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Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, L.L.C. v. Jochum

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Eighth District, Cuyahoga

June 13, 2019

BENESCH, FRIEDLANDER, COPLAN & ARONOFF, L.L.C., Plaintiff-Appellee,
v.
TERRI JOCHUM, Defendant-Appellant.

          Civil Appeal from the Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas Case No. CV-16-864375

          Daniel A. Friedlander, for appellee.

          David Lynch, [1] for appellant.

          JOURNAL ENTRY AND OPINION

          MARY EILEEN KILBANE, ADMINISTRATIVE JUDGE.

         {¶ 1} Defendant-appellant, Terri Jochum ("Jochum"), appeals from the trial court's decision granting summary judgment in favor of plaintiff-appellee, Benesch, Friedlander, Coplan & Aronoff, L.L.C. ("Benesch"). For the reasons set forth below, we affirm.

         {¶ 2} This appeal arises from a collection action filed by Benesch for unpaid legal services rendered to Jochum. Benesch alleges that as of June 15, 2015, Jochum owed it $73, 073.54. In response, Jochum filed an answer and counterclaim. Jochum alleged that there was no balance due and counterclaimed Benesch for legal malpractice. Jochum also separately filed a cross-claim against "newly identified defendant Mark Young for legal malpractice." No instructions, however, were ever issued to the clerk to effect service upon Mark Young ("Young").

         {¶ 3} After discovery was completed, Benesch moved for summary judgment. Benesch argued that Jochum failed to pay for a variety of legal fees incurred from March 11, 2013 through May 29, 2015, and the last possible date for accrual of any legal malpractice claim was well beyond the one-year statute-of-limitations period.

         {¶ 4} Jochum first retained Benesch in August 2012 when she signed an engagement letter with Benesch attorney, Deviani Kuhar ("Kuhar"), for legal services relating to business succession planning matters. Jochum later executed a second engagement letter in February 2013 between Jochum and Young for representation in a lawsuit filed against Jochum in Lake County, Ohio ("Lake County Case"). Young was lead litigation counsel for Jochum for approximately six months (February 4, 2013 through August 16, 2013). At that time, Jochum decided to retain a Lake County based law firm to represent her in the Lake County Case instead of Young. The Lake County law firm filed a notice of substitution of counsel on August 16, 2013. Pursuant to that substitution of counsel, Benesch provided the legal file to new counsel, and Young had no further contact with Jochum regarding the Lake County Case. In addition, no further legal services were rendered by Young after August 2013.

         {¶ 5} In support of its motion, Benesch attached the affidavits of Kuhar and Young to substantiate the legal services it rendered to Jochum. Kuhar stated she substantially reduced the time on her bills. Her work included, on a flat-fee basis, the preparation of an Ohio Legacy Trust, an estate planning vehicle. Young stated that the Lake County Case was a highly contested business dispute, which involved significant litigation activity. The case included a counterclaim brought against Jochum, a motion for temporary restraining order, and significant written discovery.

         {¶6} Jochum opposed Benesch's motion. The only documentation Jochum included with her opposition was her own affidavit. In her affidavit, Jochum stated that she met with Kuhar sometime in the summer of 2013. According to Jochum, in that meeting, Kuhar apologized to Jochum for the negligent way she had been represented by Benesch. Jochum also averred that Kuhar also told Jochum that she would not be responsible for payment of any further legal fees beyond what had already been paid and referred her to the Lake County law firm for the handling of her Lake County Case.

         {¶ 7} The trial court granted Benesch's motion for summary judgment and awarded Benesch $73, 073.54, plus court costs and statutory interest from the date of judgment. The trial court also dismissed Jochum's cross-claim against Young for failure to prosecute, noting that there was no service on Young.

         {¶ 8} Jochum now appeals, raising the following single assignment of error for review:

         Assignment of Error

The trial court committed error in granting summary judgment when the law firm told [Jochum] that she owed nothing to the firm because of the firm not performing the services ...

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