Somuah v. Flachs, No. 133

CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Writing for the CourtArgued before DAVIS and SONNER, JJ., and PAUL E. ALPERT; PAUL E. ALPERT
Citation118 Md.App. 303,702 A.2d 788
Docket NumberNo. 133
Decision Date01 September 1997
PartiesMillicent SOMUAH, Individually, etc., v. Jeremy FLACHS. ,

Page 303

118 Md.App. 303
702 A.2d 788
Millicent SOMUAH, Individually, etc.,
v.
Jeremy FLACHS.
No. 133, Sept. Term, 1997.
Court of Special Appeals of Maryland.
Nov. 26, 1997.

[702 A.2d 789]

Page 305

Raymond M. Hertz (Raymond M. Hertz & Associates, P.A., on the brief), Greenbelt, for appellant.

John Smallwood (Smallwood & Wells, P.A., on the brief), Largo, for appellee.

Argued before DAVIS and SONNER, JJ., and PAUL E. ALPERT, Judge (retired), Specially Assigned.

PAUL E. ALPERT, Judge, Specially Assigned.

Appellee, Jeremy Flachs, brought suit against appellant, Millicent Somuah, in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County to recover the reasonable value of legal services he had provided to her. Both parties filed motions for summary judgment, which were denied. At trial, both parties moved for judgment; those motions were also denied. The case was ultimately submitted to a jury, which found in favor of Mr. Flachs, and awarded him $19,946.01. Ms. Somuah filed a motion for both JNOV and a new trial. Those motions were denied, and this timely appeal followed.

Page 306

ISSUES

Ms. Somuah raises three issues, which we consolidate, reorder, and rephrase:

I. Did the circuit court err by refusing to instruct the jury that when a lawyer fails to inform a prospective client that he is not admitted to practice in the state where suit will likely be brought, that failure constitutes cause for that lawyer's discharge?

II. Did the circuit court err by failing to grant either Ms. Somuah's motion for summary judgment or her motion for judgment at trial on the ground of Mr. Flachs' failure to inform Ms. Somuah of his lack of a license to practice law in Maryland?

[702 A.2d 790] FACTS

This unfortunate case arises out of a March 8, 1992 automobile accident in Prince George's County in which Ms. Somuah was badly injured. After the accident, she was taken to Prince George's Community Hospital, where she spent several weeks recovering from her injuries.

At the time of the accident, Ms. Somuah was a Virginia resident. Several weeks after the accident, her brother (who was apparently also a Virginia resident) contacted Mr. Flachs about the possibility of filing a lawsuit on Ms. Somuah's behalf. Mr. Flachs is a lawyer who is licensed to practice in both Virginia and the District of Columbia.

On April 3, 1992, Mr. Flachs visited Ms. Somuah at the hospital, and interviewed her with the help of her son, Christian. During that visit, Mr. Flachs never informed Ms. Somuah that he was not licensed to practice in Maryland. At the end of the meeting, Ms. Somuah retained Mr. Flachs to represent her in any future lawsuit involving the accident. The retainer agreement reads as follows:

AGREEMENT

AGREEMENT entered into this 3 day of April, 1992, by and between Jeremy Flachs, Attorney-at-Law, and Millicent Somuah, Client.

Page 307

ATTORNEY agrees that he will represent Client in the following matter only:

personal injury in auto accident on 3/8/92 on Indian Head Highway

CLIENT agrees to compensate Attorney for his services in the following manner:

(d) One Third 1/3 of any amount received by Client (in the claim described above) whether by way of compromise or by actual litigation in any court, said fee to be deducted before payment of expenses, including medical bills.

CLIENT agrees that he will be responsible for actual court costs if a suit is filed, and that in the event of a settlement of his claim before or after suit is filed, that the fee provided for herein and such actual costs as may have been incurred shall be a lien upon any money received or recovered in this case.

CLIENT agrees to pay all costs of investigation, preparation and trial of the case, and authorizes and directs Jeremy Flachs to deduct from the Client's share of proceeds, and pay directly to any doctor, hospital, expert, or other creditor, any unpaid balance due them for Client's care and treatment, or for their services and/or testimony related to this case.

CLIENT agrees that Jeremy Flachs will investigate Client's claim and, if after so investigating, claim does not appear to him to have merit, that said Attorney shall have the right to cancel this Agreement.

Page 308

(Strikeout in original).

After the April 3 meeting, Mr. Flachs began investigating whether Ms. Somuah had a cause of action. He also took steps to gather and preserve evidence. In the course of both the investigation and the collection of evidence, Mr. Flachs expended a substantial amount of money.

