Judge denies ‘exorbitant’ request for nearly $1M in attorney fees after $125K recovery
A federal judge in Pennsylvania has denied a request for nearly $1 million in attorney fees and promised to refer the lawyers who sought the money to ethics regulators.
U.S. District Judge Malachy Mannion of Scranton deemed the fee request “astounding,” “exorbitant” and “woefully deficient.” He criticized claims for various portions of work as “abusively excessive” and “mind-boggling.” Some entries were redundant and some were vague, he said. The Legal Intelligencer (sub. req.), the Scranton Times-Tribune and the Associated Presshave stories; Mannion’s Aug. 29 opinion is here.
“As other courts have noted,” Mannion said, quoting from another opinion, “a fee request is not the opening salvo in a back and forth negotiation with the court. The request is not the sticker price on a used car that all parties understand is the starting point for spirited dickering.”
The plaintiff’s lawyers had sought $902,655 in attorney fees, which swelled to $1.12 million with costs and interest, after prevailing on a bad-faith insurance claim. Jurors who heard the case in November 2015 awarded $100,000 on the bad-faith claim, while the underlying uninsured motorist claim settled for $25,000.
The lawyers seeking the fees were Michael Pisanchyn of the Pisanchyn Law Firm, who verified the fee petition, and a lawyer who once worked there, Marsha Lee Albright, who prepared the petition.
Albright had testified that there were no contemporaneous records of hours spent on the case and time logs had to be reconstructed, Mannion said in the opinion. The time logs submitted to the court were her “guess” as to hours spent on the case over six years based on the task descriptions in the firm’s case management system and hard-copy documents, according to Mannion. The system didn’t track time spent on individual tasks.
Mannion said that reconstructing time logs this way is “flabbergasting to the court and, quite frankly, disturbing.” Counsel had billed about 2,583 hours for the case, which was resolved in a trial that lasted five days, Mannion said. “Assuming an eight-hour billable work day, this would mean that the plaintiff’s counsel worked on nothing else but his case, every day, for approximately 323 days.”
Mannion determined that allowable hours for lawyers, paralegals and technology specialists in the case total about 13 percent “at best” of the fee request submitted to the court.
Pennsylvania law permits–but does not require–an award of attorney fees in bad faith insurance cases, and Mannion said he was using his discretion to deny the entire award. The law also permits an award of interest on the amount of the claim; Mannion awarded nearly $5,000.
Pisanchyn told the Legal Intelligencer he didn’t think the fee request was unreasonable, given nine years of litigation in the case. “The defendants took the position of a scorched earth litigation, and we had to go toe-to-toe with them every step of the way,” he said.
Pisanchyn told the Times-Tribune that Mannion’s opinion would discourage other lawyers from pursuing cases against insurers. “What attorney is going to take a case when they get their head bashed in for filing a fee petition?” he asked. He also said that, if he prevails on appeal, he will donate attorney fees, less money paid for experts, to charity.
The publications were unable to reach Albright for comment, but she said at an Aug. 11 court hearing that she felt insulted that her integrity was questioned. She had moved to Rawle & Henderson, but she was no longer with the firm on Aug. 25, according to a woman at the firm who spoke with the Legal Intelligencer.
The case is Clemens v. New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance Co.
This is also known as filing crap in court. If you didn’t keep accurate track of your fees at the time they were generated, do just make stuff up and send it in.
This federal court was not amused and referred this garbage to the disciplinary board for lawyers in PA.
In Illinois we have a similar case where Floyd Abramson, an attorney is suing his son over a simple “no contact” order in a Settlement Agreement.
Son Paul claims severe abuse, including sexual abuse, as a child.
Father Floyd claims he was sent a few annoying emails but rather than block Paul from emailing him, he files breach of contract of the Settlement Agreement.
Now Paul has sent his father nothing untoward, and the last contact was years before filing suit. One communication was a picture Paul’s daughter that Paul asked for.
Father Floyd admits in his Breach of Contract claim that he has suffered no actual damages and has not claimed any.
Son Paul has not been threatening, has not threatened to harm Floyd or his property.
However, the litigation drags on and on. It’s in the wrong forum (it was supposed to stay in Probate before the same judge to enforce the Settlement Agreement, but Floyd files in Chancery), and all sorts of nonsense keeps a simple case dragging on and on.
Last month, Father Floyd, an attorney submitted a fee petition for over $500k, redacted huge chunks of it, ask the judge for a gag order on it and she happily stamped that.
Son Paul filed a motion to overturn the gag order in that it was ridiculously unconstitutional, and amazingly enough, Judge Pantle reversed herself on that one.
Judge Pantle ruled in favor of the Father on Summary Judgment the Settlement Agreement’s no contact provision was violated.
I have to publish the bills and let you decide on that one, but the above case is amazingly similar.
I wonder if Father Floyd will volunteer to donate any legal fees he gets to charity, like these lawyers have said they will do.
For sure, the Illinois ARDC isn’t interested in Father Floyd’s outrageous fee petition. They weren’t at all interested in receiving reports of the severe child hood abuse, which included sexual abuse, made by son Paul against Father Floyd. So if anyone is wondering if their lawyer might be a sex offender, apparently you’d better keep that worry. The ARDC has just rejected to investigate one lawyer whose son claimed severe sex and emotional and physical abuse.
Now, unlike the rest of us, I know when I have had it with a client or a telemarketer, I know how to block calls and text messages and emails. I for sure am not going to sue anyone over any unwanted messages when blocking just involves a few clicks.
I have never blocked a family member tho, no matter how much they got on my nerves.
Most people, even assuming a son was a real pest, would just block him. He lives some 1700 miles away and lives on a meager budget and runs a small music distribution business. He isn’t coming to knock on dad’s door anytime soon. But to file a lawsuit, rack up over $500k in legal fees and threaten your own kid’s home and where your young granddaughter lives is about as stomach churning as a dysfunctional family gets.
The fact that a lawyer even submitted such a fee petition, throwing his wealthy weight around, should be a bar complaint the ARDC should take seriously
But they won’t. They don’t care about severe child abuse by a lawyer or sexual abuse, so why would they care about a $500k fee petition that seeks to render some small potatoes guy homeless.