Vandekerckhove v. Scarfone, No. 303130: Michigan Appeals Court Finds for Attorney in Case involving Son’s Death

A Michigan appeals court has affirmed a summary judgment in favor of an attorney in a legal malpractice action. In Vandekerckhove v. Scarfone, a mother hired an attorney to act as personal representative of her deceased son’s estate. The mother entered into a fee agreement, which specified that any disputes arising out of his representation would be resolved through binding arbitration.

Approximately one year later, the mother entered into a second fee agreement for the attorney to represent her to foreclose on a mortgage, which secured money she had lent to her son. That agreement also contained an identical arbitration clause.

The mother eventually became dissatisfied with the attorney’s services and brought a legal malpractice action against him. The attorney moved for summary judgment, seeking to enforce the arbitration clause. The trial court granted the attorney’s motion and ordered the parties to proceed to arbitration. The mother appealed.

The appellate court affirmed, finding that the arbitration clause was enforceable. The mother had argued that the entirety of the fee agreements were unenforceable because they created a conflict of interest for the attorney, representing both the son’s estate, and also the mother who was as a creditor of the estate. However, the court refused to consider this argument on the basis that such a dispute was expressly contemplated by the terms of the arbitration clause, and therefore that issue had to be considered and decided through arbitration.

Decision: Vandekerckhove v. Scarfone

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