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Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Client waited too long to sue attorney for $50,000 advance, appeals court rules

State Court

By Charmaine Little | Aug 14, 2019

Justice Gordon Goodman | Texas Courts

HOUSTON – The Court of Appeals for the First District said a statute of limitations applies in a client's breach of contract case against his former lawyer and affirmed summary judgment in the lawyer's favor on Aug. 6.

Lawrence R. Wood sued its former lawyer, Minh-Tam "Tammy" Tran, and Tammy Tran and Associates over allegations that Tran breached the engagement agreement by retaining excessive fees. Tran moved for summary judgment citing that the claim was barred by the statute of limitations, which was granted by the 152nd District Court in Harris County.

Justice Gordon Goodman said that the statute of limitations time frame began to run in 2003 and then in 2005, when Wood's lawsuits with Boots & Coots and then another with Etchstone were settled respectively. Wood alleged the timeline didn’t start until 2017 when Tran failed to comply with his demand for payment.

Goodman referenced a provision in the agreement that said, “upon recovery, the $50,000 advance by client shall be reimbursed to client with all costs and expenses to be included within firm’s contingent fee.” 

“Based on the language of the fee provision and the undisputed facts, we hold that Wood’s breach-of-contract claims accrued for more than four years before he filed suit against Tran," Goodman wrote. "As a result, the trial court properly granted summary judgment in favor of Tran based on the statute-of-limitations bar.”

The ruling states Tran began representing Wood in September 2002 in a lawsuit surrounding a November 2001 fire at a recycling factory that Woods owns. While Tran first represented Wood in a lawsuit against Harris County for the costs of putting out the fire, Wood and Tran were in talks of including a third party, Boots & Coots, over allegations that it overcharged by prolonging the fire.

Just weeks later, the two decided Tran would increase her role in representing Wood for $50,000, which was agreed to be later reimbursed, to pay for adding Boots & Coots to the lawsuit. They signed an agreement in October 2002. Tran argued the lawsuit against Boots & Coots and they settled for $50,000. 

After that, Tran said Wood would receive the funds after she deducted her attorney’s fee of 40 percent, based on the agreement, and Wood signed a letter to accept that amount. Wood then received a $30,000 check for his portion of the settlement, but not the $50,000 amount that was supposed to be reimbursed.

Wood was also supposed to receive settlements in other collection cases, including Etchstone. Wood sued after Tran failed to respond to Wood’s request to receive payment. 

Justices Evelyn Keyes and Peter Kelly concurred.

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