NY Underlying Matrimonial
Student Contributor: Richard Sadowski
Facts: The plaintiff, an attorney, represented the defendant in her divorce. The plaintiff commenced this action to recover the legal fees charged in the matrimonial action based on the theory of an account stated. The defendant brought a counterclaim for, among other things, legal malpractice. The Supreme Court granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment based on the theory of an account stated.Plaintiff timely submitted legal invoices “setting forth his hourly rate, the billable hours expended, and the particular services rendered, and establishing that the defendant signed such invoices, failed to timely object to the invoices, and made partial payments thereon.” In opposition, defendant submitted an affidavit denying she acquiesced to the correctness of the invoices. She claimed that she signed the invoices because plaintiff refused to continue his legal representation until she did so. She asserted that she did not intend to give up her right to ever challenge the invoices.
Issue: Was there a triable issue of fact as to whether defendant’s acts of signing the invoices were acquiescence to their correctness?
Ruling: Yes, the court found there to be a triable issue of fact as to whether the act of signing the invoices constitute acquiescence to the amounts of the invoices. The court points out that the attorney’s refusal to continue work on the case without first obtaining the defendant’s signature would not constitute duress to invalidate the documents. However, here the defendant does not seek to invalidate the invoices. She only seeks to challenge plaintiff’s summary judgment motion by raising a question of fact as to whether she acquiesced to the amounts on those invoices.
Lesson: A client’s affidavit can be enough to present a triable issue of fact as to whether the client’s signature on legal services invoices represents intent to agree to the amount of those invoices. But this case seems to raise another ethical issues such as, is it proper for a lawyer to condition continued representation on a client’s agreeing that the fees charged are reasonable?