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Law firm can’t collect attorney fees from insurer

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Relying on caselaw from 1892, the Indiana Court of Appeals decided that Ken Nunn Law Office may not collect attorney fees it says are owed by a former client from a third-party insurance company following a settlement.

Kenneth Henderson hired the Nunn Law Office in May 2009 on a contingency fee basis after he was involved in an accident with another driver, Joshua Beal. Beal was insured by State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Co. The law firm filed a lawsuit against Beal in March 2010; two weeks later, Henderson fired the law firm because he was unhappy with how his case had been handled.

The law firm then sent a notice of lien for attorney fees to the court, Henderson and State Farm. In late April 2010, Henderson and State Farm settled for more than $12,000. State Farm paid Nunn Law Office the $541 in costs it requested in its lien, but no attorney fees.

The law office sued Henderson and the insurer, and the trial court ordered Henderson pay nearly $4,000 to the law firm after granting default judgment against him. In doing so, the judge also denied State Farm’s summary judgment motion. Nunn Law Office claimed that State Farm and Henderson had a duty and failed to protect the “quantum meriut attorney’s fee lien” of the firm. State Farm argued that it was not liable for attorney fees for services rendered to Henderson.

On interlocutory appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed, finding the Nunn Law Office has no claim for attorney fees through either an equitable lien or quantum meruit. The judges cited Hanna v. Island Coal Co., 5 Ind. App. 163, 31 N.E. 846, 847 (1892), which held that no lien can be acquired before judgment that would prevent the client from compromising and releasing his claim without the attorney’s consent, including in personal injury actions.

“We decline to expand upon this State’s previous articulations of the boundaries of the reach of an equitable lien for the protection of attorney fees where the proceeds of the compromise have been transferred to the attorney’s former client and thus decline to hold that a charging or equitable lien may be enforced against a party other than Nunn’s former client under these circumstances where prior to settlement Nunn was no longer counsel for Henderson and was paid its expenses,” Judge Elaine Brown wrote.

The law firm may not recover from State Farm under the theory of quantum meruit because State Farm was not a party to the fee agreement between Henderson and Nunn Law Office, any work done by the law firm was for the benefit of Henderson, not the insurer, and State Farm was not unjustly enriched by the legal services provided by the firm to Henderson, the judges held.

The case, State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Ken Nunn Law Office, 49A02-1202-CT-68, goes back to Marion Superior Court for further proceedings.

 

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  1. I gave tempparry guardship to a friend of my granddaughter in 2012. I went to prison. I had custody. My daughter went to prison to. We are out. My daughter gave me custody but can get her back. She was not order to give me custody . but now we want granddaughter back from friend. She's 14 now. What rights do we have

  2. This sure is not what most who value good governance consider the Rule of Law to entail: "In a letter dated March 2, which Brizzi forwarded to IBJ, the commission dismissed the grievance “on grounds that there is not reasonable cause to believe that you are guilty of misconduct.”" Yet two month later reasonable cause does exist? (Or is the commission forging ahead, the need for reasonable belief be damned? -- A seeming violation of the Rules of Profession Ethics on the part of the commission) Could the rule of law theory cause one to believe that an explanation is in order? Could it be that Hoosier attorneys live under Imperial Law (which is also a t-word that rhymes with infamy) in which the Platonic guardians can do no wrong and never owe the plebeian class any explanation for their powerful actions. (Might makes it right?) Could this be a case of politics directing the commission, as celebrated IU Mauer Professor (the late) Patrick Baude warned was happening 20 years ago in his controversial (whisteblowing) ethics lecture on a quite similar topic: http://www.repository.law.indiana.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1498&context=ilj

  3. I have a case presently pending cert review before the SCOTUS that reveals just how Indiana regulates the bar. I have been denied licensure for life for holding the wrong views and questioning the grand inquisitors as to their duties as to state and federal constitutional due process. True story: https://www.scribd.com/doc/299040839/2016Petitionforcert-to-SCOTUS Shorter, Amici brief serving to frame issue as misuse of govt licensure: https://www.scribd.com/doc/312841269/Thomas-More-Society-Amicus-Brown-v-Ind-Bd-of-Law-Examiners

  4. Here's an idea...how about we MORE heavily regulate the law schools to reduce the surplus of graduates, driving starting salaries up for those new grads, so that we can all pay our insane amount of student loans off in a reasonable amount of time and then be able to afford to do pro bono & low-fee work? I've got friends in other industries, radiology for example, and their schools accept a very limited number of students so there will never be a glut of new grads and everyone's pay stays high. For example, my radiologist friend's school accepted just six new students per year.

  5. I totally agree with John Smith.

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