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Ryan v. Belin McCormick, P.C.

Court of Appeals of Iowa

January 10, 2018

MICHAEL C. RYAN AND RYAN DATA EXCHANGE, LTD., d/b/a RYDEX, LTD., Plaintiffs-Appellees,
v.
BELIN MCCORMICK, P.C., Defendant-Appellant.

         Appeal from the Iowa District Court for Polk County, Glenn E. Pille (summary judgment) and Donna L. Paulsen (trial), Judges.

         A law firm appeals a declaratory judgment concerning the extent of its attorney-client relationship with plaintiffs.

          Mark McCormick and Matthew C. McDermott of Belin McCormick, P.C., Des Moines, for appellant.

          Kenneth R. Munro of Munro Law Office, P.C., Des Moines, for appellees.

          Heard by Vogel, P.J., and Tabor and Bower, J J.

          BOWER, JUDGE.

         Belin McCormick, P.C., [1] a law firm, appeals a declaratory judgment concerning the extent of its attorney-client relationship with Michael Ryan and Ryan Data Exchange, Ltd., doing business as Rydex, Ltd.[2] We find the district court improperly determined Rydex and Seneca Distribution, L.C. were involved in a joint venture. We find there is no longer a justiciable controversy concerning the nature, scope, and extent of the attorney-client relationship between Belin and Rydex. We vacate the decision of the district court.

         I. Background Facts & Proceedings

         Christopher Risewick and his company, Seneca Distribution, L.C. were long-time clients of Belin.[3] Beginning in 1999, Seneca began investing in Rydex, which held patents concerning a wireless fluid delivery control system. Belin performed legal work pertaining to the relationship between Seneca and Rydex. The relationship between Seneca and Rydex later led to litigation between them and with other parties. This case involves just one piece in the larger picture of litigation involving Seneca and Rydex.

         On May 8, 2015, Rydex filed a declaratory judgment action against Belin, asking for a determination of whether they had an attorney-client relationship, and requesting Belin turn over all documents regarding its legal representation of Rydex. The petition states:

WHEREFORE, the Plaintiffs request that the Court enters an Order declaring that Belin McCormick PC had an attorney client relationship with Michael Ryan and Rydex and that Michael Ryan and Rydex are immediately entitled to a full copy of their file, including but not limited to, any and all documents, emails, pleadings, correspondence, discovery, billings, electronically stored data, and any other item of any kind relating to the inventions and U.S. patents that were the subject of the attorney client relationship.

         Belin admitted it had an attorney-client relationship with Rydex where Rydex's interests aligned with those of Seneca, but stated the relationship did not encompass the scope Rydex claimed. Belin claimed it did not perform any legal services for Rydex after May 2002. Nonetheless, Belin gave Rydex copies of its work associated with the relationship between Seneca and Rydex from January 2000 through January 2006.

         Rydex filed a motion for partial summary judgment and Belin also filed a motion for summary judgment. The district court denied the motions, stating, "The scope, extent, and nature of the attorney-client relationship must be determined by the fact-finder and will ...


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