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Ross, Schroeder & George, LLC v. Artz

Court of Appeals of Nebraska

January 26, 2016


Page 458

[Copyrighted Material Omitted]

Page 459

Appeal from the District Court for Buffalo County, JOHN P. ICENOGLE, Judge, on appeal thereto from the County Court for Buffalo County, LINDA S. CASTER SENFF, Judge.

Jeffrey P. Ensz, of Lieske, Lieske & Ensz, P.C., L.L.O., for appellants.

Kent A. Schroeder, of Ross, Schroeder & George, L.L.C., for appellee.

MOORE, Chief Judge, and IRWIN and INBODY, Judges.


Page 460

[23 Neb.App. 546] Moore, Chief Judge.


Ross, Schroeder & George, LLC (RSG), a limited liability company, filed an action in the county court for Buffalo County, seeking to collect the balance of a debt for attorney fees owed by Lynn Artz and Dee Artz for legal services provided to them.

Page 461

The county court found that an attorney-client relationship had been formed between the parties and entered judgment in favor of RSG. The Artzes appealed to the district court, which affirmed the decision of the county court, and then to this court. Finding no error, we affirm.

[23 Neb.App. 547] BACKGROUND

This case involves a dispute over who is responsible for attorney fees incurred for services provided by Kent Schroeder, an attorney with RSG, in a custody case filed in the district court. The parties in the custody case were Nicole Hasselbalch and Rickey Jackson, the parents of Sydney Hasselbalch (Sydney). The Artzes are Hasselbalch's parents and Sydney's grandparents. At some point, Jackson's attorney in the custody case withdrew. The Artzes then contacted and met with Schroeder, who entered an appearance as counsel for Jackson in the pending custody case. Jackson was unsuccessful in the custody case, and this court affirmed the award of Sydney's custody to Hasselbalch. See Jackson v. Hasselbalch, No. A-10-1068, 2011 WL 3849483 (Neb.App. Aug. 30, 2011) (selected for posting to court Web site). RSG subsequently filed the present attorney fees collection action, which raises the issue of whether there was any agreement between RSG and the Artzes that would allow RSG to recover from the Artzes the reasonable value of the services Schroeder provided.

On November 30, 2011, RSG filed a complaint in the county court. RSG alleged that Schroeder, an attorney with RSG, was employed by the Artzes to represent them with respect to the interests of their granddaughter Sydney. RSG alleged that in April 2010, an initial office conference was held and the Artzes paid $2,500, which was deposited into RSG's trust account, and that the balance due from the Artzes to RSG was $18,442.38, for which RSG sought judgment.

In their answer, the Artzes admitted that they may have attended a conference at RSG's office but asserted that they never hired RSG to represent them and never guaranteed any fees to RSG. The Artzes denied the remaining allegations of the complaint and set forth various affirmative defenses, including an assertion that RSG's complaint should be dismissed because the purported agreement between the parties violated the statute of frauds.

[23 Neb.App. 548] Trial was held before the county court on March 7 and May 20, 2014. The parties stipulated that the charges by Schroeder's office of $18,442.38 were fair, customary, and reasonable and that the services charged for were in fact provided. The court proceeded to hear evidence on the issue of whether the Artzes were responsible for payment of those fees.

Copies of the transcript in the custody case and this court's memorandum opinion following the appeal in the custody case, as well as documents from the transcript in a guardianship case involving Sydney, were admitted into evidence as exhibits in this case. We briefly outline the background and history of those cases to provide context for the establishment of the parties' relationship in the present case.

Sydney was born to Hasselbalch and Jackson in 2002, at which time Hasselbalch and Jackson both resided in Lincoln, Nebraska. Hasselbalch and Jackson were not married to one another. Jackson had contact with Sydney of varying degrees from her birth until 2006 when Hasselbalch met and began cohabitating with Clinton Williams. Jackson had no contact with Sydney between summer 2006 and February 2009. Hasselbalch and Williams moved to ...

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