This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Gary Lee Morris,
Gray and Malacko Law Offices,
Filed September 20, 2005
Gordon W. Shumaker, Judge
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C8-03-10791
Considered and decided by Kalitowski, Presiding Judge, Shumaker, Judge; and Minge, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
GORDON W. SHUMAKER, Judge
Appellant contends that, after a bench trial, the district court erred in finding that he agreed to pay his attorney a full retainer in a criminal matter even if the case were disposed of through a guilty plea. Because the evidence supports the court’s findings and conclusions, we affirm.
Appellant Gary Lee Morris sued respondent attorney Earl Gray for the return of one-half of a retainer fee that he paid to Gray to represent him in a criminal matter. Morris contends that he understood the agreement to be that one-half the retainer would be refunded if the matter did not go to trial. Morris entered a plea of guilty, but Gray did not refund any portion of the retainer fee.
After a bench trial, the district court found that the parties orally agreed that the retainer would be non-refundable; that such a retainer arrangement is Gray’s standard practice; that sometime after being retained, Gray sent to Morris a confirmatory written retainer agreement; and that Morris did not sign it, but neither objected to the agreement, which provided that no part of the retainer would be refunded, nor discontinued Gray’s legal services. The district court concluded that Morris “did agree to the terms of the non-refundable retainer and no credible evidence was presented to indicate half was to be returned if a plea occurred.” The court ordered judgment dismissing the case, and Morris appealed.
D E C I S I O N
matter reached the district court through removal from the conciliation
court. Morris and Gray personally
appeared for trial, and, as the district court noted in its order, they
represented themselves. Morris did not
move for amended findings or a new trial; he does not allege any dispositive
evidentiary or procedural error; and he has not provided a transcript of the
trial for our review. Thus, we are
limited to determining “whether the evidence sustains the findings of fact and
whether such findings sustain the conclusions of law and the judgment.” Gruenhagen
v. Larson, 310
1. Ambiguity of Contract
Morris argues that the retainer agreement, evidenced by the written retainer, was ambiguous and should be construed against Gray as the drafter. The relevant language of the written retainer provides: “Client has paid a retainer of $12,500.00 for representation in all proceedings involved in this matter. This fee is payment in full through trial or other disposition of this case . . . . Client understands that the retainer/fee of $12,500.00 . . . is fully earned and non-refundable . . . .”
For the fee stated, Gray agreed to represent Morris through a trial “or other disposition.” A criminal case can be disposed of through dismissal, trial, or plea of guilty. Trial is one type of disposition; a plea of guilty is another. The criminal case was disposed of by Morris’s plea of guilty, an outcome reasonably contemplated by the “other disposition” language in the retainer. There is nothing ambiguous about that language, and, read together with the language regarding non-refundability, there could be no reasonable inference that a plea of guilty would merit only one-half the retainer fee.
2. Findings and Conclusion
Morris argues that there could have been no retainer contract because there was no meeting of the minds. He contends that there was no evidence presented that he agreed to a non-refundable retainer.
Because Morris failed to supply a transcript of the trial, we must determine what evidence was presented by analyzing the court’s findings of fact. It appears from those findings that Gray testified that he agreed to represent Morris for a non-refundable fee of $12,500 and that Morris accepted that arrangement. It appears that Morris testified that he understood from his discussions about the representation that, if trial were not necessary, Gray would refund half the retainer.
with two conflicting versions of what precisely the parties agreed to, the
district court was required to resolve the conflict on the basis of the
evidence and the law. It is clear that
the court believed Gray and did not believe Morris. We defer to the credibility determinations of
the trier of fact. General v. General, 409 N.W.2d 511, 513 (