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La. Civ. Code Ann. art. 1887 states that: Future things may be the object of an obligation. One cannot, however, renounce the succession of an estate not yet devolved, nor can any stipulation be made with regard to such a succession, even with the consent of him whose succession is in question.
Plaintiff, Henry R. Liles, a Professional Law Corporation, filed suit to recover a legal fee from the defendant, Dorothy Sells Bourgeois, as a result of plaintiff's representation of defendant in assisting her to obtain the maximum possible estate from her mother, Grace Sells, upon her death. The fee was based in part on a percentage of the amount recovered by defendant from her mother's estate. The defendant contended that the contract was unenforceable as being prohibited by general and special laws of Louisiana. The trial court held the contract invalid under LSA-C.C. Article 1887, and rendered judgment in favor of the plaintiff in the amount of $ 15,000.00, on the basis of quantum meruit. Plaintiff appealed, seeking $ 43,186.72, less a credit of $ 1,161.00, based on the contract.
Did Louisiana law prohibit a contingency fee contract of employment with an attorney-at-law, when the fee was based upon a percentage of a future inheritance to be received by the client?
On appeal the court held that a contingency fee contract where the fee was based upon a percentage of a future inheritance to be received by the client violated art. 1887 because the inheritance the client was to receive resulted from the death of her mother. Therefore, the fee arrangement was dealing in rights whose coming into existence required the death of a living person and was unenforceable. The court further held that the attorney was entitled to fees based on the principles of quantum meruit because the contingency fee portion was unenforceable and therefore, the consideration for the balance of the agreement failed. The court held that the trial court's determination of fees based on quantum meruit was proper.