Justia Legal Ethics Opinion SummariesArticles Posted in Contracts
Khalil v. Williams
The issue this case presented for the Pennsylvania Supreme Court's review centered on whether Appellant’s legal malpractice claims against Appellees, her former attorneys, were barred under the Court’s decision in Muhammad v. Strassburger, McKenna, Messer, Shilobod & Gutnick, 587 A.2d 1346 (Pa. 1991), which held that a plaintiff could not sue his attorney on the basis of the adequacy of a settlement to which the plaintiff agreed, unless the plaintiff alleged the settlement was the result of fraud. Appellant, Dr. Ahlam Kahlil, owned a unit in the Pier 3 Condominiums in Philadelphia; the unit was insured by State Farm Fire and Casualty Company (“State Farm”). The Pier 3 Condominium Association (“Pier 3”) was insured under a master policy issued by Travelers Property Casualty Company of America (“Travelers”). In May 2007, Appellant sustained water damage to her unit as a result of a leak in the unit directly above hers, which was owned by Jason and Anne Marie Diegidio. Due to the water damage, Appellant moved out of her unit and stopped paying her condominium fees. Appellant filed suit against State Farm and Travelers, alleging breach of contract and bad faith, and against the Diegidios, alleging negligence. A year later, Pier 3 filed a separate lawsuit against Appellant for her unpaid condominium fees and charges. In affirming in part and reversing in part the trial court, the Supreme Court found that by finding Appellant’s claims were barred under Muhammad, the lower courts ignored other averments in Appellant’s complaint which did not allege fraud, but, rather, alleged legal malpractice by Appellees in allowing Appellant to enter into a settlement agreement in the Water Damage Case that subsequently precluded her from raising her desired claims in the Fees Case, while repeatedly advising Appellant that the settlement agreement would not preclude those claims. "[A]s our review of Appellant’s complaint demonstrates that she was not merely challenging the amount of her settlement in the Water Damage Case, but rather alleged that Appellees provided incorrect legal advice regarding the scope and effect the Travelers Release, we hold that Muhammad’s bar on lawsuits based on the adequacy of a settlement is not implicated in this case." View "Khalil v. Williams" on Justia Law
City of Los Angeles Department of Airports v. U.S. Specialty Ins. Co.
Russo contracted to build four airport firefighting trucks for the city. The contract provided that Russo would pay the city’s attorney fees in the event of litigation involving the trucks. Under a performance bond, Specialty agreed to be liable to the city for any losses if Russo failed to perform the contract. The city accepted and paid for two trucks, but subsequently terminated the contract and refused to pay for the remaining two trucks before they were delivered. Alleging problems with the first two trucks and Russo’s failure to timely deliver the other two, the city made a claim under the performance bond, then sued Russo for breach of contract and sought enforcement of the performance bond against Russo and Specialty, demanding the return of the payments it had made for the first two trucks. Russo sued the city for breach of contract. The city won judgments on all claims; a jury awarded the city $1. B.The court of appeal affirmed the denial of Specialty’s application for attorney fees, rejecting Specialty’s argument that, despite losing on contract liability, it is entitled to fees as the prevailing party because the jury awarded the city only nominal damages rather than the $3.4 million that the city sought. The trial court had discretion to find that neither party prevailed. View "City of Los Angeles Department of Airports v. U.S. Specialty Ins. Co." on Justia Law
Sullivan v. Max Spann Real Estate & Auction Co.
