“Because I said so” Not a Good Enough Reason from a Trial Court

Submitted by professional defense lawyer, Jeffrey Hark.

Schiffman Abraham Kaufman & Ritter P.C. v. Fisher decided May 29th by the Appellate Division is a case that highlights the responsibility of a trial court to explain their findings of fact and application of the law. In other words a trial court must adequately explain their decision, and if they don’t you may have grounds for a successful appeal.

Here, Fisher entered into a retainer agreement with the plaintiff. A retainer agreement is an agreement where a client pays upfront for anticipated legal services. Here the retainer concerned a guardianship mediation that is irrelevant to explore for the purposes of this blog. Fisher paid $10,000 upfront and once that ran out the firm began charging by the hour. The mediation ultimately failed but Fisher did not want to retain the firm into litigation beyond the mediation. Apparently due to a court order the firm was forced to continue working on Fisher’s case for a short period of time following the mediation. Ultimately a motion to withdraw was filed and signed by both parties. However, the plaintiff claimed they were owed $52, 235.72 in fees. The trial judge granted a motion for summary judgment in favor of the plaintiff citing lack of proof by Fisher that steps were taken to end the plaintiff’s representation of her.

On appeal the Appellate Division reversed the trial court and remanded for a new consideration of the motion for summary judgment, a chance for oral argument, and for the trial court to set forth why they found no genuine issue of material facts.

There are two points here:

  1. trial courts must explain themselves;
  2. if they don’t explain themselves you may have a second shot at your case regardless of the merits.

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