Direct Appeal First District, Cache County The Honorable
Michael D. Lyon No. 170100149
L. Booher, Beth E. Kennedy, Jeffrey R. Oritt, Salt Lake City,
Michael F. Skolnick, Jeremy R. Speckhals, Salt Lake City, for
Justice Durrant authored the opinion of the Court, in which
Associate Chief Justice Lee, Justice Himonas, Justice Pearce,
and Justice Petersen joined.
Durrant, Chief Justice
1 Matthew Ross Thomas claims he was convicted of two felonies
because of malpractice by his trial counsel, Lyle Hillyard.
Following his trial, Mr. Thomas hired new counsel and was
able to secure a new trial. He then accepted a plea deal in
which he achieved a better result than he had received at
trial-replacing two felony convictions with three misdemeanor
convictions. We must determine when his malpractice cause of
2 The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Mr.
Hillyard, concluding that Mr. Thomas's malpractice action
was barred by the statute of limitations. He now appeals. Mr.
Hillyard argues that the elements of a legal malpractice
claim were all provable at the time the jury first returned
its guilty verdict. He asserts that Mr. Thomas's claim
for legal malpractice therefore accrued on that date, and the
statute of limitations began to run. Because Mr. Thomas filed
his claim after the four-year statute of limitations had run,
he claims it was untimely. Mr. Thomas, on the other hand,
argues that the element of causation could not be proven
until he received a more favorable result, which happened
when he accepted the plea deal. Alternatively, he asserts
that his claim accrued when he was granted a new trial. The
date of both of these events would place the filing of Mr.
Thomas's malpractice action within the statute of
limitations. We conclude that Mr. Thomas's claim accrued
at the conclusion of his criminal case-when he pled guilty to
three misdemeanors. Because we find that Mr. Thomas's
claim was timely filed, we reverse.
3 Mr. Thomas was charged and convicted of two counts of
aggravated sexual abuse. He hired Mr. Hillyard as his
attorney. On October 26, 2012, a jury found him guilty of
both felony counts. Mr. Thomas contends that Mr.
Hillyard's representation at trial was deficient in
several respects. Specifically, he argues that Mr. Hillyard
failed to object to inadmissible testimony from Mr.
Thomas's daughter and her counselor, failed to object to
inadmissible other-acts evidence presented in his
ex-wife's testimony, failed to request key jury
instructions, and failed to object to prejudicial statements
in the prosecutor's closing argument.
4 Mr. Thomas hired new attorneys, and on January 7, 2013,
they filed a motion to arrest judgment, claiming ineffective
assistance of counsel based on Mr. Hillyard's alleged
errors. This motion was granted on May 24, 2013, and Mr.
Thomas was granted a new trial. On October 24, 2014, Mr.
Thomas pled guilty to three misdemeanor charges and was
released from custody.
5 On May 23, 2017, Mr. Thomas sued Mr. Hillyard for
malpractice. The complaint alleged that Mr. Hillyard's
representation fell below a reasonable standard of care,
proximately causing economic and noneconomic damages. Mr.
Hillyard filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that
the malpractice action was time-barred under the four-year
statute of limitations applicable to legal malpractice
actions. He grounded this motion on a theory that the claim
accrued on the date the jury returned a guilty verdict,
October 26, 2012.
6 Mr. Thomas opposed the motion, arguing that the malpractice
action did not accrue until he obtained relief from his
felony convictions on October 24, 2014. Since he filed his
complaint two and a half years after that, he asserted that
he filed within the statute of limitations. Alternatively, he
claimed that, at the earliest, the action accrued when he was
granted a new trial, which happened three years and 364 days
prior to his filing, also within the statute of limitations.
So either way, he asserts, he was still within the statute of
7 The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Mr.
Hillyard. It ruled that the malpractice action accrued when
Mr. Thomas was convicted on the felony charges. The court
concluded that, at the latest, his cause of action accrued
when he incurred legal fees for the post-trial motion he
filed on January 7, 2013.
8 Mr. Thomas timely appealed the district court's ruling
to this court, and we have jurisdiction pursuant to Utah Code
9 A district court's application of a statute of
limitations and grant of summary judgment are both questions
of law, which we review for correctness. But application
of a statute of limitations may also involve "subsidiary
factual determination[s, ]" which we review "in the
light most favorable to the non-moving
10 Mr. Thomas argues that his legal malpractice claim did not
accrue until he received a result more favorable than he had
received at trial-pleading to misdemeanor charges rather than
felony charges. Mr. Hillyard, on the other hand, asserts that
the claim accrued, at the latest, when Mr. Thomas moved to
arrest judgment. We hold that a legal malpractice claim based
on alleged malpractice committed in the course of a criminal
proceeding does not accrue until the underlying action has
concluded and there is no appeal of right available.
Additionally, we hold that if a defendant chooses to pursue a
claim under the Post-Conviction Remedies Act (PCRA), the