FREDERIC N. HALSTROM 
MARILYN P. DUBE, administratrix,  & another. 
Heard: December 3, 2018.
action commenced in the Superior Court Department on July 7,
2016. The case was heard by Michael D. Ricciuti, J., on a
motion for summary judgment. The Supreme Judicial Court
granted an application for direct appellate review.
Frederic N. Halstrom, pro se.
Michael J. Grace for the defendants.
Present: Gants, C.J., Lenk, Gaziano, Lowy, Cypher, &
a contract action by a law firm to collect an outstanding
legal fee from a former client. The plaintiff, Frederic N.
Halstrom, as assignee of Halstrom Law Offices, P.C. (HLO),
brought this action for legal fees against Michael J. Grace,
a former HLO employee, and Marilyn P. Dube, as representative
of the estate of David 0. Hicks, a former HLO client, for the
payment of certain legal fees allegedly owed by Hicks to HLO
under a contingent fee agreement. A Superior Court judge
allowed the defendants' motion for summary judgment,
concluding that Halstrom's claim for fees was time barred
by the statute of limitations applicable to contract actions
set forth in G. L. c. 260, § 2.We affirm.
summarize the facts found by the motion judge, supplementing
them where necessary with undisputed facts in the record.
2007, Hicks retained HLO to serve as counsel in a medical
malpractice action in the Superior Court. The contingent fee
agreement between Hicks and HLO regarding that litigation,
executed on December 7, 2007, included the following
"If the client wishes to discharge the Law Firm, the
client shall, in this event, be liable to the Law Firm for a
fee at the hourly rate of Three Hundred Fifty Dollars
($350.00) per hour, as substantiated by a Notarized Statement
of Hours, provided by the Law Firm to the client."
then an employee of HLO, performed most, if not all, of the
legal work on the case, but neither he nor HLO recorded
Grace's hours contemporaneously.
terminated Grace on June 25, 2010, while Hicks's medical
malpractice case was pending. Hicks, notified of Grace's
departure, elected to have Grace continue to represent him in
the medical malpractice action. Grace and HLO were notified
of Hicks's election in writing on July 1, 2010. On July
2, HLO transferred Hicks's file to Grace at his new firm,
Denner Pellegrino, LLP (Pellegrino), and shortly thereafter
Hicks entered into a second contingent fee agreement
regarding his medical malpractice action with
Pellegrino. In August 2013 and July 2015, HLO
asked Grace to provide it a statement of the hours he spent
on Hicks's medical malpractice action while in HLO's
employ; Grace was not cooperative. On August 17, 2015,
Halstrom, as assignee of HLO, brought suit against Grace in
the Superior Court in an effort to compel Grace's
cooperation. In his complaint in that action,
Halstrom noted that "the statutes of limitations are
running on Halstrom's rights" against numerous
former clients for legal fees owed in accordance with
HLO's contingent fee agreement.
commenced the present contract action in the Superior Court
on July 7, 2016, seeking "an amount exceeding $30,
000.00 for legal services rendered" from Hicks's
estate (count I) and stating that because Hicks's
attorney's fees for the underlying medical malpractice
action are capped by statute, Hicks's estate has a cause
of action against Grace "and anyone else who has already
received payment for legal fees" in connection with the
underlying action (count II). Thereafter, the defendants
moved for summary judgment on the ground that Halstrom
commenced the action beyond the six-year statute of
limitations applicable to contract actions. Halstrom opposed
the motion, arguing that his 2015 action against Grace tolled
the limitations period because the action "made it
abundantly clear that it was a lawsuit to begin vindicating
HLO's right to attorneys' fees" and
"formally served as the commencement of its claim
against [Hicks] for attorneys' fees." Halstrom
argued in the alternative that the defendants (1) are