Defendant Mengxi Liu, the successful bidder in a real estate auction conducted by defendant Max Spann Real Estate and Auction Co. (Max Spann), asserted as a defense to the seller’s breach of contract action that the contract she signed to purchase the property was void and unenforceable. In her appeal of the trial court’s judgment finding her in breach of her contract, Liu argued that the agreement was unenforceable because a licensed real estate salesperson employed by Max Spann wrote her name and address as the buyer and purchase price information on blank spaces in a template sales contract following the auction. Liu contended that this activity constituted the unauthorized practice of law because the contract did not provide for the three-day attorney review period as mandated by the New Jersey Supreme Court. The Supreme Court agreed with the Appellate Division that a residential real estate sale by absolute auction was distinct from a traditional real estate transaction in which a buyer and seller negotiate the contract price and other terms and memorialize their agreement in a contract. In an absolute auction or an auction without reserve, the owner unconditionally offers the property for sale and the highest bid creates a final and enforceable contract at the auction’s conclusion, subject to applicable contract defenses. “Were we to impose the three-day attorney review prescribed in [the controlling case law] on residential real estate sales conducted by absolute auction, we would fundamentally interfere with the method by which buyers and sellers choose to conduct such sales.” The Court found no unauthorized practice of law in this case and held that the contract signed by Liu was valid and enforceable. View "Sullivan v. Max Spann Real Estate & Auction Co." on Justia Law
Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. v. Housing Authority of New Orleans
The Housing Authority of New Orleans (HANO) agreed to pay Parkcrest $11 million to build affordable housing. Liberty was Parkcrest’s surety. HANO terminated Parkcrest before the project was done. Parkcrest sued, alleging breach of contract. Liberty and HANO executed a “Takeover Agreement,” incorporating the original contract; Liberty stepped into Parkcrest’s shoes to finish the project. Liberty hired Parkcrest as its completion contractor. HANO claimed that Liberty had forfeited any right to continue working on the project and requested that it relinquish control of the site. Liberty claimed the termination was wrongful. Rather than following the contract’s dispute resolution procedures, Liberty filed a complaint-in-intervention in the HANO-Parkcrest litigation.The district court concluded that HANO had breached the Takeover Agreement and the underlying HANO Contract by terminating Liberty for convenience after Liberty had substantially completed the project, awarded Liberty and Parkcrest damages, and held HANO liable to Liberty for attorney’s fees, but left those fees unquantified. The Fifth Circut affirmed but concluded it lacked jurisdiction to consider the fee award because a fee award is not a final judgment under 28 U.S.C. 1291 until reduced to a sum certain. The district court then awarded Liberty $526,192.25 in fees. The Fifth Circuit reversed. Liberty’s claim for fees arises from the contract, which authorizes fee-shifting “upon the receipt by [HANO] of a properly presented claim.” Liberty breached the contract’s dispute-resolution procedures, this breach was unexcused, so Liberty is entitled to nothing. View "Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. v. Housing Authority of New Orleans" on Justia Law
Crutcher v. MultiPlan, Inc.
Plaintiff, the owner of TLDI, filed suit against MultiPlan and PHCS, alleging numerous causes of action, including those relevant to this appeal—breach of contract and a right to an award of attorneys' fees. The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's denial of attorneys' fees, concluding that the Network Agreement's indemnity clause does not permit recovery of attorneys' fees in this dispute between the contracting parties.However, the court reversed the district court's holding that plaintiff's conduct waived the contractual amendment-in-writing requirement, concluding that waiver and modification have been pleaded adequately. Furthermore, even assuming arguendo that Multiplan presented evidence sufficient to establish the presumption of receipt, plaintiffs countered with evidence that it was not received. Finally, the court concluded that alterations in position suffice as to consideration. In this case, the revised fee schedule together with the increased potential patient pool changed the obligations of both parties. View "Crutcher v. MultiPlan, Inc." on Justia Law
California Union Square L.P. v. Saks & Company LLC
