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Oral findings allowed in attorney fee case

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A Marion Superior Court didn't err when it failed to issue written findings and conclusions pursuant to Indiana Trial Rule 52 in a dispute over attorney fees, the Indiana Court of Appeals ruled. The appellate court also affirmed the trial court's award of fees based on quantum meruit rather than a contingency fee agreement with the client.
 
The Nunn Law Office had originally represented Joseph Carpenter in a personal injury action and had an agreement that Nunn would represent him for any of his claims arising out of the motorcycle accident for "40 percent of all amounts recovered or offered." An insurance company attempted to settle, but Carpenter rejected it. Nunn initiated a lawsuit on Carpenter's behalf, but two months later, Carpenter discharged the law firm and hired Peter H. Rosenthal to represent him. Carpenter settled his case for $42,500.

After learning of the settlement, Nunn moved to determine the proper division of attorney fees. The trial court orally calculated a judgment in favor of Nunn for $1,462.88 based upon quantum meruit for Nunn's work on the case.

Ruling on a motion for special findings of fact and conclusions of law filed by Nunn, the trial court entered a judgment for the same amount in favor of Nunn without entering written findings and conclusions.

The issues in Nunn Law Office v. Peter H. Rosenthal, No. 49A05-0809-CV-523, were whether the trial court erred as a matter of law by not issuing written findings and conclusions, and whether quantum meruit or the contingency agreement in Carpenter's contract with Nunn should determine the amount of attorney fees owed to Nunn.

An Indiana Supreme Court ruling suggested that the preferred format for findings and conclusions is in the written form, but the trial court's failure to issue written findings and conclusions doesn't constitute reversible error, wrote Judge Cale Bradford. The plain language of T.R. 52(A) doesn't require the findings and conclusions to be in writing and the purpose of the rule is to provide parties and reviewing courts with the theory upon which the trial judge decided the case.

The Court of Appeals concluded oral findings and conclusions can achieve this purpose as long as they are thoroughly detailed in the record. It also ruled the basis for the $1,462.88 judgment was apparent from the trial court's oral explanation in the record. In addition, any error in the trial court's failure to justify its use of quantum meruit as the proper measure for calculating the attorney fees was a harmless one given the appellate court's conclusion it was the only proper measure for fee determination in the instant case.

Carpenter's fee agreement with Nunn expressly provided for compensation upon discharge, but was silent regarding Nunn's compensation upon pre-contingency discharge. While the 40 percent provision arguably permits payment of fees based upon settlements offered, recovered or not, a latter "no recovery, no fee" provision expressly states to the contrary that fees are not payable unless a recovery is obtained, wrote Judge Bradford.

In the absence of an applicable contractual provision, an attorney employed under a contingent fee contract and discharged before the occurrence of the contingency is limited to quantum meruit recovery for the reasonable value of services rendered, wrote the judge.

Finally, the appellate court affirmed the amount of attorney fees to Nunn based on Nunn's relatively minimal investment of time in Carpenter's case and Rosenthal's success in getting a larger settlement.

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  1. Too many attorneys take their position as a license to intimidate and threaten non attorneys in person and by mail. Did find it ironic that a reader moved to comment twice on this article could not complete a paragraph without resorting to insulting name calling (rethuglican) as a substitute for reasoned discussion. Some people will never get the point this action should have made.

  2. People have heard of Magna Carta, and not the Provisions of Oxford & Westminster. Not that anybody really cares. Today, it might be considered ethnic or racial bias to talk about the "Anglo Saxon common law." I don't even see the word English in the blurb above. Anyhow speaking of Edward I-- he was famously intolerant of diversity himself viz the Edict of Expulsion 1290. So all he did too like making parliament a permanent institution-- that all must be discredited. 100 years from now such commemorations will be in the dustbin of history.

  3. Oops, I meant discipline, not disciple. Interesting that those words share such a close relationship. We attorneys are to be disciples of the law, being disciplined to serve the law and its source, the constitutions. Do that, and the goals of Magna Carta are advanced. Do that not and Magna Carta is usurped. Do that not and you should be disciplined. Do that and you should be counted a good disciple. My experiences, once again, do not reveal a process that is adhering to the due process ideals of Magna Carta. Just the opposite, in fact. Braveheart's dying rebel (for a great cause) yell comes to mind.

  4. It is not a sign of the times that many Ind licensed attorneys (I am not) would fear writing what I wrote below, even if they had experiences to back it up. Let's take a minute to thank God for the brave Baron's who risked death by torture to tell the government that it was in the wrong. Today is a career ruination that whistleblowers risk. That is often brought on by denial of licenses or disciple for those who dare speak truth to power. Magna Carta says truth rules power, power too often claims that truth matters not, only Power. Fight such power for the good of our constitutional republics. If we lose them we have only bureaucratic tyranny to pass onto our children. Government attorneys, of all lawyers, should best realize this and work to see our patrimony preserved. I am now a government attorney (once again) in Kansas, and respecting the rule of law is my passion, first and foremost.

  5. I have dealt with more than a few I-465 moat-protected government attorneys and even judges who just cannot seem to wrap their heads around the core of this 800 year old document. I guess monarchial privileges and powers corrupt still ..... from an academic website on this fantastic "treaty" between the King and the people ... "Enduring Principles of Liberty Magna Carta was written by a group of 13th-century barons to protect their rights and property against a tyrannical king. There are two principles expressed in Magna Carta that resonate to this day: "No freeman shall be taken, imprisoned, disseised, outlawed, banished, or in any way destroyed, nor will We proceed against or prosecute him, except by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land." "To no one will We sell, to no one will We deny or delay, right or justice." Inspiration for Americans During the American Revolution, Magna Carta served to inspire and justify action in liberty’s defense. The colonists believed they were entitled to the same rights as Englishmen, rights guaranteed in Magna Carta. They embedded those rights into the laws of their states and later into the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution ("no person shall . . . be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.") is a direct descendent of Magna Carta's guarantee of proceedings according to the "law of the land." http://www.archives.gov/exhibits/featured_documents/magna_carta/

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