Defendant attorney appealed from a decision of the Superior Court of San Diego County (California) that awarded plaintiffs, co-counsel, 50 percent of a contingent fee received by defendant after successfully settling a case in which the parties worked together.
Defendant Salmon Norway, Inc. retained plaintiffs as co-counsel. Plaintiff partner was to handle most of the legal work. The parties orally agreed to evenly divide the contingent fee on the case. Subsequently, plaintiffs’ partnership dissolved and defendant and plaintiff partner continued to work on the accident case until plaintiff partner was appointed a judge’s position. Plaintiff partner urged defendant to seek plaintiff co-partner’s help in prosecuting the case, but defendant refused due to personal reasons. The accident case ultimately settled, and plaintiffs sued for their fees. The trial court held that the joint venture entered into by the parties entitled plaintiffs to 50 percent of the fees received by defendant. The appellate court, however, reversed the trial court judgment and awarded plaintiffs the reasonable value of the legal services rendered, prorated on the basis of the original contract price. The court held that because plaintiff partner became incapable of performing the contract of association with defendant, the obligations of the parties to the contract were discharged, because it was contemplated that plaintiff partner would perform substantial services under the agreement.
The appellate court reversed a trial court judgment awarding plaintiffs, co-counsel, 50 percent of a contingent fee obtained by defendant attorney. The court found that plaintiff partner became incapable of performing the contract of association with defendant; therefore, the obligations of the parties were discharged, because it was contemplated that plaintiff partner would perform substantial services under the agreement.