Stace Hammond Lawyers v White [2018] NZDC 9004

Published 12 June 2019

Summary judgment — disputed legal fees — previous statutory investigations. The plaintiff, Stace Hammond Lawyers, sought summary judgment against the defendant, Graeme White, for an outstanding invoice of $29,494.38. The plaintiff provided legal services for a challenge to defendant's late sister's Will. The defendant disputed the invoice maintaining that he had an arguable case that it was not payable at all. For a summary judgment to be granted, the plaintiff must establish that the defendant does not have an arguable case. The invoice in question was issued immediately following a final hearing in the High Court, where the defendant was unsuccessful in his claim. The defendant claimed that the fee was excessive and unreasonable, citing a number of complaints about the plaintiff's conduct. A month after the invoice was issued, the defendant made a complaint to the New Zealand Law Society alleging negligence and failure to adequately advise on likely fees. However, no fault or criticism of the plaintiff's conduct was found by the Standard Committee appointed investigator nor an appointed legal complaints review officer. With the benefit of a costs assessor's report the Standards Committee issued a determination as to whether the costs were excessive. The defendant sought further review of this determination which reached the same conclusion: the fees were fair. The Judge found the defendant's claims in opposition to the summary judgment were no more than an attempt to re-argue matters already thoroughly investigated. For that reason the Judge ordered the summary judgment in favour of the plaintiff in the sum of $29,494.38. Judgment Date: 9 May 2018.