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Troiano v. Mardovich

August 10, 2006


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Loretta A. Preska, United States District Judge


Plaintiff Thomas J. Troiano, a Florida resident, seeks a declaratory judgment that he may rightfully retain some $2 million in attorney's fees for services rendered to Defendant Laura Elizabeth Mardovich (a/k/a Laura Balemian), a New York resident, and her children in connection with the death of her husband in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. Defendant moves to dismiss, asking this Court to abstain from exercising its jurisdiction. For the reasons stated below, the action is stayed pending the outcome of a related proceeding in Suffolk County Surrogate's Court.


Edward Mardovich, Defendant's husband, died on September 11, 2001, as a result of the World Trade Center terrorist attacks. Compl. ¶ 3.*fn1 In the days following the attacks, Mrs. Mardovich contacted Mr. Troiano, a neighbor and friend, and asked him to return to New York from his Florida home to help resolve her family's numerous legal issues. Compl. ¶ 9. Plaintiff agreed and soon began to act as Defendant's family lawyer. Compl. ¶ 11.

On October 15, 2001, Mrs. Mardovich signed a retainer agreement (the "Retainer Agreement") with Mr. Troiano on behalf of herself and her four minor children and as administratix of her husband's estate. Pl. Mem.,*fn2 Ex. A. The Retainer Agreement covered survivors' claims for wrongful death, as well as claims for Mr. Mardovich's personal injuries or pain and suffering. The Retainer Agreement provided, inter alia, that Mrs. Mardovich pay one-third of the award from any "legal, governmental, quasi-governmental, or non-profit agency responsible for the September 11, 2001 crash or any recoverable claims resulting after the September 11, 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center." Pl. Mem., Ex. A.

Mr. Troiano filed a claim on behalf of Mrs. Mardovich and the Mardovich children with the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund of 2001 (the "Fund"). Compl. ¶ 23. The Fund compensates for both economic and non-economic losses due to the death of September 11th victims. In all cases, the non-economic loss was prescribed at a set amount of $250,000 per victim and $100,000 for each dependent. 28 C.F.R. § 104.44. The Fund imposed a presumptive award limit of $3 million that could be breached only upon "extraordinary circumstances." Compl. ¶ 17. On June 9, 2003, the Special Master granted Defendant and her children a "presumptive" award of $1,087,240.40.*fn3 Compl. ¶ 24. Mr. Troiano persuaded Mrs. Mardovich to appeal the size of this award and represented her at an evidentiary hearing. Compl. ¶ 25. After the hearing, the Fund issued Mrs. Mardovich and her family a final award of $6,656,151.40. Pl. Mem. at 4. Pursuant to the Retainer Agreement, Mrs. Mardovich approved the payment of one-third of the Fund award (more than $2 million) to Plaintiff on January 3, 2004. Compl. ¶ 30.

The Suffolk County Surrogate's Court has presided over the estate of Edward Mardovich since November 2001. Pl. Mem. at 4. In April 2005, the guardian ad litem for Mrs. Mardovich's minor children objected to an accounting of Mr. Mardovich's estate because it did not include the Fund award and the legal fees paid, which the guardian contends are excessive and not in the best interests of the children. Morken Aff.*fn4 ¶ 6, Ex. C. In response to the objection, the Surrogate, Hon. John M. Czygier, Jr., required Plaintiff and Joseph Sardelli (an attorney Mr. Troiano hired to assist him in connection with the Fund hearing) to appear before the court to justify their legal fees. Sardelli Aff. ¶ 11. Mr. Troiano and Mr. Sardelli appeared before the Surrogate for the limited purpose of contesting subject matter jurisdiction. Sardelli Aff.*fn5 ¶¶ 12-14. The proceeding is currently pending.

Mr. Troiano filed suit in this Court seeking a declaration that he is entitled to retain the fee he collected, that Defendant was authorized to issue payment of the fee, and that Mrs. Mardovich is bound by her approval of such payment. Compl.

¶¶ 33-34. Mr. Troiano contends that this Court has exclusive jurisdiction to rule on the lawfulness of his attorney fees. Pl. Mem. at 5-9. Mrs. Mardovich contends that subject matter jurisdiction is lacking or, in the alternative, that this Court should abstain from exercising its jurisdiction because Suffolk County Surrogate's Court is the appropriate forum for resolution of matters pertaining to the estate of Edward Mardovich.


A. Standard of Review

As this matter comes before the Court on a motion to dismiss, the Court accepts the factual allegations in Plaintiff's Complaint and draws all inferences in favor of Plaintiff. See Karedes v. Ackerly Group, 423 F.3d 107, 113 (2d Cir. 2005). It is well-settled that a case may not be dismissed "unless the court is satisfied that the complaint cannot state any set of facts that would entitle the plaintiff to relief." Miller v. Wolpoff & Abramson, 321 F.3d 292, 300 (2d Cir. 2002)(citing Patel v. Contemporary Classics of Beverly Hills, 259 F.3d 123, 126 (2d Cir. 2001). The Court, however, need not give "credence to plaintiff's conclusory allegations" or legal conclusions offered as pleadings. Cantor Fitzgerald v. Lutnik, 313 F.3d 704, 709 (2d Cir. 2002) (citing Dawes v. Walker, 239 F.3d 489, 491 (2d Cir. 2001)); Van Carpals v. S.S. American Harvester, 297 F.2d 9, 11 n.1 (1961) (Friendly, J.) ("[I]n federal pleading there is no need to plead legal conclusions; these are for the court to apply.").

On a motion to dismiss pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6), the Court may consider materials of which the plaintiff had notice and relied upon in framing his complaint, as well as materials of which judicial notice may be taken. See Kavowras v. New York Times, 328 F.3d 50, 57 (2nd Cir. 2003); Cortec Indus. v. Sum Holding, 949 F.2d 42, 48 (2d Cir. 1991). Where subject matter jurisdiction is challenged, the Court is "free to consider materials ...

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