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Yancy v. Hunt

Court of Appeals of Arkansas, Division IV

March 14, 2018



          Robinson & Zakrzewski, P.A., by: Luke Zakrzewski, for appellant.

          Eugene Hunt and Jan Dewoody Scussel, for appellee.

          RITA W. GRUBER, Chief Judge.

         Appellant Lewis M. Yancy, Jr., appeals from an order of the Jefferson County Circuit Court granting summary judgment to appellee Eugene Hunt. Mr. Hunt filed a breach-of-contract action against Mr. Yancy regarding an agreement between the parties pursuant to which Mr. Hunt, an attorney, provided legal services to Mr. Yancy in his divorce case. We hold that there are genuine issues of material fact to be decided; accordingly, we reverse the circuit court's order and remand for further proceedings.

         Mr. Hunt's complaint alleged that the parties had entered into a contract on September 21, 2010, pursuant to which Mr. Hunt would represent Mr. Yancy in his divorce case for a $2500 retainer and $200 per hour. He alleged that on July 30, 2012, he provided an itemized statement to Mr. Yancy for services rendered between September 28, 2011, and July 23, 2012, totaling $11, 160. He alleged that on November 1, 2012, Mr. Yancy paid $350 on the account balance, leaving a balance of $10, 810. The complaint indicated that since the July 2012 bill, Mr. Hunt had provided additional services in the amount of $850, leaving a final amount owing of $11, 660, for which he billed Mr. Yancy in a statement dated March 27, 2013. Mr. Hunt attached four exhibits to his complaint: a copy of the contract; the itemized statement dated July 30, 2012; a receipt documenting Mr. Yancy's $350 payment made on November 1, 2012; and the statement provided to Mr. Yancy on March 27, 2013, for a balance due on the account of $11, 660. Mr. Hunt also filed requests for admission.

         Mr. Yancy filed an answer, admitting that he had hired Mr. Hunt to represent him in his divorce, stating that the contract between the parties "speaks for itself, " and admitting that he had paid the $350 on his account represented by the receipt attached to the complaint. He denied the remaining allegations in the complaint, including the allegation that he owed Mr. Hunt $11, 660. Mr. Yancy responded to Mr. Hunt's requests for admission, admitting that he had signed the contract, that he had paid $350 on November 1, 2012, and that his divorce case was tried in June 2012. Mr. Yancy also propounded interrogatories and requests for production of documents, to which Mr. Hunt replied on March 4, 2016.

         In response to an interrogatory requesting Mr. Hunt to "list all payments made to you" by Mr. Yancy and an accompanying request for production, Mr. Hunt reported the following payments received from Mr. Yancy: $1, 500 on September 23, 2010, and $1, 000 on October 6, 2010, were both applied to the retainer; $250 on March 28, 2011, February 16, 2012, April 24, 2012, and June 5, 2012, indicate they were all applied to attorney's fees; $350 on July 13, 2012, receipt not clear but appears to be in part for subpoena; $45.75 on December 7, 2012, expense for subpoena; and $350 on November 1, 2012, reflected as attorney's fees paid in the statement provided to Mr. Yancy on March 27, 2013. Copies of the receipts for each of these payments were provided.

         On April 29, 2016, Mr. Hunt filed a motion for summary judgment, contending that there was no genuine issue of material fact, and he was entitled to judgment as a matter of law on two issues: (1) whether there was a contract between the parties and (2) whether the amount he "sued on" was the amount of debt owed by Mr. Yancy. In support of his motion, he attached the same four documents that he had attached to his complaint. Mr. Yancy responded to the motion and filed a countermotion for summary judgment. He contended that there were multiple disputed factual issues, including the interpretation of provisions of the document (contending it was vague and ambiguous), how the money he paid had been allocated, whether Mr. Hunt "dedicated his full professional abilities" to the matter as the contract required, and the reasonableness of the total fee. He argued specifically that the contract contained "nebulous provisions" because it addressed the filing of only three pleadings and the amounts paid by Mr. Yancy were "more than sufficient" to cover those three tasks. He contended that any other services provided would be barred by the statute of frauds and the statute of limitations. Mr. Yancy did not attach any affidavits or other documents to his response.

         After a hearing, the circuit court entered an order on May 17, 2017, granting the motion without a detailed explanation and awarding judgment to Mr. Hunt against Mr. Yancy in the amount of $11, 660 plus prejudgment interest, costs, and attorney's fees. Mr. Yancy filed this appeal.

         The parties' contract is set forth below:

         (Image Omitted)

         A circuit court may grant summary judgment only when it is clear that there are no genuine issues of material fact to be litigated and that the party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Mitchell v. Lincoln, 366 Ark. 592, 596, 237 S.W.3d 455, 458 (2006). Once the moving party has established prima facie entitlement to summary judgment by affidavits, depositions, or other supporting documents, the opposing party must meet proof with proof and demonstrate the existence of a material issue of fact. New Maumelle Harbor v. Rochelle, 338 Ark. 43, 46, 991 S.W.2d 552, 553 (1999). On appellate review, we determine if summary judgment was appropriate based on whether the evidentiary items presented by the moving party in support of its motion leave a material fact question unanswered. Kachigian v. Marion Cty. Abstract Co., 2011 Ark.App. 704, at 6. This court views the evidence in the light most favorable to the party against whom the motion was filed, resolving all doubts and inferences against the moving party. Druyvestein v. Gean, 2014 Ark.App. 559, at 7, 445 S.W.3d 529, 532. Our review focuses not only on the pleadings, but also on the affidavits and documents filed by the parties. Bingham v. C & L Elec. Coop., 2015 Ark.App. 237, at 4, 459 S.W.3d 831, 833.

         Summary judgment is not proper, however, "where evidence, although in no material dispute as to actuality, reveals aspects from which inconsistent hypotheses might reasonably be drawn and reasonable minds might differ." Thomas v. Sessions, 307 Ark. 203, 208, 818 S.W.2d 940, 943 (1991). The object of summary-judgment proceedings is not to try the issues, but to determine if there are any issues to be tried, and if there is any doubt whatsoever, the motion should be denied. Flentje v. First Nat'l Bank of ...

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