On August 1, 2019, Justice Cohen of the New York County Commercial Division issued a decision in Law Off. of Mark S. Helweil v. Karambelas, 2019 NY Slip Op. 32308(U), holding that a client’s failure timely to dispute bills entitled the law firm to summary judgment on an account stated claim, explaining:
An account stated is an agreement between the parties to an account based upon prior transactions between them with respect to the correctness of the separate items composing the account and the balance due, if any, in favor of one party or the other. Receipt and retention of plaintiff’s accounts, without objection within a reasonable time, and agreement to pay a portion of the indebtedness, gives rise to an actionable account stated, thereby entitling plaintiff to summary judgment in its favor.
Helweil is entitled to summary judgment on its claim for $644,947.21 in unpaid amounts accrued by Karambelas between May 4, 2016 and September 12, 2018. First, although Karambelas claims not to have received Helweil’s bills, the documentary record shows otherwise. Karambelas admitted in writing to receiving billing statements from Helweil from May 2017 to January 2018. Karambelas points to other purported instances in her affidavit where on multiple occasions she sent emails to Helweil requesting that bills be sent to her because she had not received them. However, the undisputed evidence shows that Helweil promptly responded and attached copies of the bills by return email. In each instance that Karambelas claimed she had not received any bills, Helweil responded with copies. Karambelas offers no rebuttal to the documentary evidence and no substantive grounds for refusing to pay Helweil’s bills.
Proof that detailed bills are mailed on a regular basis in the course of business establishes prima facie entitlement to summary judgment. Here, Helweil has presented evidence of detailed monthly invoices prepared for Karambelas’s divorce action. After Karambelas requested that her bills be mailed to her rather than emailed, Helweil’s administrative assistant affirms that she mailed each subsequent bill to Karambelas’s home by first class mail after personally addressing the envelopes, applying the postage, and placing them in the outgoing mail bin.
Karambelas provides no evidence to suggest that she objected to Helweil’s bills within a reasonable time, which is required to rebut a prima facie claim for account stated. In Liddle, as in this case, plaintiff established an account stated for legal services rendered on behalf of defendant in light of the fact that the parties executed a written retainer agreement enumerating the fees, plaintiff performed the services, and defendant made substantial payments. There is no evidence that Karambelas objected to any billing for work that Helweil conducted. Any objection to billing must also be specific and contemporaneous. Even now, Karambelas presents no legitimate basis for failing to pay Helweil’s invoices.
Finally, Karambelas’s partial payment of Helweil’s bills supports an account stated claim. Here, Karambelas acknowledged her obligation pay Helweil’s bills upon receiving invoices. Specifically, Karambelas made a payment of $35,000 in accordance with the Retainer and admits in her Answer that she “paid the plaintiff at least $121,575.44. Karambelas’s partial payments are an acknowledgement of her obligation to pay Helweil’s bills.
(Internal quotations and citations omitted).
People sometimes are surprised to learn that if they do not complain about a bill they receive, they can be found to have agreed to it. Contact Schlam Stone & Dolan partner John Lundin at firstname.lastname@example.org if you or a client have questions about a claim based on un-objected-to invoices.
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