Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Dammed If You Do

The Tennessee Court of Appeals affirmed a judgment against a former law firm client for unpaid fees

In 2005, Appellant Richardson M. Roberts constructed a large dam on his property in Humphreys County, Tennessee. The dam impounded the waters of Snake Creek, which flowed into Tumbling Creek and the Duck River. Mr. Roberts built the dam without obtaining permits for its construction. Following construction, Mr. Roberts faced substantial legal challenges concerning the environmental impact of the dam and his alleged violations of environmental laws.

The law firm was retained to defend him 

Of note, Luna Law represented Mr. Roberts, inter alia, in both a federal criminal investigation and a federal civil enforcement action, discussed at length infra. After October 2010, Mr. Roberts ceased paying Luna Law’s invoices despite the firm’s continued representation of him. By June 2011, Mr. Roberts owed Luna Law $136,283.28.

The court rejected statute of limitations and laches defense.

Reasonable fees

In its very thorough final order, the trial court delineated numerous findings of fact to support its conclusion that Luna Law’s attorney’s fees were reasonable. As an initial matter, the trial court found, and it is undisputed, that Mr. Luna and Mr. Pearigen were highly respected attorneys with extensive knowledge of environmental and regulatory laws. Although it is also undisputed that Mr. Roberts’ defense was complex and very technical, a review of its intricacies is integral to determining whether the trial court erred when it concluded that Luna Law’s attorneys’ fees were reasonable.

They were

The record shows that, when Mr. Roberts complained of these fees and requested a discount, Mr. Luna attempted to cooperate with him, reducing the number of hours he personally billed, cutting his bills in half, offering to meet with Mr. Roberts to discuss individual billing entries, and even offering to settle for $100,000.00. Mr. Roberts accepted none of these compromises. The record shows that despite the fact that Mr. Roberts demanded (and received) high-quality representation from Luna Law, he simply did not want to pay for these services. For the many reasons discussed above, we conclude that Mr. Roberts is responsible for paying the outstanding $136,283.28 in attorney’s fees, and we affirm the trial court’s conclusion that Luna Law is entitled to same.

(Mike Frisch)

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