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Victor Firm, PLLC v. Froling

Supreme Court of Michigan

April 15, 2016

THE VICTOR FIRM, PLLC, Plaintiff-Appellant,
v.
WILLIAM P. FROLING and MARILYN FROLING, Defendants-Appellees

          COA: 327504. Macomb CC: 2014-003832-AV.

         Robert P. Young, Jr., Chief Justice. Stephen J. Markman, Brian K. Zahra, Bridget M. McCormack, David F. Viviano, Richard H. Bernstein, Joan L. Larsen, Justices. ZAHRA, J. (dissenting). VIVIANO, J., not participating.

         ORDER

         On order of the Court, the motion for immediate consideration is GRANTED. The application for leave to appeal the November 12, 2015 order of the Court of

Page 157

Appeals is considered, and it is DENIED, because we are not persuaded that the question presented should be reviewed by this Court.

          DISSENT

         Zahra, J. ( dissenting ).

         I would remand this case to the Court of Appeals for consideration as on leave granted. Plaintiff law firm (Victor)[1] filed this collection action in the district court to collect $4,560 in attorney fees from its former clients, defendants William and Marilyn Froling. The Frolings had hired Victor to represent them in a federal lawsuit in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan. The litigation involved the Frolings' longstanding dispute with the city of Bloomfield Hills (City) regarding flooding of their property. Victor filed a federal lawsuit on the Frolings' behalf and successfully defended against a motion to dismiss the complaint. However, the federal court ordered the Frolings to file an amended complaint. Upon reviewing the amended complaint, the attorney representing the City, William Hampton, left a voicemail for Cindy Victor, requesting concurrence in a motion to strike ¶ ¶ 5 through 74 of the [499 Mich. 900] amended complaint. When the City filed an answer to the amended complaint, it stated in answer to ¶ ¶ 5 through 74 of the complaint as follows:

Inasmuch as purported factual allegations Paragraphs 5 through 74 inclusive set forth historical background prior to claims at issue in this Complaint, the parties agree no answer is required as to said paragraphs. Simultaneously herein, [the City] has sought concurrence of [the Frolings] in a Motion to Strike and in lieu of filing such a Motion, a Stipulation has been agreed to between the parties.

         Victor denied having agreed to the stipulation, but the Frolings believed that Victor had " secretly stipulated" with Hampton in violation of a " Memorandum of Understanding" between Victor and the Frolings purporting to impose special conditions on Victor's representation. According to the Frolings, Victor accepted these special conditions and accepted a $20,000 retainer. William Froling states in his affidavit as follows:

Prior to hiring Ms. Victor to perform legal services, I explained that she would be hired only on the condition that certain promises were made. First, Ms. Victor would have to agree that I would be an unusual client who would closely monitor the litigation and who must be informed of any and all litigation developments, including all communications with the opposing side. Second, I required Ms. Victor to consent to allowing me to decide legal strategy, including stipulations that might ordinarily in any other case be handled exclusively between attorneys. I explained to Ms. Victor some bad experiences that I had with other attorneys when I allowed them to exclusively dictate legal strategy. These prior bad experiences formed the basis for the requirement that Ms. Victor agree to allow me to control strategy, within legal and ethical boundaries.

         At a hearing before the district court, the Frolings' attorney acknowledged that the memorandum had not been signed, but claimed that Victor had nevertheless agreed to its terms. Victor denied signing the memorandum and noted that the unsigned memorandum provides that

Page 158

[t]he following items listed below constitute this memorandum made between Greenstone Development, LLC ...

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