Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga
DOMINIC J. VANNUCCI PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
DONNA SCHNEIDER DEFENDANT-APPELLANT
Appeal from the Berea Municipal Court Case No. 2016 CVI 00060
APPELLANT Donna Schneider, pro se 10600 Shale Brook Way
Strongsville, Ohio 44149
APPELLEE Dominic J. Vannucci, pro se 22649 Lorain Road
Fairview Park, Ohio 44126
BEFORE: E.T. Gallagher, J., Keough, P.J., and Stewart, J.
JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION
T. GALLAGHER, JUDGE
Defendant-appellant, Donna Schneider, pro se, appeals from
the judgment of the Berea Municipal Court, Small Claims
Division, finding in favor of plaintiff-appellee, Dominic
Vannucci, on his complaint for unpaid attorney fees. She
raises the following assignments of error for review:
1. During the independent review of February 28, 2017, the
trial court committed prejudicial reversible error by
adopting the magistrate's findings pursuant to Civ.R. 53.
2. Many misdirection or illegal testimony or evidence on
points material to the issues is presumed to have influenced
the trial court, and is therefore reversible error.
3. During the independent review of February 28, 2017, the
trial court committed prejudicial reversible error by not
reviewing all of the appellant's objections, and also the
transcript of proceedings before the magistrate. All of which
the trial court had instructed the appellant in the journal
entry dated February 3, 2017, to comply within 30 days of
receipt of said instructions. Appellant did comply in less
than 30 days. A misdirection or illegal evidence on points
material is presumed to have influenced the trial court, and
is therefore reversible error.
After careful review of the record and relevant case law, we
affirm the trial court's judgment.
Procedural History and Factual Background
In January 2016, Vannucci filed a complaint against Schneider
and her son, Travis Garner, alleging that "defendants
have failed and refused to pay the balance due to plaintiff
in the amount of $2, 675.00 for legal services rendered,
despite repeated demands for payment." The matter
proceeded to a hearing before a magistrate, where the
following testimony was adduced.
Vannucci testified that he was contacted by Schneider in an
effort to assist her son, Garner, in filing a paternity
action in the Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court. According to
Vannucci, Schneider indicated that she and Garner each sought
visitation rights. Thus, Vannucci testified that he
represented both Schneider and Garner during the juvenile
Prior to initiating the juvenile case, Vannucci sent
Schneider and Garner a letter outlining the terms of his
representation. The representation letter was admitted into
evidence and provided, in relevant part:
Dear Travis and Donna:
We are now scheduled for December 19, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. for
a pretrial. The Court will then review your situation and
receive input from the GAL.
At this time, we must document our fee arrangement. As you
recall, I advised that I would charge an hourly rate of $250
per hour. All time spent on your matter will be billed at
that rate including time away from my office. The break down
on my invoice will be in tenths of an hour.
I requested a retainer of $1, 500 but agreed to accept $1,
000 which has been paid. Enclosed you will find a current
invoice from the time spent to date. This is due and payable.
Please sign and return the enclosed copy of this letter
assenting to this attorney/client relationship going forward.
Although the letter contained signature blocks for Schneider
and Garner, a signed copy of the letter was never returned to
Vannucci. However, Vannucci testified that Schneider paid him
a retainer fee, via a personal check, in the amount of $1,
000, and later paid him an additional $300 for a portion of
the legal services rendered.
Vannucci testified that Schneider actively participated in
the visitation proceedings and that the majority of the
communications relating to the visitation case occurred
between Vannucci and Schneider. In support of his testimony,
Vannucci submitted a handwritten visitation schedule and
witness list that Schneider prepared for Vannucci to use
during the visitation hearing. In addition, Vannucci
submitted several letters addressed to Schneider and Garner
that were sent to Schneider's mailing address.
After working on the case for approximately one year,
Schneider and Garner refused to make any further payments for
legal services and refused to communicate with Vannucci. As a
result, Vannucci withdrew as counsel and filed the instant
complaint for unpaid legal fees.
Garner testified that he did not believe he was obligated to
pay Vannucci the balance of his legal fees because he did not
believe Vannucci provided him with effective assistance of
counsel. He admitted that Schneider paid Vannucci $1, 300 and
that Schneider was involved in the decision to terminate
Throughout the hearing, Schneider denied hiring Vannucci to
represent her as counsel. She testified that she did not seek
"grandparents rights, " and that Vannucci was only
hired to seek visitation rights for Garner. While she
admitted that she paid Vannucci a total of $1, 300, she
maintained that she borrowed money from her own mother to
make the payments. Schneider stated that she did not sign any
document expressing her desire to have legal representation,
and that she did not actively participate in, or appear at,
the visitation hearings. ...