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In re Marriage of Pavlovich

Court of Appeals of Illinois, First District, Second Division

June 28, 2019

In re MARRIAGE OF SLOBODAN PAVLOVICH, Petitioner, and ANETA PAVLOVICH, Respondent-Appellee (Hoffenberg & Block, LLC, Appellant).

          Appeal from the Circuit Court of Cook County. No. 14 CR 9779. The Honorable Robert W. Johnson, Judge Presiding.

          JUSTICE PUCINSKI delivered the judgment of the court, with opinion. Justices Lavin and Mason concurred in the judgment and opinion.

          OPINION

          PUCINSKI JUSTICE.

         ¶ 1 In this appeal, Hoffenberg & Block, LLC (H&B), the firm that formerly represented respondent Aneta Pavlovich in these divorce proceedings, argues that the Cook County circuit court erred in denying its final petition for attorney fees brought pursuant to section 508 of the Illinois Marriage and Dissolution of Marriage Act (Act) (750 ILCS 5/508 (West 2016)). According to H&B, the trial court erred when it concluded that attorney fees could not be recovered under section 508 of the Act unless there was a written agreement between the attorney and client. For the reasons that follow, we affirm.

         ¶ 2 BACKGROUND

         ¶ 3 On July 18, 2017, a week before the judgment of dissolution was entered in this case, H&B filed its petition for final attorney fees and costs under section 508 of the Act. In that petition, H&B alleged that on June 21, 2016, it was retained to represent respondent in her dissolution proceedings and was later granted leave to withdraw on June 8, 2017. Between the time H&B was retained and the time that it withdrew from representing respondent, H&B performed extensive legal services for the benefit of respondent in her dissolution case. As a result, respondent incurred attorney fees totaling $95, 572.55 and costs totaling $2594.67. Respondent paid $30, 202.00 of the amount due, leaving an outstanding balance of $67, 965.22.

         ¶ 4 On July 25, 2017, the trial court entered a judgment dissolving the marriage of petitioner Slobodan Pavlovich and respondent.

         ¶ 5 Respondent filed a corrected motion to strike H&B's fee petition[1] and, in the alternative, a response to it. In the corrected motion to strike, respondent argued that H&B's fee petition should be stricken because H&B failed to attach detailed billing statements or time records and failed to attach a written agreement between H&B and respondent that included a statement of client rights and responsibilities, per the dictates of section 508(c)(2) of the Act (id. § 508(c)(2)). In her response to the fee petition, respondent again raised H&B's failure to attach time sheets or billing statements and also argued that the amount of fees sought was unreasonable for the normal and uncomplicated issues involved in the dissolution proceedings. Respondent also argued that the hourly rates charged by H&B attorneys were not usual and customary and that respondent did not benefit from H&B's services because H&B withdrew its representation of respondent on the eve of trial.

         ¶ 6 Also included in the record is a reply filed by respondent in support of her corrected motion to strike H&B's fee petition. The record does not contain, however, H&B's response to the corrected motion to strike. In her reply in support of her corrected motion to strike, respondent made a number of arguments in response to procedural arguments apparently raised by H&B in its response to the motion to strike. More relevant, however, are respondent's arguments that H&B was not entitled to recover fees under section 508, because it could not demonstrate that there was a written contract between H&B and respondent that contained a statement of the client's rights and responsibilities. She also argued that the reference to recovery under quantum meruit in section 508(c)(3) of the Act (id. § 508(c)(3)) applied only to terms outside of the written contract; in other words, quantum meruit was to be used only where the written agreement did not provide for a fair amount of fees. According to respondent, H&B could not recover under section 508 of the Act in any form because it lacked a written agreement between it and respondent; thus, H&B's only recourse was to file an independent common-law action for quantum meruit.

         ¶ 7 At the hearing on H&B's fee petition and respondent's corrected motion to strike the fee petition, a number of witnesses testified. Gabriela Asrow and Gloria Block, attorneys with H&B, testified regarding the work they did on behalf of respondent, the complicated nature of respondent's divorce proceedings, the fees and costs incurred by respondent, and the fact that respondent never objected to any of the fees or bills. Alan Hoffenberg, also of H&B, testified that he performed the initial consultation with respondent. At that meeting, respondent gave him her retainer, and he gave her a copy of H&B's retainer agreement and told her to take it home to review, sign, and return it. No one at H&B was able to locate a written agreement signed by respondent.

         ¶ 8 Respondent testified that she was never provided a written agreement by anyone with H&B and that she never signed a written agreement with H&B. She also testified that she was not given and did not sign a copy of the client's rights and responsibilities. Further, she testified that she questioned both Hoffenberg and Block at least 10 to 20 times about the large bills that she received for their services. Both of them told her that they were only billing her because they planned to seek contribution from petitioner and they needed the bills to use as proof.

         ¶ 9 In closing, H&B argued that it was seeking recovery of its fees under quantum meruit. H&B argued that, not only did the Act allow for quantum meruit, but also that the trial court was a court of general jurisdiction that could hear any type of case, including a common-law claim for quantum meruit. H&B further argued that the Act did not require that a written contract exist in order to recover under quantum meruit and that it would not make sense to require a written contract in such a situation.

         ¶ 10 In response, respondent argued that section 508(c)(2) of the Act explicitly states that no hearing shall be held on a fee petition unless there exists a written agreement between the lawyer and client that includes a statement of the client's rights and responsibilities. She also argued that quantum meruit under section 508 only applies where the terms of the written contract are uncertain or unclear. True quantum meruit, respondent argued, is only available if H&B were to file a separate cause of action.

         ¶ 11 Following the hearing, the trial court entered an order denying respondent's corrected motion to strike the fee petition and indicating that it would subsequently enter an order on H&B's fee petition.

         ¶ 12 Thereafter, but before the trial court ruled on H&B's fee petition, H&B filed a memorandum in support of its fee petition. In it, H&B argued that it established all of the elements of a common-law claim for quantum meruit and that the trial court could award it fees based on q ...


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