BERGER, mcdonald and veldhuis jja

10.18: Reference to Court
10.9: Reasonableness of retainer agreements and charges subject to review

Case Summary

The Plaintiff retained the Defendant law firm over several years for a variety of legal matters. It then sought the review of several accounts, and the Review Officer granted reductions. The Defendant law firm appealed the Review Officer’s Decision to a Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench, who then sent the accounts back to a different Review Officer for a further rehearing. The Plaintiff appealed the Court of Queen’s Bench Decision to return the accounts for a further review. The Court of Appeal considered whether the Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench erred in finding that the Review Officer proceeded without jurisdiction by improperly interpreting a contingency fee agreement.

The Majority noted that Rule 10.9 allows a Review Officer to review a retainer agreement or legal fees for reasonableness, but that they have no jurisdiction to interpret the terms. Rule 10.18(1)(a) specifies that questions concerning the terms of a retainer agreement must be referred to the Court. The Majority held that comments made by the Review Officer that “reasonableness is to be read into the clause…” were not an interpretation of the agreements and that the Review Officer was merely complying with the Rules of Court. Although the Review Officer’s review did not exceed his jurisdiction under the Rules, the Majority held that the Justice of the Court of Queen’s Bench properly held that most of the amounts reduced by the Review Officer were inordinately high, demonstrating an error in principle.

McDonald J.A., dissenting, found that the Review Officer’s reductions were reasonable and that the lower Court’s Decision was in error. His Lordship would have allowed the Appeal and reinstated the Decision of the Review Officer.

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