Luther, Collier, Hodges & Cash, LLP – Attorneys at Law

ALABAMA – Summary Judgment – Issues of Material Fact

The Supreme Court of Alabama has described the bounds of issues of material fact in a dispute of entitlement to referral fees. An attorney, Caldwell, worked for George Woerner, and helped Woerner run several of his businesses. When the BP Oil Spill occurred, Caldwell enlisted the help of Cunningham Bounds, a law firm in Mobile, to handle Woerner’s claims stemming from the spill, later also receiving help from Sirote & Permutt. The dispute arose when Caldwell claimed he was entitled to referral fees as the referring attorney. The trial court granted Caldwell summary judgment.

The Supreme Court reversed the judgment for Caldwell, saying he had failed to demonstrate there was no issue of material fact concerning his entitlement to the referral fees. This is because the agreements entered into by Caldwell described with little certainty or specificity how referral fees would be handled. The representation agreements included language like “referral fees, if applicable,” and “may receive up to 1/3 of the attorney’s fees” without stating what would trigger such a payment. Therefore, Caldwell failed to show there was no genuine issue of material fact, entitling him to summary judgment, causing the Court to reverse the trial court.

Sirote & Permutt v. Caldwell


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