Terry D. Jackson v. Lanette Yvonne Jones

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FOURTH DIVISION DILLARD, P. J., BROWN and MARKLE, JJ. NOTICE: Motions for reconsideration must be physically received in our clerk’s office within ten days of the date of decision to be deemed timely filed. www.gaappeals.us/rules DEADLINES ARE NO LONGER TOLLED IN THIS COURT. ALL FILINGS MUST BE SUBMITTED WITHIN THE TIMES SET BY OUR COURT RULES. January 5, 2021 In the Court of Appeals of Georgia A20A1701. JACKSON et al. v. JONES. BROWN, Judge. Lanette Yvonne Crumpton1 sued attorney Terry D. Jackson and his law office (collectively, “Jackson”) for conversion and punitive damages based upon Jackson’s retention of a contingency fee following his settlement of a claim for the wrongful death of Crumpton’s son. Crumpton maintains that she did not have an attorney-client relationship with Jackson; he argues that she was bound by a contingency fee agreement executed by her ex-husband, David Jones, pursuant to OCGA § 19-7-1 (c) (2) (C), which governs the rights of unmarried parents to pursue a claim for the 1 When Crumpton filed suit, her name was Lanette Yvonne Jones, but she subsequently remarried. To distinguish her from her ex-husband, we will use her current last name. wrongful death of their child. The trial court denied Jackson’s motion for summary judgment, and he appeals.2 For reasons that follow, we reverse. Summary judgment is proper when there is no genuine issue of material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. A de novo standard of review applies to an appeal from the grant or denial of summary judgment, and we view the evidence, and all reasonable conclusions and inferences drawn from it, in the light most favorable to the nonmovant. (Citation and punctuation omitted.) Timmons v. SunTrust Bank, 352 Ga. App. 175 (834 SE2d 298) (2019). In this case, the relevant facts are not disputed. In December 2014, Michael Jones, the adult son of Crumpton and Jones, was killed in an automobile collision. At the time, Crumpton and Jones were separated.3 Jones contacted Jackson regarding a wrongful death suit, and Jackson agreed to represent him and to advance funds for Michael’s burial and funeral expenses. On December 18, 2014, Jones entered into a contingency fee agreement with Jackson for the claims arising from Michael’s death. The agreement identified both Jones and Crumpton as “Clients” and provided that 2 We granted Jackson’s application for interlocutory review. 3 They have since divorced. 2 Jackson would prosecute their claims arising out of Michael’s automobile accident in exchange for an attorney fee of forty percent of any gross recovery.4 The agreement was signed by Jones and Jackson and contained a space for Crumpton’s signature. The same day Jones signed the agreement, Jackson called Crumpton to discuss his representation. Jackson told Crumpton that she would share equally in any recovery, explained that he needed some documents from her, and asked her to come to his office to sign the contingency fee agreement. At Crumpton’s request, Jackson agreed to meet with her separately from Jones, and …

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