Scamardella v. Illiano, No. 879

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtTHIEME.
Citation126 Md. App. 76,727 A.2d 421
Decision Date09 April 1999
Docket NumberNo. 879
PartiesGiuseppina SCAMARDELLA, et vir v. Fausto ILLIANO, et al.

727 A.2d 421
126 Md.
App. 76

Giuseppina SCAMARDELLA, et vir
v.
Fausto ILLIANO, et al

No. 879, Sept. Term, 1998.

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.

April 9, 1999.


727 A.2d 423
Henry E. Weil (Belli, Weil & Grozbean, P.C., on the brief), Rockville, for appellants

Robert R. Michael (Shadoan and Michael, on the brief) and Paul H. Ethridge (McCarthy, Wilson & Ethridge, on the brief), Rockville, for appellees.

Argued before SALMON, THIEME and KENNEY, JJ.

727 A.2d 422
THIEME, Judge

This appeal is from an order of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County apportioning the proceeds of an aggregate settlement of claims arising from an automobile accident and an order denying the appellants' Motion to Amend the court's order. The appellants argue alternatively that there was no consent to the settlement, that the settlement agreement was unethically made and should therefore be voided, and that the court abused its discretion in apportioning the settlement. We affirm the court's order apportioning the settlement, except with regard to the attorney fees assessed against the appellants.

Facts of the Case

This case had its genesis in a tragic automobile accident that took place on June 30, 1994. Gloria Illiano was driving southbound on Route 27 in Montgomery County, Maryland. Sara Illiano, her infant daughter, and Giuseppina Scamardella, her mother, were passengers in the car. Jeffrey Fletcher, a teenager driving northbound on Route 27, lost control of his car, crossed over the center line, and violently struck the Illiano vehicle head-on. Gloria's injuries kept her in the hospital for several weeks, and eventually proved fatal. She was twenty-four years old and had been married to Fausto Illiano for eighteen months. Giuseppina Scamardella, who was forty-eight years old at the time of the accident, also suffered severe injuries. Sara, then six months old, escaped with minor physical injuries. Giuseppina Scamardella and her husband, Cresenzo Scamardella, the appellants, who are citizens of Italy and reside in that country, and who speak very little English, retained Paul D. Bekman (Bekman) to represent them for claims arising out of the accident. Fausto Illiano retained Bekman on his own behalf, on behalf of Sara, and on behalf of his wife's estate, of which he is the personal representative.

Statement of the Case

On October 17, 1994, suit was filed in the Circuit Court for Montgomery County against Fletcher, his employer, William Jarcy (doing business as William Jarcy's Film Delivery Service), and Century Ford, Inc. (Century Ford). On August 28, 1995, Century Ford filed a motion for summary judgment. On February 16, 1996, the circuit court granted summary judgment in favor of Century

727 A.2d 424
Ford. That decision was appealed to this Court and was affirmed on April 7, 1997

In October 1995, Fausto Illiano and Cresenzo Scamardella met with Bekman to discuss settlement of their claims in the event judgment in favor of Century Ford was affirmed on appeal. It was proposed that they would accept from Fletcher and Jarcy (the defendants) $1.25 million in settlement of their claims. The amount of the settlement offer represented the full extent of insurance coverage of the defendants. No apportionment of the settlement proceeds among the parties was proposed. It was, however, proposed that the parties would later agree to a division of the settlement. If, after acceptance of the $1.25 million settlement, agreement could not be reached on a division of the proceeds, the parties would obtain other counsel, and the court would have to apportion the monies. Although it is disputed by the appellants, it seems clear that assent to this plan was given by all the parties.

Pursuant to the parties' agreement, Bekman accepted the offer of $1.25 million in settlement of the parties' claims. At Bekman's request, Giuseppe DiRosano, the appellants' nephew, who was acting as a go-between for the appellants and Bekman, conveyed to the Scamardellas Bekman's proposal that the funds be allocated ninety percent (90%) to the claims of Fausto Illiano, Sara Illiano, and the estate of Gloria Illiano, and ten percent (10%) to the claims of Mr. and Mrs. Scamardella. When DiRosano advised Bekman that the appellants rejected the proposal, Bekman asked DiRosano to inform them that they should retain other counsel. The appellants, through DiRosano, hired new counsel.