Union Square owns the San Francisco building where Saks has operated a store since 1991. The lease's initial 25-year term was followed by successive options to renew; it mandates arbitration to determine Fair Market Rent for renewals. Section 3.1(c)(iv) states that “[e]ach party shall share equally the fees and expenses of the arbitrator. The attorneys’ fees and expenses of counsel for the respective parties and of witnesses shall be paid by the respective party engaging such counsel or calling such witnesses.” Section 23.10 permits a prevailing party to recover costs, expenses, and reasonable attorneys’ fees, “Should either party institute any action or proceeding to enforce this Lease ... or for damages by reason of any alleged breach ... or for a declaration of rights hereunder,The parties arbitrated a rent dispute in 2017. The trial court vacated the First Award, in favor of Union Square. To avoid re-arbitration, Union Square sought mandamus relief, which was summarily denied. While discussions concerning another arbitration were pending, Union Square filed a superior court motion to appoint the second arbitrator. The court-appointed arbitrator ruled in favor of Saks.The court of appeal affirmed the orders vacating the First Award and confirming the Second Award. Saks sought $1 million in attorneys’ fees for “litigation proceedings arising out of the arbitration,” not for the arbitrations themselves, citing Section 23.10. The court of appeal affirmed the denial of the motion. Each party agreed to bear its own attorneys’ fees for all proceedings related to settling any disagreement around Fair Market Rent under Section 3.1(c). View "California Union Square L.P. v. Saks & Company LLC" on Justia Law
Sirote & Permutt, P.C. v. Caldwell
The law firm of Sirote & Permutt, P.C., and attorney C. Randall Caldwell, Jr., each claimed they were entitled to one-third of the attorneys' fees that were owed for a BP oil spill settlement. Sirote and Caldwell litigated their dispute against each other, and, following a bench trial, the trial court ruled in favor of Caldwell and awarded the funds to him. The Alabama Supreme Court determined the trial court had sufficient evidence to find the existence of a valid referral agreement between Caldwell and Cunningham Bounds as well as the existence of an attorney-client relationship between Caldwell and the Woerner entities. Sirote was not entitled to replace Caldwell as referring counsel merely because the Woerner entities terminated their attorney-client relationship with Caldwell. And the trial court's finding that Caldwell earned his referral fees at the time he referred the Woerner entities' BP claims did not require reversal. Finally, it is clear that the trial court did not award postjudgment interest. In all respects, the Court affirmed the trial court. View "Sirote & Permutt, P.C. v. Caldwell" on Justia Law
Korchemny v. Piterman
Milan and Dmitry Piterman were married in 1990. In 2013, Milan filed a petition for legal separation. Korchemny, a close friend of Dmitry’s, sued Dmitry, Milan, and Milan’s Trust based on two promissory notes. Dmitry filed a cross-complaint against Milan and the trust. After years of extensive litigation, Milan and the trust obtained summary judgment against Korchemny based on their affirmative defense of usury. They were later awarded $318,000 in attorney fees. Korchemny appealed both the judgment and the attorney fee order. On Dmitry’s cross-complaint, Milan and the trust obtained judgment on the pleadings against Dmitry.The court of appeal affirmed. When the payments made under the promissory notes are applied to reduce principal in accordance with California usury law, the result is that a 2000 note was fully paid off by May 2011 and the 2001 note fully paid off by January 2017. The attorneys’ fees award was fully supported. There was nothing for which Dmitry could be indemnified or get contribution; if Dmitry had acted like a defendant typically does, and fought against plaintiff Korchemny, Dmitry too, would have proven usury, and would thus not be liable to Korchemny. He would have been the prevailing party, entitled to his costs. View "Korchemny v. Piterman" on Justia Law
Amjadi v. Brown
Plaintiff Sayedeh Sahba Amjadi appealed the dismissal entered after a settlement was entered by her attorney on her behalf and over her objection with defendant Jerrod West Brown, and appealed an order denying her subsequent motion to vacate the judgment. The settlement was entered by plaintiff’s attorney pursuant to a provision in the attorney’s contingent fee agreement, which purported to grant the attorney the right to accept settlement offers on the client’s behalf in the attorney’s “sole discretion,” so long as the attorney believed in good faith that the settlement offer was reasonable and in the client’s best interest. The Court of Appeal determined such a provision violated the Rules of Professional Conduct and was void to the extent it purported to grant an attorney the right to accept a settlement over the client’s objection. Accordingly, the Court held the settlement to be void and reversed the resulting judgment. The Court also referred plaintiff’s former attorneys to the State Bar for potential discipline, as required by law and by Canon 3D(2) of the Code of Judicial Ethics. View "Amjadi v. Brown" on Justia Law
Randy Kinder Excavating, Inc. v. JA Manning Construction Company, Inc.
The Eighth Circuit affirmed the district court's award of $283,609.15 in attorneys' fees to Manning in this action arising out of a contract dispute between Kinder, a general contractor, and Manning, a subcontractor.The court concluded that the district court properly applied Arkansas state law to decide the matter because the issue of attorneys' fees is a procedural matter governed by Arkansas law. The court also concluded that the subcontract's silence as to Manning's ability to recover attorneys' fees as the prevailing party does not operate as a waiver of its right to recover such fees under Ark. Code Ann.16-22-308. The court further concluded that because the requested attorneys' fees were incurred by Manning, Manning's recovery of such attorneys' fees is not prohibited under Ark. Code Ann. 23-79-208. View "Randy Kinder Excavating, Inc. v. JA Manning Construction Company, Inc." on Justia Law