Court of Appeals of Texas, Third District, Austin
The Law Offices of John S. Young, P.C., Appellant
Michael Deadman, Temporary Administrator of The Estate of John Edward Sullivan, Deceased, Appellee
THE COUNTY COURT AT LAW OF TOM GREEN COUNTY, NO. 14P252-L-A,
HONORABLE MARTIN (BROCK) JONES, JUDGE PRESIDING
Justices Puryear, Field, and Bourland
K. Field, Justice
Offices of John S. Young, P.C. appeals from the trial
court's final summary judgment dismissing its claims
against Michael Deadman, temporary administrator of the
estate of John Edward Sullivan. In four issues, the Law
Office contends that the trial court erred in granting
summary judgment in Deadman's favor. We will affirm the
trial court's summary judgment.
April 2014, the State of Texas brought a civil forfeiture
proceeding against John Sullivan. In connection with a
criminal proceeding against Sullivan, the State seized a bank
account of Sullivan's worth several million dollars.
Sullivan hired the Law Office to represent him in the
proceeding, and the two signed an "Attorney Contingent
Fee Contract." This agreement provided that the Law
Office would receive a fee of 27.5% "of all sums
recovered." The contract also stated, "Attorneys
agree not to settle or compromise the case without the
Client's approval of the terms and form of the settlement
. . . ." Finally, the paragraph stating that
"Client gives Attorneys a Power of Attorney to execute
(sign) all documents connected to this representation"
was crossed out and initialed.
3 or 4, 2014, Sullivan died. On June 5, Young filed an
application for probate of will as muniment of title in the
trial court. Young presented a document purporting to be a
holographic will signed by Sullivan on June 2. This document
named Young as the sole beneficiary of Sullivan's estate.
On June 16, the court signed an "Order Admitting
Holographic Will to Probate as Muniment of Title." This
order found "that there is no necessity for
administration of [Sullivan's] estate" and decreed
"that ALL right, title, and interest in ANY property or
interest, whether listed herein or not, belonging to the
Estate of [Sullivan], Deceased . . . shall be and is hereby
vested in [Young], only, as the sole beneficiary in and under
the herein described Will admitted to probate." After
obtaining this order, Young had the funds from Sullivan's
account transferred to another account in Young's name.
2, 2014, a district court in the civil forfeiture proceeding
signed an "Agreed Final Judgment of Forfeiture, "
resolving the forfeiture proceeding against the account that
had previously belonged to Sullivan and was now under
Young's name. In this judgment, the court found that
Young "is now the possessor/owner of the property
subject of this forfeiture proceeding." The court
further found that $500, 000 of the account was contraband
and subject to forfeiture to the State and that the remainder
of the account was not contraband and was not subject to
forfeiture. The court therefore ordered that $500, 000 be
turned over to the State and that "the remaining
balance" of the account "shall be released, without
encumbrance, to its possessor/owner." The judgment was
signed by the district court, the assistant district
attorney, and Christianson Hartman, who represented "the
interests of [Young], Defendant, " and was referred to
as "Attorney for Defendant."
a relative of Sullivan challenged the holographic will, and
Deadman was appointed Temporary Administrator of
Sullivan's estate. The Law Office sought to recover an
attorney's fee from Deadman and Sullivan's estate
pursuant to the contingent-fee agreement it made with
Sullivan, but Deadman denied the claim. The Law Office then
sued Deadman and Sullivan's estate, seeking $919, 197.67,
or 27.5% of the amount the Law Office claimed to have
recovered in the forfeiture proceeding.
filed a motion for summary judgment, which contained three
parts. In the first part, Deadman argued that the trial court
should grant summary judgment against the Law Office's
claims against Sullivan's estate because an estate is not
a legal entity and cannot be sued.In the second part, Deadman
moved for no-evidence summary judgment as to the Law
Office's claims against Deadman as temporary
administrator of Sullivan's estate. Deadman argued that
"there is no evidence that [Sullivan], 'the
Client' in the contingent fee contract, approved of the
terms and form of the settlement in [the forfeiture
proceeding], as required by paragraph 4 of the
[contingent-fee] contract." In the third part, Deadman
moved for traditional summary judgment as to the Law
Office's claims against him. Deadman argued that the
evidence showed: (1) that Sullivan never approved the
settlement in the forfeiture proceeding, (2) that
Sullivan's death terminated the attorney-client
relationship between the Law Office and Sullivan, (3) that
the Law Office subsequently had no authority to represent
Sullivan's estate in the forfeiture proceeding, (4) that
the Law Office waived any right to recover attorney's
fees by failing to take "the appropriate action to
ensure that [Sullivan's] estate was properly represented
in the final disposition of the forfeiture proceeding"
and by transferring all the assets of the account at issue in
the forfeiture proceeding to Young's personal account
prior to the rendition of the final agreed judgment in the
forfeiture proceeding, and (5) that there was no recovery in
the forfeiture proceeding within the meaning of the fee
agreement because $500, 000 of the account was forfeited to
the State and the remainder was released without encumbrance
to Young-none went to Sullivan's estate.
trial court granted Deadman's motion for summary judgment
without indicating the grounds for its decision, and this
review a trial court's ruling on a motion for summary
judgment de novo. See Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Rincones,
520 S.W.3d 572, 579 (Tex. 2017) (citing Valence Operating
Co. v. Dorsett, 164 S.W.3d 656, 661 (Tex. 2005)).
Traditional summary judgment is proper only if the movant
establishes that there is no genuine issue as to any material
fact and that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.
Tex.R.Civ.P. 166a(c). No-evidence summary judgment is proper
"unless the respondent produces summary judgment
evidence raising a genuine issue of material fact."
Id. R. 166a(i). We may affirm the trial court's
grant of summary judgment on ...