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Lexisnexis v. Murrell

Court of Appeals of Ohio, Second District, Montgomery

August 16, 2019

LEXISNEXIS Plaintiff-Appellee
PATRICIA MURRELL, et al. Defendant-Appellant

          Civil Appeal from Common Pleas Court Trial Court Case No. 2017-CV-4310

          MICHAEL W. SANDNER, Atty. Reg. No. 0064107, 2700 Attorney for Plaintiff-Appellee

          PATRICIA MURRELL, Atty. Reg. No. PHV-20631-2019, Attorney for Defendant-Appellant


          HALL, J.

         {¶ 1} Patricia Murrell d/b/a Law Office of Murrell & Associates and the Law Office of Murrell & Associates, LLC ("the appellants") appeal from the trial court's entry of summary judgment against them on appellee LexisNexis' complaint alleging breach of contract for non-payment under a subscription agreement.

         {¶ 2} The appellants advance four assignments of error. First, they contend the trial court erred in entering summary judgment where LexisNexis failed to meet its prima facie burden under Civ.R. 56 of demonstrating the absence of a genuine issue of material fact. Second, they claim the trial court erred in entering summary judgment where LexisNexis failed to present evidence establishing that it had performed its own obligations under the subscription agreement. They also argue that the trial court overlooked a genuine issue of material fact regarding LexisNexis' performance. Third, they assert that the trial court erred in failing to view the evidence and reasonable inferences related to conflicting "forum-selection clauses" in a light most favorable to them. Fourth, they argue that the trial court erred in failing to consider evidence that LexisNexis incorrectly had named "Patricia Murrell" as a defendant.

         {¶ 3} The record reflects that attorney Patricia Murrell signed a subscription agreement with LexisNexis for online legal-research services in January 2016. Murrell's monthly payments went into arrears around August 2016 and her account remained delinquent in March 2017, when LexisNexis "interrupted" her service due to non-payment. Thereafter, LexisNexis commenced the present lawsuit in September 2017 with a complaint alleging breach of contract. LexisNexis identified the defendant as "Patricia Murrell dba Law Office of Murrell & Associates." In her answer, which included affirmative defenses, Murrell argued, among many other things, that LexisNexis itself had failed to perform under the contract by repeatedly and continually failing to provide her with accessible online legal-research services. More specifically, Murrell alleged that beginning in January 2016 and continuing through the summer of 2017, LexisNexis failed to make its services available to her and failed to provide her with access to the data bases to which she had subscribed. LexisNexis later amended its complaint to add as a defendant the "Law Office of Murrell & Associates, LLC."

         {¶ 4} On November 2, 2018, LexisNexis moved for summary judgment, relying primarily on an affidavit from Amy Rountree, one of its customer-account representatives. LexisNexis argued that the parties had entered into a contract, it had provided service as required under the contract, and the appellants had failed to pay for the service as agreed. The appellants opposed summary judgment, arguing inter alia that LexisNexis had failed to perform its contractual obligations by not making its subscription services available or accessible to them.

         {¶ 5} On January 17, 2019, the trial court sustained LexisNexis's motion and entered summary judgment against the appellants on LexisNexis's complaint. (Doc. # 71.) In support of its decision, the trial court reasoned in part as follows:

In the case at bar, the Court finds that the parties entered into a valid written contract (Exhibits A, B and C to Ms. Rountree's Affidavit.) [footnote omitted]. Defendants breached the Contract by failing to pay for the online legal services in accordance with the Price Schedule. Defendants' opposition to the motion for summary judgment on Plaintiff's breach of contract is confusing and sets forth propositions that are conclusory. For example, Defendants' claim that Ms. Rountree's [affidavit] is insufficient to support summary judgment is inaccurate. The Rountree Affidavit properly authenticates the Contract, sets forth Defendants' failure to pay, and establishes the amount due and owing. In response to this evidence, Murrell makes her own conclusory statements that she wasn't given the terms of the Contract, which was in fact signed by her as the owner of the Law Office of Murrell and Associates, and that Plaintiff committed some sort of fraud in its zealous pursuit of her as [a] client for online services.
* * * Defendants' assertion that the Contract was not provided to them is without merit. Furthermore, Defendants' general contention that there was some sort of fraud in the inducement on Plaintiff's part has no facts to support the claim. It is not lost on this Court that Murrell is an attorney. She executed a document and is responsible to know the terms of the document she signed.
Likewise, Defendants' breach has been established. While Defendants argue that Plaintiff stopped providing services, Ms. Rountree's Affidavit establishes, and this point is not disputed by Defendants, that services were terminated only after Defendant's account became delinquent.
Finally, Plaintiff has established its damages. There is no dispute that Plaintiff provided online legal services to Defendant for a period of time at a monthly rate of $0.00 in anticipation of future payments under the Contract. Further, services for which Defendant was responsible under the Price Schedule to pay a fee were rendered and not paid for.
Based on the foregoing, the Court finds that no genuine issue of material fact exists for trial, and Plaintiff is entitled to the amount of the delinquent payments and accelerated amount under the contract for a total of $5, 378.31 under the minimum payment schedule set forth in the Contract, plus ...

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