Non-lawyers and even lawyers who do not focus on contract disputes lay too much emphasis on whether or not there is a signed contract. Business litigators should know better.

Even if a contract literally provides, “There is no contract unless there is a writing, setting out material terms, and signed by both parties,” courts (and juries) may conclude there is a contract.

So ruled Sr. U.S. District Court Judge David S. Doty (D. Minn.) in a lawsuit between Rust Consulting and the law firm of Schneider Wallace Cottrell Konecky Wotkyns, LLP (“SWCKW”). (Here is the complaint. Here is the Court’s ruling on SWCKW’s motion for summary judgment. (See pages 8-9.)) SWCKW argued that Rust could not sue on the contract between them because Rust could not come up with the signed contract (signed by Rust, that is). (Rust could come up with plenty of evidence that the parties agreed to the contract and that Rust performed under the constract.)

This dispute is now scheduled for trial in October. Rust claims it is due around $320,000 (see here at p. 6 ). SWCKW has a counterclaim against Rust apparently for over $1 million (see here at p. 6 (“Schneider Wallace asserts that it had to use an attorney to complete Rust’s work and to correct its mistakes. … Schneider Wallace paid the attorney $1,198,313.”)).

(Surprisingly, Rust and SWCKW starting working together in 2009 and will work together to this day (see here at p. 2, ftn. 1) but our guess is that this is “legacy work” because sometimes Rust’s work, settlement claims administration and the like, can have a long tail.)

It’s been a hot minute since we’ve stretched and made a prediction on Minnesota Litigator so we’ll make a modest bet that this case will settle before trial.

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