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Law firm entitled to $36k in unpaid legal fees, court rules, but not all it sought

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A Vincennes firm scored a partial victory in the Indiana Court of Appeals on Wednesday after the court upheld the award of more than $36,000 in unpaid legal fees for guardianship and estate work. The appeals court remanded the case for reconsideration of other collection costs and prejudgment interest awarded.

Clara Briggs contracted with Jeffrey Kolb, a partner at Kolb Roellgen & Kirchoff LLP, in March 2013 to represent her in guardianship proceedings involving her mother, Anna Mae Strange. More than a year later, the firm billed Briggs for nearly $34,000. When Strange passed away, the firm helped Briggs close the estate and billed her for that work, which totaled around $28,000.

The Davies Circuit Court ordered the estate to pay nearly $24,000 in attorney fees regarding the guardianship work. By December 2015, the firm sued Briggs in Knox County to collect the rest it believed it was owed – nearly $11,000 not awarded in the guardianship case and more than $25,000 for services rendered in closing Strange’s estate. The firm also sought prejudgment interest and collection costs.

The trial court ruled in favor of the firm in September, awarding $36,188.41 in unpaid legal fees, $7,675.91 in collection costs, and $5,602.86 in prejudgment interest.

Briggs raised several issues on appeal, including that the firm’s claim for unpaid legal fees was barred by the doctrine of res judicata, but the appellate court rejected her arguments.

The Court of Appeals, did, however, find that because the firm did not render the estate services for Briggs pursuant to a fee agreement, Kolb Roellgen & Kirchoff is entitled for reasonable fees for that work under a theory of quantum meruit. Based on the record, which indicates the firm submitted evidence of its hourly rate and the number of hours dedicated to Briggs’ estate work, as well as specific work performed, the trial court had enough evidence to award the $25,000 under the parties’ quasi-contract.

Judge Margret Robb noted Briggs did not designate any evidence claiming these fees were unreasonable.

But the appellate court reversed the collection costs and prejudgment interest awarded to the firm. The firm should not have been able to receive collection costs stemming from the quasi-contract, Robb wrote.

There is also a genuine issue of material fact as to when the prejudgment interest on the nearly $11,000 owed by Briggs for the guardianship began to accrue under the fee agreement. There is also a question as to how much of the interest was awarded based on the quasi-contract services.

The judges remanded the matter for further proceedings on the collection costs and prejudgment interest.

The case is Clara Briggs v. Kolb Roellgen & Kirchoff, LLP (mem. dec.), 42A01-1610-CC-2235.
 

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  1. He TIL team,please zap this comment too since it was merely marking a scammer and not reflecting on the story. Thanks, happy Monday, keep up the fine work.

  2. You just need my social security number sent to your Gmail account to process then loan, right? Beware scammers indeed.

  3. The appellate court just said doctors can be sued for reporting child abuse. The most dangerous form of child abuse with the highest mortality rate of any form of child abuse (between 6% and 9% according to the below listed studies). Now doctors will be far less likely to report this form of dangerous child abuse in Indiana. If you want to know what this is, google the names Lacey Spears, Julie Conley (and look at what happened when uninformed judges returned that child against medical advice), Hope Ybarra, and Dixie Blanchard. Here is some really good reporting on what this allegation was: http://media.star-telegram.com/Munchausenmoms/ Here are the two research papers: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/0145213487900810 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145213403000309 25% of sibling are dead in that second study. 25%!!! Unbelievable ruling. Chilling. Wrong.

  4. Mr. Levin says that the BMV engaged in misconduct--that the BMV (or, rather, someone in the BMV) knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged fees but did nothing to correct the situation. Such misconduct, whether engaged in by one individual or by a group, is called theft (defined as knowingly or intentionally exerting unauthorized control over the property of another person with the intent to deprive the other person of the property's value or use). Theft is a crime in Indiana (as it still is in most of the civilized world). One wonders, then, why there have been no criminal prosecutions of BMV officials for this theft? Government misconduct doesn't occur in a vacuum. An individual who works for or oversees a government agency is responsible for the misconduct. In this instance, somebody (or somebodies) with the BMV, at some time, knew Indiana motorists were being overcharged. What's more, this person (or these people), even after having the error of their ways pointed out to them, did nothing to fix the problem. Instead, the overcharges continued. Thus, the taxpayers of Indiana are also on the hook for the millions of dollars in attorneys fees (for both sides; the BMV didn't see fit to avail itself of the services of a lawyer employed by the state government) that had to be spent in order to finally convince the BMV that stealing money from Indiana motorists was a bad thing. Given that the BMV official(s) responsible for this crime continued their misconduct, covered it up, and never did anything until the agency reached an agreeable settlement, it seems the statute of limitations for prosecuting these folks has not yet run. I hope our Attorney General is paying attention to this fiasco and is seriously considering prosecution. Indiana, the state that works . . . for thieves.

  5. I'm glad that attorney Carl Hayes, who represented the BMV in this case, is able to say that his client "is pleased to have resolved the issue". Everyone makes mistakes, even bureaucratic behemoths like Indiana's BMV. So to some extent we need to be forgiving of such mistakes. But when those mistakes are going to cost Indiana taxpayers millions of dollars to rectify (because neither plaintiff's counsel nor Mr. Hayes gave freely of their services, and the BMV, being a state-funded agency, relies on taxpayer dollars to pay these attorneys their fees), the agency doesn't have a right to feel "pleased to have resolved the issue". One is left wondering why the BMV feels so pleased with this resolution? The magnitude of the agency's overcharges might suggest to some that, perhaps, these errors were more than mere oversight. Could this be why the agency is so "pleased" with this resolution? Will Indiana motorists ever be assured that the culture of incompetence (if not worse) that the BMV seems to have fostered is no longer the status quo? Or will even more "overcharges" and lawsuits result? It's fairly obvious who is really "pleased to have resolved the issue", and it's not Indiana's taxpayers who are on the hook for the legal fees generated in these cases.

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