BARNES, P. J., MCMILLIAN and MERCIER, JJ.
worker's compensation case, the Administrative Law Judge
awarded attorney fees to the employee's former counsel,
The Law Offices of Jorge Luis Flores, LLC
("Flores"), following the settlement of the case by
the employee's new counsel, Cruz & Associates
("Cruz"). The Appellate Division of the State Board
of Workers' Compensation affirmed the ALJ's order, but
the superior court reversed and remanded the case for further
proceedings. We granted Flores' application for
discretionary appeal in this matter and now reverse the
superior court's order because we find there was
sufficient evidence below to support the award of attorney
fees to Flores.
undisputed facts in the record show that the employee, Martha
Rodriguez, suffered a compensable work-related injury on July
21, 2005, and on October 29, 2005, she signed a contingency
contract with Flores to pursue her workers' compensation
claim (the "fee contract"). Flores represented
Rodriquez for over six years, during which time Flores,
associated counsel, and legal assistants performed legal
services related to her claim, including, but not limited to,
ensuring the payment of employment benefits, managing medical
treatment, engaging in discovery, meeting with Rodriguez, and
filing motions and other documents on her behalf.
January 12, 2012, Rodriguez terminated Flores's
representation and hired Cruz as her new counsel. Flores
subsequently filed a notice of lien in the amount of $17, 180
seeking payment for services rendered and expenses incurred.
Cruz later settled the case, with the settlement including a
payment of $50, 000 in attorney fees and approximately $1,
500 in expenses.
the case settled, Cruz contested Flores' right to recover
payment under his lien on the grounds that the Flores'
fee contract was unenforceable due to a lack of a meeting of
minds between the parties and further that Flores had failed
to prove the value of his services. The ALJ held a hearing on
the matter, and based on the evidence and testimony presented
as well as briefing by the parties, the ALJ found that Flores
"successfully proved his claim of lien, albeit in
quantum meruit rather than on his fee
contract." (Emphasis in original.) The ALJ also found
that Cruz was correct in arguing that "there was no
meeting of the minds between [Flores] and [Rodriguez]
regarding any hourly rates payable under the fee contract, .
. . as the fee contract is silent in this regard" and
that "the contractual language did not specify the
recovery [Flores] would be entitled to in the event the
contingency provided for under the contract did not occur or
the expenses for which the Employee would be liable in that
event." Nevertheless, the ALJ held that "counsel
may still prove the value of his services performed prior to
termination under a theory of quantum meruit." The ALJ
concluded that Flores had established that the fair value of
its legal services was $15, 650 and its proven expenses were
$1, 530; therefore, the ALJ awarded Flores the full amount if
its lien, $17, 180. Cruz appealed the ALJ's order, and
the Board affirmed the award, determining that the ALJ's
award was supported by a preponderance of the competent and
credible evidence and adopting the ALJ's findings of fact
and conclusions of law as the Board's own.
then appealed the Board's award to the Superior Court of
Fulton County. Following a hearing, the superior court issued
an order reversing the award and remanding the case for
consideration of additional evidence on the fees claimed by
Flores. The superior court determined that Flores' fee
contract was invalid because it was not drafted in accordance
with the Georgia Rules of Professional Coduct and further
because there was no meeting of the minds between the parties
as to Flores' hourly rates. The superior court also found
that there was a clear lack of competent evidence to support
the Board's award of the full amount of the lien to
Flores. This appeal followed.
argues that the superior court applied the wrong standard of
review and erred by failing to analyze the issue of quantum
meruit, because that issue, and not the issue of the fee
contract's validity, was the foundation of the
administrative rulings. We agree.
first to the standard of review, we note that superior courts
apply the same standard of review as this Court does in
considering decisions by the Board. In workers'
both the superior court and this Court are required to
construe the evidence in a light most favorable to the party
prevailing before the State Board. It is axiomatic that the
findings of the Board, when supported by any evidence, are
conclusive and binding, and that neither the superior court
nor this Court has any authority to substitute itself as a
fact finding body in lieu of the Board.
(Citation omitted.) Autozone, Inc. v. Mesa, 342
Ga.App. 748, 752 (804 S.E.2d 734) (2017). "The question
of whether the trial court applied the correct legal standard
in evaluating the evidence, however, is one of law, which we
review de novo." (Citation and punctuation omitted.)
the Board found that the parties failed to reach a meeting of
the minds under the fee contract as to any hourly rates
payable or as to the amount of any recovery in the event that
the fee contract's contingency did not occur, so the fee
contract was unenforceable. The Board then relied on the
well-settled principle that
[w]hen a contingent fee arrangement exists between a client
and an attorney and the client prevents the contingency from
happening, the attorney is entitled to reasonable
attorney's fees for his services that have been rendered
on behalf of the client. Thus, although prevented from
recovering under the contract, the attorney still has [a]
remedy in quantum meruit.
Ellerin & Assocs. v. Brawley,
263 Ga.App. 860,
862-63 (2) (589 S.E.2d 626) (2003). Therefore, an attorney
who is discharged before earning his contractual contingency
fee may seek a recovery under quantum meruit. See Tolson
v. Sistrunk, 332 Ga.App. 324, 333 (2) (a) (772 S.E.2d
416) (2015); Haldi v. ...