Suyi Cao v. Monkhouse Law Professional Corporation

(Ontario) (Civil) (By Leave)


Law of professions — Barristers and solicitors — Contracts — Termination — Contingency fee agreements — Applicant retaining services of respondent law firm under a contingency fee agreement — Applicant seeking assessment of fees charged by respondent following breakdown of the solicitor—client relationship — Whether counsel can unilaterally terminate a contingency fee agreement and charge former client at hourly rate, payable before the legal matter has been resolved — What remedy is available where lower courts have assessed a disputed account without considering allegations of counsel’s bad faith, breach of contract and fiduciary duty, and lack of integrity and credibility? — Solicitors Act, R.S.O. 1990, c. S.15.


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Applicant Suyi Cao retained respondent Monkhouse Law Professional Corporation (hereafter, “Monkhouse”) to represent her in a wrongful dismissal and human rights claim against her former employer. Following a breakdown of the solicitor—client relationship, Monkhouse rendered an account of approximately $93,000, pursuant to the retainer agreement that Ms. Cao had signed.

An assessment officer would have reduced the account to approximately $60,000. However, a motion judge, finding that the assessment officer did not have jurisdiction, fixed the account at $45,000 inclusive of disbursements and HST.

The Divisional Court dismissed Ms. Cao’s appeal. The Court of Appeal dismissed Ms. Cao’s application for leave to appeal from the Divisional Court’s judgment.

Lower Court Rulings

December 2, 2021
Ontario Superior Court of Justice

2021 ONSC 7894, 414/20
Appeal dismissed
December 19, 2022
Court of Appeal for Ontario

Application for leave to appeal dismissed