In mid-Summer 1992, Mr. Flachs began exploring the possibility of filing suit in Maryland state court. To this end, he contacted a Maryland lawyer, Gregory Wells, to inquire whether he would be willing to assist in a Maryland lawsuit. Mr. Wells considered the possibility, and in July 1992 went with Mr. Flachs to meet Ms. Somuah at her home. During that meeting, Mr. Flachs informed Ms. Somuah for the first time that he was not licensed to practice law in Maryland. After the meeting, Mr. Wells declined to accept the case, and Mr. Flachs began [702 A.2d 791] searching for another Maryland attorney to work on the case.

Before Mr. Flachs could locate another Maryland lawyer, Ms. Somuah, by letter dated August 20, 1992, fired him. After his discharge, Mr. Flachs sent a letter to Ms. Somuah asking to be reimbursed for the time and money he spent preparing her case. When Ms. Somuah declined, Mr. Flachs brought this lawsuit.

At trial, most of the evidence focused on two separate issues: 1) the date Mr. Flachs informed Ms. Somuah that he was not licensed to practice in Maryland; and 2) the extent to which Mr. Flachs informed Ms. Somuah of his efforts and expenditures on her behalf. On the first issue, the parties agreed that Mr. Flachs did not inform Ms. Somuah of his lack of a Maryland license until the July 1992 meeting with Mr. Wells. On the second issue, there was a bit more disagreement. Nevertheless, Ms. Somuah admitted that, while recovering in the hospital, she was videotaped by a company hired by Mr. Flachs; she also admitted that, in addition to the July

Page 309

1992 visit to her home with Mr. Wells, Mr. Flachs visited her home on a separate occasion with a safety expert he had hired.

The jury ultimately found in favor of Mr. Flachs, and awarded him $19,946.01. Ms. Somuah's post-judgment motions were unsuccessful, and this appeal followed.

DISCUSSION

I. Jury Instruction

Mr. Flachs brought this action pursuant to Skeens v. Miller, 331 Md. 331, 628 A.2d 185 (1993), in which the Court of Appeals held that if an attorney's representation is terminated by a client without cause, he may recover from that client the reasonable value of the services provided prior to termination. Id. at 335-36, 628 A.2d 185. According to Mr. Flachs, Ms. Somuah terminated his representation without cause, and he is thus entitled to reimbursement for the services he provided to her.

At trial, the circuit court gave the jury the following instruction on the applicable law:

Basically in a case such as this, a contract between a client and his attorney is revocable at the will of the client. A contract between the attorney and his client, and the client wants to revoke it in this case, he may do so. All he has to do is write a letter saying I revoke it. A lawyer who is discharged by his client for what we call cause is not entitled to be compensated for legal services rendered. When we say cause we mean good and valid reason. But an attorney discharged without cause is entitled to be compensated for the reasonable value of the legal services rendered prior to his discharge.

As I said before, for cause he is not entitled to be compensated for legal...

To continue reading

Request your trial
2 practice notes
  • Somuah v. Flachs, No. 9
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • December 18, 1998
    ...his right to immediate compensation for the reasonable value of services rendered prior to Respondent's discharge. Somuah v. Flachs, 118 Md.App. 303, 315, 702 A.2d 788, 794 (1997). Petitioner timely filed a petition for writ of certiorari which was granted by this II. We must first address ......
  • Somuah v. Flachs, No. 593
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • March 11, 1998
    ...105 349 Md. 105 707 A.2d 90 Somuah v. Flachs No. 593 Sept.Term 1997 Court of Appeals of Maryland March 11, 1998 Reported below: 118 Md.App. 303, 702 A.2d 788 Disposition: Granted. ...
2 cases
  • Somuah v. Flachs, No. 9
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • December 18, 1998
    ...his right to immediate compensation for the reasonable value of services rendered prior to Respondent's discharge. Somuah v. Flachs, 118 Md.App. 303, 315, 702 A.2d 788, 794 (1997). Petitioner timely filed a petition for writ of certiorari which was granted by this II. We must first address ......
  • Somuah v. Flachs, No. 593
    • United States
    • Court of Appeals of Maryland
    • March 11, 1998
    ...105 349 Md. 105 707 A.2d 90 Somuah v. Flachs No. 593 Sept.Term 1997 Court of Appeals of Maryland March 11, 1998 Reported below: 118 Md.App. 303, 702 A.2d 788 Disposition: Granted. ...

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT