LAW OFFICES OF GARY R. DODGE, P.A., a Delaware Corporation Plaintiff,
SHAWN RUSSUM, Defendant.
Submitted: November 13, 2013
Gary R. Dodge, Esquire Attorney for the Plaintiff
Shawn Russum Pro Se Defendant
The Honorable Sheldon K. Rennie, Judge
This action involves a fee dispute that arises out of legal representation of the Defendant by the Plaintiff in several courts. On April 10, 2013, the Law Offices of Gary R. Dodge (hereinafter "the Firm") filed a Complaint against the Defendant, Shawn Russum (hereinafter "Russum") alleging breach of contract for unpaid invoices. Mr. Russum filed a Counterclaim seeking damages against the Firm. On September 30, 2013, the Firm filed a motion for partial summary judgment which the Court denied by Memorandum Opinion dated November 6, 2013. A trial was held on November 13, 2013, and the Court reserved decision. This is the Court's Opinion in connection with the relief sought by the Firm in its Complaint and Mr. Russum in his Counterclaim.
I. The Chancery Matter
On January 19, 2010, Mr. Russum met with Gary Dodge to seek legal assistance from the Firm. On that date, he and Mr. Dodge discussed Mr. Russum's legal concerns, and Mr. Russum indicated that he wanted to be as cost-conscious as possible. Mr. Russum's legal concerns stemmed from the handling of his deceased grandfather's personal estate, along with real estate matters involving his father. At the meeting, Mr. Dodge indicated that there was nothing the Firm could do with regards to the estate, because it needed to be handled by the executor or an administrator. Mr. Dodge, therefore, outlined a course of action for Mr. Russum to take concerning the distribution of personal property related to the estate and the division of real property.
Mr. Russum's grandfather's will identified Mr. Russum's father as executor of the estate, but Mr. Russum's father failed to file for the appointment. Although he lacked the power to do so, Mr. Russum's father attempted to dispose of personal property of the estate without any consultation from his son, who held an ownership interest in the property. As a result of his father's actions, Mr. Russum filed for letters of administration so that he could oversee the property distribution. After he was granted the letters, Mr. Russum utilized the Firm to send letters to his father's counsel in order to expedite the probate process. In response, Mr. Russum's father filed for appointment as executor, which was granted, and which resulted in the revocation of Mr. Russum's designation as administrator. Mr. Russum's father filed multiple inventories for the estate, all of which Mr. Russum opposed. The Firm continued to advise Mr. Russum in an attempt to resolve the matter outside of court but, by the Ml of 2011, it was evident that the matter would only be resolved by Court intervention. The matter ultimately ended up in the Court of Chancery before Vice Chancellor Glasscock. The Firm filed documents with the Court of Chancery and represented Mr. Russum in the Chancery action. Eventually, the parties entered into a settlement agreement with respect to the division of property.
In the fall of 2012, however, the relationship between the Firm and Mr. Russum soured; each had differing opinions on the goals of the representation and the ways in which the matter was being handled. As a result, on October 19, 2012, Mr. Russum discharged Gary Dodge and the Firm from further representation. Consequently, Mr. Dodge filed an application to withdraw with the Court of Chancery. Vice Chancellor Glasscock granted Mr. Dodge's application on January 22, 2013. That same day, Vice Chancellor Glasscock addressed the remaining issue in the Chancery action (the disposition of personal property) and Mr. Russum began representing himself in the Court of Chancery.
Throughout its representation, the Firm mailed regular invoices for work done in the Chancery action to Mr. Russum. The first invoice in the Chancery action was dated February 4, 2010, and the final invoice was dated February 24, 2012. Mr. Russum did make some payments, but the Firm contends that he still owes a balance for legal services rendered in the Chancery action.
II. The Superior Court and Court of Common Picas Actions
In addition to the Chancery matter, Mr. Russum needed assistance with the recovery of money from a CD that was established in his name, but which his mother had cashed without his knowledge. Mr. Russum discussed this matter with the Firm at his initial meeting in January 2010, but neither a formal fee agreement nor an agreement to represent was signed regarding the CD matter at that time. Instead, mindful of Mr. Russum's request to be cost-conscious, Mr. ...