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Abrell v. Delaware County Regional Wastewater District

Court of Appeals of Indiana

August 27, 2019

Mark Abrell, Appellant-Defendant/Counterclaim-Plaintiff,
v.
Delaware County Regional Wastewater District, Appellee-Plaintiff/Counterclaim-Defendant.

          Appeal from the Delaware Circuit Court The Honorable Linda Ralu Wolf, Judge Trial Court Cause No. 18C03-1809-PL-72

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLANT Mark L. Abrell Muncie, Indiana

          ATTORNEY FOR APPELLEE Danyel N. Struble Beasley & Gilkison, LLP Muncie, Indiana

          BAILEY, JUDGE.

         Case Summary

         [¶1] Mark Abrell ("Abrell") appeals an order denying him compensation for legal work he performed pursuant to a contract with the Delaware County Regional Wastewater District ("the District") and ordering that he pay all attorney's fees incurred by the District in pursuing a replevin claim against Abrell and defending against Abrell's counterclaim. We reverse and remand with instructions to the trial court to determine the contractual fees Abrell is owed by the District.

         Issues

         [¶2] Abrell presents two issues for review:

I. Whether the trial court clearly erred in denying his claim for contractual attorney's fees; and

         Facts and Procedural History

         [¶3] On January 2, 2006, Abrell, who is an attorney, and the District entered into an Agreement for Professional Services whereby Abrell would provide legal services for the District. The District agreed to pay Abrell: (1) a retainer of $600.00 per month, which included time spent at two regular monthly meetings and unlimited telephone calls; (2) $175.00 per hour for legal work "in excess of the time covered by the monthly retainer"; and (3) contingency fees collected from debtors in collection matters. (Exhibit D.)

         [¶4] Abrell presented his bills for legal services performed through February 24, 2017 and the District paid the bills submitted. Abrell prepared for and appeared at the District meeting on March 1, 2017. At that meeting, Abrell was discharged as the attorney for the District. Abrell sent a final bill for $880.00, but the District's board members decided "not to pay the bill." (Tr. Vol. II, pg. 26.)

         [¶5] In June of 2017, the District's new counsel took the active collections files from Abrell. On August 14, 2017, the District counsel sent a demand letter to Abrell regarding other files. Counsel issued a "final request" for the return of files and advised Abrell that "the District has voted to not pay the final bill you submitted." (Exhibit A.) Counsel explained the District's position that Abrell had collected "unreasonable" fees in the past because the monthly meetings had been reduced from two to one as of June 2015, without reduction in the retainer amount. Id.

         [¶6] In response, Abrell advised the District that he was retaining a statutory attorney's lien on his former client's files. He asserted that his final bill included several hours of preparation work and, as to past billings that had been paid, he expressed his position that "the District business was condensed into one ...


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