On July 16, 1997, when it had become apparent that counsel for the parties could not agree, Bekman filed a Motion to Allocate the Proceeds of Settlement. After filing the motion to allocate, Bekman withdrew from further participation in the case. In response to the motion to allocate, the appellants, through new counsel, objected to a division of the proceeds in the manner proposed. In an amended reply, they asserted that they had not consented to the settlement.

On March 11, 1998, the court, sitting as trier of fact, concluded after plenary hearings that the appellants had consented to the settlement and that Bekman had not breached any duties to them. The court received evidence regarding the injuries to Mrs. Scamardella, the four-week period of hospitalization of Gloria before her death, and the economic and noneconomic losses to Sara and Fausto due to Gloria's death. The court allocated the settlement monies in a manner proportionate to the respective injuries sustained and in consideration of the law of damages applicable to the parties' claims.1 Attorney fees of one-third were deducted from the parties' allocations, as per their contingent fee arrangement. The appellants object to payment of the contingent fee out of their share of the settlement.. After further hearing on April 17, 1998, the court denied the Appellants' Motion to Amend Judgment and entered judgment accordingly. The appellants have appealed those determinations, their appeal being timely noted on May 8, 1998.

Questions Presented

The appellants present two questions for our review, which we have recast in an abbreviated form:

I. Did the trial court err in finding that the appellants had authorized settlement of their claims when their assent was arguably ambiguous and when they were not informed of the apportionment of the settlement prior to their consent being solicited?

II. Did the trial court abuse its discretion in allocating the $1.25 million in settlement proceeds?

In response to Question I, we say, "no." In response to Question II, in the main we say,

727 A.2d 425
"no." On the issue of the court's allotment of attorney fees, we reverse and remand.

Standard of Review

The two questions presented to us necessitate that we employ different standards of review. We will set out those standards at the beginning of the substantive discussion of each issue below.

Discussion

Authority to Settle

We begin by noting that it is well settled that the attorney's authority to settle claims is a question of fact.

[T]he burden of proof of express authority of an attorney to compromise a claim rests upon the party asserting such authority. This is so because the attorney-client relationship is governed by the law of agency and the issue of burden of proof must be determined by agency principles. As the Court of Appeals observed in Fertitta v. Herndon, 175 Md. 560[, 3 A.2d 502] (1939):
"[W]here the relation of the agency is dependent upon the acts of the parties (as here), the law makes no presumption of agency, and then it is always a fact to be proved, with the burden of proof resting upon the person alleging the agency to show not only the fact of its existence, but also its nature and extent."

Kinkaid v. Cessna, 49 Md.App. 18, 23, 430 A.2d 88 (1981) (quoting Fertitta v. Herndon, 175 Md. 560, 564, 3 A.2d 502 (1939)) (second alteration in original) (added emphasis in original deleted) (citations omitted). When the trial court determines a question of fact without a jury, we review such determinations only to see that they are not "clearly erroneous." Md. Rule 8-131(c); Shallow Run Limited Partnership v. State Highway Admin., 113 Md.App. 156, 173-74, 686 A.2d 1113 (1996) (discussion of "clearly erroneous" standard of review).

The trial court found as a matter of fact that the appellees had authorized Bekman to settle their claims as a contingency following upon the failure of the appeal of the summary judgment of their claims against Century Ford. There is sufficient evidence in the record to justify such a determination. The testimony of Bekman and Fausto Illiano, which is the obvious basis for the court's conclusion, was that Mr. Scamardella, at the October 1995 meeting, both verbally (by saying, in Italian, "Yes, I understand") and nonverbally (by nodding affirmatively), clearly indicated his assent to the contingent settlement plan. We will not disturb the court's finding based on that evidence. See Carroccio v. Thorpe, 230 Md. 457, 463-64, 187 A.2d 678 (1963) (upholding the trial court's finding of authority to settle claims as not clearly erroneous); Posko v. Climatic Control Corp., 198 Md. 578, 584, 84 A.2d 906 (1951) (same).

Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 1.8(g)

The appellants argue in the alternative that Bekman violated his ethical duty when representing multiple clients by failing to make adequate disclosure of all the factors of the aggregate settlement before obtaining consent to settle. On that basis, the appellants believe, the settlement should be set aside. We disagree.

The Maryland Lawyers' Rules of Professional Conduct (MLRPC) provide that:

A lawyer who represents two or more clients shall not participate in making an aggregate settlement of the claims of or against the clients ... unless each client consents after consultation, including disclosure of the existence and nature of all the claims or pleas involved and of the participation of each person in the settlement.

MLRPC Rule 1.8(g) (1986). The appellants argue that the duty to disclose "the...

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12 practice notes
  • 4900 Park Heights Ave. LLC v. Cromwell Retail 1, LLC, No. 3136, Sept. Term, 2018
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • April 30, 2020
    ...the agreement reached by the parties"). An "attorney's authority to settle claims is a question of fact." Scamardella v. Illiano , 126 Md. App. 76, 84, 727 A.2d 421 (1999). "Whether or not there was an agreement of settlement, and if so, what were its terms[,] are, upon conflicting evidence......
  • First Union v. Steele Software Systems Corp., No. 1061
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • December 17, 2003
    ...to be enforceable). Other cases have construed different non-specific contractual standards. See, e.g., Scamardella v. Illiano, 126 Md.App. 76, 90, 727 A.2d 421 cert. denied, 354 Md. 115, 729 A.2d 406 (1999)(co-plaintiffs' agreement to agree or have court apportion settlement proceeds obtai......
  • Berringer v. Steele, No. 824
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • August 31, 2000
    ...from the findings upon which it supposedly rests or has no reasonable relationship to its announced objective.'" Scamardella v. Illiano, 126 Md.App. 76, 91, 727 A.2d 421 (quoting North v. North, 102 Md.App. 1, 14, 648 A.2d 1025 (1994)), cert. denied, 354 Md. 115, 729 A.2d 406 (1999); cf. In......
  • Blondell v. Littlepage, No. 16, Sept. Term, 2008.
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 30, 2009
    ...309, 316, 40 A.2d 514 (1945). If discharged without cause, however, the attorney may have a quantum meruit claim. Scamardella v. Illiano, 126 Md.App. 76, 95-96, 727 A.2d 421 Finally, in this case neither party has argued that there was no contract. Blondell's entire theory of recovery is ba......
  • Request a trial to view additional results
12 cases
  • 4900 Park Heights Ave. LLC v. Cromwell Retail 1, LLC, No. 3136, Sept. Term, 2018
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • April 30, 2020
    ...the agreement reached by the parties"). An "attorney's authority to settle claims is a question of fact." Scamardella v. Illiano , 126 Md. App. 76, 84, 727 A.2d 421 (1999). "Whether or not there was an agreement of settlement, and if so, what were its terms[,] are, upon conflicting evidence......
  • First Union v. Steele Software Systems Corp., No. 1061
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • December 17, 2003
    ...to be enforceable). Other cases have construed different non-specific contractual standards. See, e.g., Scamardella v. Illiano, 126 Md.App. 76, 90, 727 A.2d 421 cert. denied, 354 Md. 115, 729 A.2d 406 (1999)(co-plaintiffs' agreement to agree or have court apportion settlement proceeds obtai......
  • Berringer v. Steele, No. 824
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • August 31, 2000
    ...from the findings upon which it supposedly rests or has no reasonable relationship to its announced objective.'" Scamardella v. Illiano, 126 Md.App. 76, 91, 727 A.2d 421 (quoting North v. North, 102 Md.App. 1, 14, 648 A.2d 1025 (1994)), cert. denied, 354 Md. 115, 729 A.2d 406 (1999); cf. In......
  • Blondell v. Littlepage, No. 16, Sept. Term, 2008.
    • United States
    • Court of Special Appeals of Maryland
    • March 30, 2009
    ...309, 316, 40 A.2d 514 (1945). If discharged without cause, however, the attorney may have a quantum meruit claim. Scamardella v. Illiano, 126 Md.App. 76, 95-96, 727 A.2d 421 Finally, in this case neither party has argued that there was no contract. Blondell's entire theory of recovery is ba......
  • Request a trial to view additional results

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