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Danzig v. Danzig - 79 Wash. App. 612, 904 P.2d 312 (1995)

Rule:

Under Wash. Super. Ct. Civ. R. 12(b)(6), a defendant may move to dismiss where the plaintiff's pleadings do not state a claim upon which relief may be granted. Dismissal should be granted only where it appears, beyond doubt, that the plaintiff can prove no set of facts in support of his claim, which would entitle him to relief. Facts alleged in the complaint must be accepted as true for purposes of the motion. An appellate court reviews de novo a dismissal under Rule 12(b)(6).

Facts:

Steven Danzig alleged that Jeffrey Danzig approached him in January 1992 with a business proposition: for every client Steven steered into Jeffrey's office, Steven would receive one-third of any fee received. In his complaint, Steven stated that he is not a lawyer and that Jeffrey is a lawyer, licensed in the State of Washington. Steven stated that he accepted the offer and directed clients to Jeffrey. In each case, Jeffrey directed him to submit a billing statement making it appear as though he was billing for his time at an hourly rate. The total amount of the bill never deviated appreciably from one-third of the total fee. In each case, he was paid by Jeffrey. Steven maintained that he directed a client to Jeffrey in March 1993; Jeffrey breached the agreement and refused to pay him. Steven said that the one-third of the fee due him is about $89,000.

The trial court found the alleged contract was illegal and unenforceable under Washington law and dismissed Steven's claim with prejudice. Even though it dismissed Steven's claim, the trial court was concerned with the propriety of Jeffrey's fee and ordered him to pay $89,000 into the court registry pending an investigation of the fee. Jeffrey moved for reconsideration, but the motion was denied. The trial court did, however, stay its order compelling Jeffrey to pay. Steven appealed the dismissal of his contract claim against Jeffrey Danzig, Jeffrey's wife, and Jeffrey's law firm on a CR 12(b)(6) motion. Jeffrey, together with his wife and law firm, cross-appealed the trial court's order that he pay $89,000 of a legal fee into the registry of the court pending the investigation of the propriety of the fee. Jeffrey contended that the court did not have jurisdiction to enter the order and that the order amounts to an unconstitutional taking of property. Jeffrey also argued that Steven does not have standing to respond to his cross appeal.

Issue:

Can the trial court have jurisdiction over an issue which was not raised in the complaint?

Answer:

No

Conclusion:

On appeal, the appellate court reversed the portion of the trial court's order dismissing Steven's claim and remanded. The court also reversed for lack of jurisdiction that portion of the trial court's order compelling Jeffrey to pay the fee into the registry of the trial court. The court held that: 1) the allegations in Steven's complaint stated a claim upon which relief could be granted as the prohibition on referral fees applied only to lawyers; and 2) the trial court did not have jurisdiction over Jeffrey for conduct relating to the case in which the fee was earned because the issue of attorney discipline was not within the issues raised by Steven's complaint.

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