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GA: Suing for fees: A New Twist?

Levine v. Television Cablecasting, Inc., 581 S.E.2d 734 (2003)

GA: Underlying divorce action

Student Contributor: Farah Shahidpour

Facts: Wife inherited title to a farm. She later transferred title to Television Cablecasting (TCI), a company wholly owned by her husband. Wife sues husband for divorce, seeking title to the farm. Husband asked his longtime friend, Attorney to represent TCI in the divorce proceeding. The court dismissed TCI from the case. Husband asked Attorney to represent him personally in the divorce. Attorney filed a lien against the farm for TCI’s attorney’s fees. Wife was awarded all of TCI’s stock, including the farm as part of her alimony. Attorney billed TCI for $42,765.35 for his legal services. Attorney drafted a backdated letter that forced TCI to pay his attorney’s fees. Attorney had not tried to collect any fee from his client for his work in the divorce case. Wife transferred her interest in the farm to Suncoast, a company owned by her new husband. Suncoast sued Attorney, seeking removal of the lien he had placed on the farm and for damages for slander of title to the farm. Attorney lost and was ordered to pay $33,929.60. Attorney then sued TCI for breach of contract for failing to pay his legal fees in the divorce case. TCI counterclaimed for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty and alleged that Attorney had operated under a conflict of interest while representing it. Attorney moved for summary judgment on TCI’s counterclaims. TCI sought summary judgment on Attorney’s claims. The trial court granted TCI’s motion, concluding that Attorney was bound by the divorce decree, stating that husband was liable for his attorney fees. Attorney now argues that the decree does not bind him because he was not a party to the action.

Issue: Whether Attorney is entitled to summary judgment on TCI’s counterclaims for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty when it was found that TCI was not liable for Attorney’s legal fees?

Ruling: Yes. TCI is not liable for Attorney’s fees because Attorney was hired by husband to act in the husband’s best interest. Attorney worked to preserve the farm for husband, not TCI. Attorney must look to husband for payment of legal fees. Attorney is entitled to summary judgment on TCI’s counterclaims for legal malpractice and breach of fiduciary duty because TCI has no such alleged damages.

Lesson: Attorneys must look to whoever hired them to act in their own best interest for payment of his legal fees. If it is found that a company or person is not liable for Attorney’s fees, then that company or person has no such alleged damages and Attorney will be entitled to summary judgment on that company or person’s counterclaims.


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Posted in: Attorneys Fees, Conflicts of Interest, Duties: Conflict Avoidance, Family Law, Georgia