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Defense of Suit for Legal Fees; Legal Malpractice Expert Affidavit Not Required; Summary Dismissal Reversed

Fredrickson & Byron v. Saliterman, A12-0906, December 24, 2012, presented a dispute about the attorney’s fees owed to the law firm for legal services rendered on behalf of a corporation.  The trial court granted summary judgment in favor of the law firm, finding that its former client Saliterman, was personally liable for the legal fees due for services for a corporation for which Saliterman was president and sole shareholder.  Contrary to Saliterman’s claim that he had signed the law firm’s letter of engagement in his corporate capacity, Fredrickson & Byron asserted he was liable as a “comaker.”   The trial court had also held that Saliterman had failed to comply with the expert affidavit requirements of Minn. Stat. § 544.42, and therefore dismissed Saliterman’s breach-of-contract claim which alleged fee padding by Fredrickson & Byron.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s grant of summary judgment, holding that the capacity in which Saliterman had signed the law firm’s engagement  letter was ambiguous, thereby creating a material issue of fact. The appellate court also held that the client’s breach-of-contract claim against the law firm for excessive fees did not present a claim for legal malpractice to which the expert affidavit requirements of Minn. Stat. § 544.42 would apply.  Specifically, the court noted that claims for fee padding, excessive fees, breach of contract, did not present claims of legal malpractice that required an expert affidavit.