The Texas Supreme Court heard argument last week in a fee dispute between Albert Hill Jr., an H.L. Hunt heir, and one of his attorneys, Gregory Shamoun. Albert G. Hill, Jr. v. Shamoun & Norman, LLP, No. 16-0107. The Dallas Court of Appeals reversed a take-nothing judgment and awarded Shamoun $7.5 million in fees. 483 S.W.3d 767 (Tex.App.-Dallas 2016) Shamoun helped Hill resolve a “spider web of litigation”, twenty lawsuits, among Hill, his son and other family members over a $1 billion family trust that involved more than 100 attorneys representing Hill. Shamoun claimed that Hill orally promised to pay him a contingency fee if Shamoun was successful in resolving all of the litigation. To everyone’s surprise, Shamoun negotiated a global settlement of $40.5 million and left the trust in Hill’s control. (Shamoun gained fame by once bringing a donkey to testify in a case.)
The jury awarded Shamoun $7.5 million, which would work out to about $48,000/hour. (Shamoun sought $11 million.) The trial court threw out the verdict, refusing to enforce an oral fee agreement. But the court of appeals held that Shamoun had proven his right to a fee under a theory of quantum meruit, even though oral fee agreements are illegal under Texas’ Statute of Frauds. Under the quantum meruit theory, the jury was free to award a fee that was reasonable under the circumstances, based on the time spent and the result obtained. Hill’s attorneys argued that the only evidence Shamoun presented of a reasonable fee was the contingency fee he said Hill had agreed to, and that evidence was inadmissible.
Texas Solicitor General Scott Keller weighed in with an amicus brief supporting Hill and presented argument in the case – a very unusual event. Hill’s lawyer, James Ho, who also argued the case for Hill, was recently nominated for a seat on the 5th U.S. Court of Appeals by President Trump. One of the attorneys representing Shamoun is former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson, who argued the case for Shamoun. Oral argument can be viewed here.