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Sockrider v. Burt, Blee, Dixon, Sutton, and Bloom, LLP

Court of Appeals of Indiana

November 13, 2019

Susan Sockrider, Appellant-Defendant,
v.
Burt, Blee, Dixon, Sutton, and Bloom, LLP, Appellee-Plaintiff.

          Appeal from the Allen Circuit Court No. 02C01-1901-PL-4. The Honorable Thomas J. Felts, Judge

          Attorney for Appellant Jon R. Pactor Indianapolis, Indiana

          Attorneys for Appellee Jeremy J. Grogg Burt Blee Dixon Sutton & Bloom, LLP Fort Wayne, Indiana

          RILEY, JUDGE.

         STATEMENT OF THE CASE

         [¶1] Appellant-Defendant, Susan Sockrider (Sockrider), appeals the trial court's summary judgment in favor of Appellee-Plaintiff, Burt Blee Dixon Sutton & Bloom, LLP (Burt Blee), which concluded that no genuine issue of material fact exists that the parties entered into a valid contingency fee agreement.

         [¶2] We affirm.

         ISSUES

         [¶3] Sockrider raises four issues on appeal, which we consolidate and restate as the following two:

(1) Whether the trial court properly issued summary judgment on Burt Blee's motion for summary judgment on its Complaint for recovery of attorney fees pursuant to a contingency fee contract entered into with its client, Sockrider; and
(2) Whether the trial court properly adjudicated Sockrider's affirmative defenses.

         FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

         [¶4] On June 2, 1986, Victor Sockrider (Victor), Sockrider's husband, purchased a life insurance policy (Policy) from First Penn, a subsidiary of Lincoln Financial (Lincoln). On September 13, 2017, Victor requested Lincoln to cancel the Policy and pay him the Policy's surrender value. Upon receiving Victor's request, Lincoln commenced the administrative process of surrendering the Policy. Approximately one month later, on October 17, 2017, Victor unexpectantly passed away. Sockrider was the sole beneficiary under the Policy at the time Victor died.

         [¶5] On October 19, 2017, two days after Victor's passing and a month after his surrender request, Sockrider, as the Policy's sole beneficiary, contacted Lincoln to submit a claim for the entirety of the death benefits, i.e., $ 100, 000, under the Policy. On November 16, 2017, Lincoln issued a denial of benefits. The insurance company asserted that it had processed Sockrider's request on September 25, 2017, which was deemed to be in good order. Lincoln considered the agreement with Victor to surrender the Policy and pay the surrender value to be final and disbursed the surrender value of $1, 737.87 to Sockrider.

         [¶6] On March 19, 2018, after unsuccessful attempts to procure the full Policy value from Lincoln, Sockrider contacted Burt Blee to discuss a potential claim against Lincoln. On March 22, 2018, after an initial consultation and review, attorney Jared Baker (Attorney Baker) emailed Sockrider, advising her that, in his estimation, "her claim was properly denied and that, should she proceed in attempting to enforce her death benefit claim, she would likely be unsuccessful and would have a substantial bill from [Burt Blee] to show for it." (Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 81). Thereafter, on March 28, 2018, Sockrider and Attorney Baker had a discussion on the merits of the case and Sockrider "explicitly indicated that she could not afford that and asked whether [Burt Blee] would take the same on contingency." (Appellant's App. Vol. II, pp. 81-82). On April 3, 2018, "after lengthy discussions within the firm, [Burt Blee] collectively decided that, as a favor to [Victor], a long time client of the firm, and because the case involved an interesting argument to be made, [Burt Blee] would accept the case on a contingency basis, despite the inherent risk of a zero recovery." (Appellant's App. Vol. II, p. 82). Attorney Baker provided Sockrider with a fee agreement (Fee Agreement). ...


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