Michigan courts have long held that a plaintiff cannot title his true cause of action as another simply to benefit from a longer statute of limitations. A medical malpractice plaintiff cannot call her claim for professional negligence (two-year statute of limitations) a breach of contract claim (six-year statute of limitations), or a general negligence claim (three-year statute of limitations). Similarly, a client cannot sue his attorney for breach of contract or fraud (six-year statute of limitations) when his claim is based on professional negligence (two-year statute of limitations).
Traditionally, courts have determined the applicable statute of limitations by focusing on the source of the duty giving rise to the claim. 5 In a legal malpractice action, the source of the duty is, of course, the attorney-client relationship. 6 However, some recent decisions ignore this ″duty″ analysis, suggesting the viability of a distinct cause of action by clients against their lawyers for common law breach of fiduciary duty (three-year statute of limitations) based solely on a heightened degree of scienter–a ″more culpable state of mind″–purportedly necessary to prove a breach of fiduciary duty. 7