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Denenberg v. Lison

June 11, 1998


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Presiding Justice Cerda delivered the opinion of the court:

Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County

Honorable John W. Gustafson, Judge

Honorable Sheldon Gardner, Judge Presiding.

Plaintiff, Much Shelist Freed Denenberg & Ament, P.C., a law firm, appeals from the entry of summary judgment by the circuit court of Cook County on its complaint in favor of defendants, attorney John M. Lison and Lison & Griffin, a law firm partnership (L&G), for the quantum meruit value of plaintiff's legal services representing L&G as the class representative in a class-action lawsuit that defendants abandoned.

The issue is whether, under a contingency-fee agreement, plaintiff law firm can recover the quantum meruit value for its services rendered before the client discharged it, although there was no recovery. Defendants believed there was no likelihood of success because the complaint had been dismissed once on a section 2--615 motion (735 ILCS 5/2--615 (West 1996)). L&G withdrew as class plaintiff and refused to pay for legal services because the plaintiff had not obtained any recovery in the class-action lawsuit. We reverse.


In June 1992, Regent Advisory Corporation filed a class-action lawsuit in the circuit court of Cook County against Equitec, which was Regent's landlord at the building located at 200 West Adams Street in Chicago. The original class-action complaint is not in the record, but the parties agree that it alleged the landlord billed its tenants for an amount of real estate taxes that the landlord did not pay. Plaintiff and L&G were both attorneys representing Regent, but L&G withdrew as attorney after the trial court suggested that L&G could not act as a class member and as co-counsel. Because Regent withdrew as plaintiff, in September 1992 the action was dismissed with prejudice only with respect to Regent but without prejudice to the other potential class members.

In September 1992, the class action was refiled with L&G, which was also a tenant in Equitec's building, now as the plaintiff. Plaintiff had signed a written contingency-fee agreement with Regent, but plaintiff failed to obtain L&G's signature on a contingency-fee agreement for plaintiff's representation of L&G. The parties on appeal agree that there was a contingent-fee agreement between them.

On October 14, 1992, Equitec filed a motion to dismiss the second class action pursuant to section 2--615 of the Code of Civil Procedure (735 ILCS 5/2--615(a)(West 1996)). The trial court granted the motion on January 21, 1993. The trial court first stated that the motion would be granted with prejudice because it was doubtful that plaintiff could file an amended complaint that could withstand a motion to dismiss but, after argument of counsel, the court changed its mind and granted the motion without prejudice. The complaint was amended a third time on February 26, 1993.

On July 14, 1993, L&G signed a general release of its claims with the class-action defendants for consideration of entering into a new lease. Because L&G withdrew as class plaintiff, on July 23, 1993, Equitec moved to dismiss the class action. On September 15, 1993, the trial court granted the motion to dismiss the action with prejudice to L&G and without prejudice to other potential class members.

On September 16, 1993, plaintiff filed a complaint against defendants for attorney fees. Count I of plaintiff's complaint was for breach of contract; count II was for quantum meruit; and count III was for unjust enrichment. Count I was dismissed on July 13, 1994.

On August 13, 1996, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing in part that (1) plaintiff was not entitled to any compensation on a contingent-fee matter because there was no evidence that the underlying case had any reasonable prospect of success and no reasonable chance of success on appeal; (2) plaintiff could not recover under quantum meruit because plaintiff's services were not of any value to L&G where no cause of action could be stated in the class action; and (3) L&G did not receive any recovery or economic advantage as a result of plaintiff's activities and merely negotiated a new lease with the new management, who executed leases with other tenants at about the same rent or lower than L&G's rent.

On January 17, 1997, the trial court granted summary judgment on the quantum meruit count in favor of defendants and denied summary judgment on the unjust-enrichment count.

On July 1, 1997, count III, the unjust-enrichment count was voluntarily dismissed without prejudice; plaintiff's motion to reconsider the ruling with respect to the quantum meruit count was denied. On July 10, 1997, the order was amended to find that there was no just reason for delaying enforcement or appeal of the order granting defendants' motion for summary ...

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