X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Dallas Meade got a traffic ticket in Coppell in January 2000. He called attorney Everett Newton and was informed that they handled tickets from Coppell. As instructed, Meade sent Newton the citation and a check for $40. On March 18, a Saturday, having never met with Newton, Meade received a letter from the Coppell clerk saying that the city was processing an additional complaint for Meade’s failure to appear on the due date. On Monday, Meade called Newton’s office before it opened. When his message had not been returned by 10 a.m., he called back and was told the office was looking for his file and would call back. When Meade called again a 2 p.m., someone hung up on him. Meade went to Newton’s office that day and spoke to Cecilia Bertaud, the office manager. She told Meade they’d sent him a letter informing him that Newton didn’t do traffic tickets from Coppell. Meade made an appointment to see Newton the next day and, in the meantime, hired Randall Scott to represent him. He paid Scott $152 for fees incurred as the result of the failure to appeal. When Meade arrived at Newton’s office on Tuesday, he was told Newton was in court. Bertaud later claimed that no appointment had been made and that Meade merely dropped by. Bertaud gave Meade a letter dated Jan. 14 that said Newton was declining representation. The letter referred to the citation and fee, which had been enclosed. Though Meade tried to wait for Newton, he left when security arrived. Meade said he wanted an apology from Newton for how rudely he was treated. Newton sent Meade a letter with a $40 check. Meade retained another attorney who sent Newton a demand letter seeking $2,002 in damages: 1. $452 for Scott’s fee and costs; 2. $1,225 for Meade’s time (calculated at his attorney’s rate of $175); and 3. $375 in attorneys’ fees in the instant matter. Meade increased his demand to $9,000, and at one time to $35,000. Meade made claims of DTPA violations and legal malpractice. The jury found no DTPA violation, but it found that Newton committed legal malpractice with damages in the amount of $152, and that Newton had breached his contract with Meade, resulting in contract damages of $525 and attorneys’ fees of $17,500. HOLDING:Reversed and rendered. Newton argues on appeal that contract damages were improper, as were the attorneys’ fees, because an attorney’s alleged failure to take action on a client’s behalf sounds in tort, not contract. Meade, on the other hand, says that the claim arose in part because of Newton’s failure to file an appearance on Meade’s behalf, which breached the contract for legal services. A cause of action arising out of bad legal advice or improper representation is one for legal malpractice. The issue in a malpractice action is whether the attorney exercised that degree of care, skill, and diligence as lawyers of ordinary skill and knowledge commonly possess and exercise. In the context of characterizing claims against lawyers, courts occasionally refer to the “impermissible fracturing” of a malpractice claim into additional putative causes of action. The court points out that this case does not invoke an independent contract claim. Meade’s claim is based on the tort standard of care. Newton’s failure to file an appearance raised the question of whether he failed to exercise that degree of care, skill, or diligence that is a lawyer’s professional duty. Having failed to establish a contract claim, Meade is not eligible to recover damages for breach of contract or attorneys’ fees based on contract. OPINION:Bridges, J.; Whittington, Wright and Bridges, JJ.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.