answer denying liability, Lane moved for
summary judgment on the claims.