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THE MEASURE OF DAMAGES FOR AN UNJUST ENRICHMENT CLAIM BY A LAWYER FOR PROFESSIONAL SERVICES IS GENERALLY THE REASONABLE VALUE OF THE LAWYER’S SERVICES (Jones v. Mackey Price)

Jones v. Mackey Price

In Jones v. Mackey Price, 2015 UT 60, Mr. Jones was an attorney who worked for the law firm of Mackey Price under an agreement that governed compensation for Mr. Jones’s hourly work. While at the law firm, Mr. Jones began working on contingency fee cases in the Fen-Phen litigation. When the Fen-Phen litigation was substantially complete, Mr. Jones abruptly developed a mental disability that ended his ability to practice law. The following year when the law firm received approximately $1,000,000 in fees from the Fen-Phen litigation, Mr. Jones sued the law firm alleging breach of contract and quantum meruit. The trial court granted summary judgment dismissing the contract claim. After striking Mr. Jones’s request for a jury trial on his quantum meruit claim, the district court held a bench trial and ruled that Mr. Jones had not proven that the reasonable value of his services exceeded the amount he had been paid by the law firm.

On appeal, the Utah Supreme Court upheld summary judgment dismissing the contract claim, finding that there was no express agreement between the law firm and Mr. Jones that governed the distribution of fees from the Fen-Phen litigation. It also held that the district court erred when it rejected Jones’s demand for a jury trial on his unjust enrichment claim. In sending this claim back to the jury, the Court clarified that the correct measure of damages for the contract-implied-in-law branch of a quantum meruit claim is generally the value of the benefit conferred on the defendant rather than the detriment incurred by the plaintiff. However, in cases where the defendant has requested professional services, “the proper measure of the defendant’s gain will normally be the reasonable value of the plaintiff’s services.” Id. at ¶ 58. “In most cases involving a lawyer’s services, the value of those services will be measured by the number of hours the plaintiff lawyer worked multiplied by his or her hourly rate.” Id. But in contingency fee cases the fact-finder should consider factors beyond the number of hours the lawyer spent on the case to determine the reasonable value of the lawyer’s services. These factors may include “the relative importance of [the lawyer’s] role in the litigation, his personal financing of the case, his role in securing clients, his contribution to the management of the case, [] his expertise and experience in the area of the law concerned” and any other factor the court deems appropriate for measuring the lawyer’s relative contribution to the recovery in a contingency fee case. Id. at ¶¶ 60-61.

George W. Burbidge II

 

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