Supreme Court affirms Marion court's ruling in favor of accountant

By Nathan Bass | May 28, 2013

CHARLESTON – The state Supreme Court affirmed a $26,300 “quantum meruit” award to a certified public accountant, finding the amount was supported by the evidence in the record.

The unanimous memorandum opinion was issued by the five-member court on May 24.

Jack Oliver - doing business as Oliver & Associates, Accountants and Consultants - filed suit against Jerry and Betty Berardi in September 2010, alleging that the petitioners owed him $2,135 for professional services related to a professional malpractice suit the Berardis were litigating against a former attorney.

Additionally, Oliver sought $18,000 and interest for services related to preparing income tax returns for numerous tax returns he prepared for the Berardis both personally and for various business entities they owned.

The Circuit Court of Marion County found that the parties had not formed a binding legal contract because they had not “mutually assented to how respondent was to be compensated,” the opinion says.

The court did find that Oliver was entitled to compensation under the theory of quantum meruit because he had provided a substantial benefit to the Berardis by preparing tax returns and preparing for Jerry Berardi’s pending lawsuit.

The circuit court awarded $26,300 plus costs and the Berardis appealed, arguing that the circuit court erred in granting judgment in quantum meruit because the exact services rendered were not provided with reasonable certainty. They pointed to the failure of Oliver to provide time records related to his work.

The Berardis argued that the failure to provide time records was a violation of Rule 52(a) of the West Virginia Rules of Civil Procedure. Rule 52(a) requires the court “find the facts specially and state separately its conclusions of law thereon…”

“On appeal, petitioners allege one assignment of error, arguing that the circuit court erred in granting respondent judgment in quantum meruit because the exact services rendered were not provided with reasonable certainty,” the court wrote.

“Petitioner’s argument hinges on the fact that the circuit court’s order does not have a specific finding as to how many hours respondent spent preparing for litigation and preparing the subject tax returns, but such a finding is not necessary for purposes of this rule.

“The record shows that extensive evidence was admitted concerning the amount of work necessary for respondent to complete petitioners’ tax returns and lawsuit evaluation, including retrieving old computers out of storage in order to install older software necessary to complete returns that were almost 10 years overdue.

“Additionally, respondent’s expert witness provided testimony that preparing delinquent returns is more difficult than preparing current returns, due to application of the laws that existed at the time the returns were due. In fact, this expert testified that respondent’s hourly rate was actually unfair and unreasonable to respondent himself, given his opinion that respondent could have charged a higher rate for his work.

“Based upon this evidence, the circuit court found that the invoices respondent submitted to petitioners were ‘both fair and reasonable.’ Because the circuit court’s findings in this regard were supported by substantial evidence, we find no error.”

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