ST. LOUIS — U.S. District Judge Catherine Perry has denied a St. Louis attorney's motion to dismiss a case filed by a former criminal-defense client. 

In an order filed Sept. 21, Perry of the Eastern District of Missouri also ruled that attorney Nick Zotos must answer the complaint filed by Robert Sills within the time specified by Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

According to background information in the ruling, Sills had been a defendant in a case charging him with violating the federal witness-tampering statute, and Zotos represented him.

Sills alleges that Zotos advised him to plead guilty in June 2011, "even though a May 26, 2011 Supreme Court decision placed his indictment beyond the reach of federal law," the ruling states.

Sills further alleges that because of a ruling in a case titled Fowler v. United States, his conviction was vacated and dismissed, "and because of that, he is now entitled to bring this legal malpractice action against defendant.”

In Zotos's motion to dismiss, he argued that the suit against him failed to state a claim upon which relief can be granted under federal Rule 12(b)(6).

Specifically, he argued that Sills filed his suit outside a five-year statute of limitations that applies to legal malpractice claims in Missouri.

"Defendant reasons that plaintiff’s cause of action accrued on September 16, 2011, the date the adverse judgment was entered against him in United States v. Sills, but the instant complaint was not filed until March 15, 2017, six months out of time," the ruling states.

Yet, Sills argued that he was precluded from bringing his lawsuit until his conviction was vacated on the basis of the Fowler case in March 2013.

Perry wrote that in the context of a motion to dismiss under Rule 12(b)(6), "dismissal on the basis of the statute of limitations is only proper where the complaint itself establishes the defense."

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