Tuesday, April 1, 2014
A verdict for a plaintiff law firm for fees allegedly due on a contingent fee contract was reversed by the New York Appellate Division for the First Judicial Department.
There was a problem with an inconsistent jury verdict
Plaintiff, Bellinson Law, LLC, brought this breach of contract claim against its former client, defendant Robert Iannucci, to recover an unpaid contingent fee following its representation of defendant in a federal civil rights action. Pursuant to a Retainer Agreement and an Addendum to the Retainer Agreement (Addendum), defendant agreed to pay plaintiff a contingent fee if the case settled before jury selection was completed. However, when the case settled prior to trial for the amount of $2.125 million, defendant refused to pay plaintiff the agreed upon fee, asserting that plaintiff failed to perform under the contract. Plaintiff then commenced this action, seeking the unpaid attorney fees.
During the jury charge, the trial court presented the jury with a verdict sheet containing the three following interrogatories: (1) was there a contract between the parties? (2) did plaintiff perform its obligations under the contract? (3) was defendant obligated to pay plaintiff for its services under the contract? Following deliberations, the jury answered question one yes, concluding there was a contract between the parties, but responded no to question two, finding that plaintiff had not performed its obligations under that contract. When asked by the court, in response to the third question, if the defendant was obligated to pay plaintiff for its services under the contract, the jury answered "yes." Before the jury was discharged, defendant's counsel asked to speak to the court and a side bar was held. We do not know what was discussed at the side bar. The jury was then discharged.
The appropriate remedy is a new trial. (Mike Frisch)