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Plaza Shoe Store, Inc. v. Hermel, Inc - 636 S.W.2d 53 (Mo. 1982)

Rule:

The remedy for enforcing the lien is not only left to the court, but in the final analysis it is up to the court to determine whether the method selected by the attorney is appropriate under all the facts and circumstances. And an attorney is not restricted to any particular remedy for the foreclosing of his lien. He may proceed by an independent suit against the party who was the defendant in the original case or he may proceed against the same party by motion in the original case.

Facts:

Plaza Shoe Store brought a suit against a company for alleged negligence in the design and construction of a building that the store leased. Plaza entered a contingent fee contract with attorneys who provided excellent representation and obtained good results. After the attorneys were discharged by the trial court, the attorneys brought a motion to distribute a certain amount of funds placed in escrow from the settlement reached in the underlying case. The trial court granted the motion and Plaza appealed arguing that the trial court lacked jurisdiction over the case.

Issue:

Is an independent suit necessary to enforce the recovery of the attorneys’ fees?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court held that the trial court did have continued jurisdiction to rule upon the fee request, even after the attorneys had been discharged; however, an attorney was limited to recovering the reasonable value of his services, not to exceed the contracted fee, and payable only upon the occurrence of the contingency. Thus, the attorneys were entitled to a reasonable fee based on the services actually rendered, without requiring the attorneys to bring an independent suit. Thus, the appellate court set aside the trial court's judgment and remanded for entry of judgment in accordance with the trial court's aleternate finding.

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