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
OF THE CASE
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.
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,
(2) Whether the trial court properly adjudicated
Sockrider's affirmative defenses.
AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY
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.
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.
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). ...