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Vannucci v. Schneider

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

April 5, 2018

DOMINIC J. VANNUCCI PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE
v.
DONNA SCHNEIDER DEFENDANT-APPELLANT

          Civil Appeal from the Berea Municipal Court Case No. 2016 CVI 00060

          FOR APPELLANT Donna Schneider, pro se 10600 Shale Brook Way Strongsville, Ohio 44149

          FOR 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

          EILEEN T. GALLAGHER, JUDGE

         {¶1} 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.

         {¶2} After careful review of the record and relevant case law, we affirm the trial court's judgment.

         I. Procedural History and Factual Background

         {¶3} 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.

         {¶4} 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 action.

         {¶5} 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.

         {¶6} 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.

         {¶7} 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.

         {¶8} 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.

         {¶9} 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 Vannucci.

         {¶10} 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. ...


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