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Byrne & Storm, P.C. v. Handel

United States District Court, Second Circuit

June 5, 2013

BYRNE & STORM, P.C., Plaintiff,
ROY HANDEL et al., Defendants.

CONOR E. BROWNELL, ESQ., Ganz, Wolkenbreit Law Firm, Albany, NY, for the Plaintiff.

MICHAEL P. DELANEY, ESQ., Office of Michael P. Delaney, Albany, NY, for the Defendants.


GARY L. SHARPE, Chief District Judge.

I. Introduction

Plaintiff Byrne & Storm, P.C. commenced this diversity action asserting claims of breach of contract and account stated against defendants Roy Handel (hereinafter "Handel") and Weldon House, Inc. related to its legal representation of them. ( See Compl., Dkt. No. 1.) Pending before the court is Byrne & Storm's motion for summary judgment on its claims and defendants' counterclaims, and defendants' cross motion for partial summary judgment, which seeks dismissal of Byrne & Storm's claims as against Handel. ( See Dkt. Nos. 19, 26.) For the reasons thatfollow, Byrne & Storm's motion is granted as to defendants' counterclaim of legal malpractice and denied in all other respects with leave to renew, and defendants' cross motion is denied.

II. Background

A. Facts[1]

Byrne & Storm is a law firm with its only office located in Connecticut. ( See Pl.'s Statement of Material Facts (SMF) ¶ 1, Dkt. No. 19, Attach. 8.) On September 1, 2009, attorney James Byrne, of Byrne & Storm, sent to Handel a letter of engagement regarding "[t]he Weldon House [p]roperty." (Dkt. No. 1, Attach. 1; see Pl.'s SMF ¶ 2.) The engagement letter, which was later signed by Handel-who is not an officer or employee of Weldon House, nor is he the owner of the property where Weldon House is located, ( see Defs.' SMF ¶¶ 2-3, Dkt. No. 26, Attach. 2)-indicates that Handel requested that Byrne & Storm represent him "with respect to reviewing and rendering advice with respect to the underlying facts and documentation involving [his] attempts to obtain and operate a motocross facility on" the Weldon House property. (Dkt. No. 1, Attach. 1 at 1.)[2] Under the agreement, Byrne, "the primary attorney responsible for the file, " billed his time at a rate of $350 per hour. ( Id. at 1; see Pl.'s SMF ¶ 3.) The letter of engagement also provides that a monthly interest rate of 1.5% would be added to bills not timely paid, and Byrne & Storm would be entitled to recover attorney's fees associated with any collection efforts. ( See Pl.'s SMF ¶ 4.) "[T]he parties agreed that [Byrne & Storm] would receive a $5, 000[] retainer at the outset of the representation, " which was later paid by a check drawn from a Weldon House bank account and signed by Handel's wife and principal/owner of Weldon House, Patricia Handel. (Pl.'s SMF ¶ 5; see id. ¶¶ 6, 8.) Once the retainer was paid, Handel told Byrne that Patricia Handel "was to be the principal contact." ( Id. ¶ 7.)

In June 2010, Byrne drafted a second letter, this time addressing it to both Handel and Weldon House. ( See Dkt. No. 1, Attach. 2.) The second letter, which referenced the September 2009 letter, reduced the hourly billable rate to $300 per hour effective June 1, 2010, but, otherwise, left in place the terms of the September 2009 letter of engagement. ( See id. at 1.) The June 2010 letter was signed by Handel and Patricia Handel. ( See id. at 2.)

Byrne & Storm performed legal services related to the Weldon House property; specifically, it appeared as co-counsel in a state court action, and sent bills to the Handel residence, none of which were returned as undeliverable. ( See Pl.'s SMF ¶¶ 10, 11, 14-15.) In July 2010, the motocross litigation settled "on basically the terms that [d]efendants had initially wanted." ( Id. ¶ 17.) Defendants made several partial payments to Byrne & Storm after paying the initial retainer of $5, 000 in September 2009, including an additional $5, 000 in February 2010, $2, 500 in May 2010, $16, 395 in July 2010, $5, 000 in November 2010, and $5, 000 in February 2011. ( See id. ¶ 19; Dkt. No. 19, Attach. 3 at 36.)

B. Procedural History

Byrne & Storm commenced this action in April 2012, alleging that it was owed an outstanding balance of $261, 929.66 plus interest as set forth above. ( See Compl.) Defendants answered, asserted several affirmative defenses, and asserted five counterclaims. ( See Dkt. No. 7.) Those counterclaims are for: "fraud and overbilling"; legal malpractice; res ipsa loquitur; breach of fiduciary duty; and breach of contract. ( Id. ¶¶ 19-28.)[3] Despite a June - discovery deadline, ( see Dkt. No. 18), Byrne & Storm moved for summary judgment in January 2013, ( see Dkt. No. 19), and, in March -, defendants cross-moved as outlined above, ( see Dkt. No. 26).

III. Standard of Review

The standard of review pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 56 is well established and will not be repeated here. For a full discussion of the standard, the court refers the parties to its decision in ...

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