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Cole-Hoover v. New York Doccs

United States District Court, W.D. New York

May 21, 2015

DR. GWENDOLYN COLE-HOOVER, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW YORK DOCCS, et al., Defendants.

DECISION AND ORDER

JEREMIAH J. McCARTHY, District Judge.

Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c)(1), the parties have consented to conduct all proceedings before a Magistrate Judge [20].[1] Familiarity with the lengthy history of this case is presumed.

Before me is attorney Prathima Reddy's Renewed Notice of Motion for an award of attorney's fees [452]. Oral argument was held on April 16, 2015 [458], followed by post-argument supplemental submissions [460, 461]. For the following reasons, the motion is granted in part and denied in part. In addition, plaintiff shall pay mediator Krista Gottlieb the sum of $4, 226.25 for mediation services rendered in connection with this court's Alternative Dispute Resolution ("ADR") program.

BACKGROUND

Ms. Reddy initially moved for an award of attorney's fees on February 22, 2014 [414]. In a Decision and Order dated April 17, 2014 [426], I denied that motion, holding that the retainer agreement upon which she sought to enforce was invalid. On May 16, 2014, Ms. Reddy filed an amended motion for attorney's fees, seeking to recover in quantum meruit [431]. By Decision and Order dated December 30, 2014 [447], I concluded "that the unenforceability of the retainer agreement does not automatically bar Reddy from recovering in quantum meruit for the reasonable value of her services", but that "a proper determination of Reddy's request... must await the outcome of the underlying litigation". Id., pp. 3, 4.

On March 5, 2015, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit issued its mandate [448] affirming this court's judgment [394] resolving the underlying action. Thereafter Ms. Reddy renewed her motion, arguing that "the fair and reasonable value of the services provided... in this case is $173, 100.00". Reddy's Memorandum of Law [452-1] p. 2. In addition, she "seeks payment of her fees in preparing and litigating this motion in the amount $27, 553.00". Id.

ANALYSIS

A. Recovery in Quantum Meruit

"In determining quantum meruit, [the] Court has broad discretion in determining what constitutes reasonable compensation for legal services." Newkirk v. Fourmen Construction., Inc., 2006 WL 1029709, *2 (N.Y.Sup. 2006). "The factors used in determining the fair and reasonable value of an attorney's services under quantum meruit include: the nature of the litigation; the difficulty of the case and the amount at stake; the time, the effort and skill required; the counsel's experience, ability, reputation and role in the case; the results achieved; the fee customarily charged in the locality; the contingency or certainty of compensation; and the terms of the contingency agreement." Tops Markets, Inc. v. Quality Markets, Inc., 2001 WL 392082, *2 (W.D.N.Y. 2001) (Elfvin, J.).

Consideration of these various factors warrants a substantial fee award, albeit not in the full amount requested. As of late September 2012, when plaintiff retained Ms. Reddy, the action had been pending for ten years and the trial - scheduled to last a month - was just a few weeks away. Although plaintiff maintains that she retained Ms. Reddy only to settle the case, not to try it (plaintiff's Response [425], ¶¶6, 8), that assertion is contradicted by Ms. Reddy's September 27, 2012 e-mail to plaintiff, stating that "I plan to ask for an extension in order to prepare for trial. In the event that an extension is not granted, we will have to aggressively prepare for the upcoming trial date. I will make your case a priority in terms of my available time.... Trial preparation is a lengthy and time-consuming process but I am committed to your case." [461-1], p. 7 of 11.

Plaintiff further claims that Ms. Reddy "was aware that there was little chance, that my case, would not settle in my favor. Once I told Mrs. Reddy I was going to settle my case, she knew the case would be settled for a significant amount of money". Plaintiff's Response [425], ¶18. Plaintiff's attorney suggests that "[t]o effectively initiate settlement discussions, she could have simply reviewed the Complaint and perhaps Plaintiff's deposition and expert report, picked up the phone, and taken advantage of the change in counsel to settle the case". Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law [440], p. 3.

For several reasons, I find that argument unpersuasive. In the first place, plaintiff admits that "settlement discussions had broken off by the time [Ms. Reddy] was retained". Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law [434], p. 4. Secondly, Ms. Reddy could hardly have "taken advantage of the change in counsel to settle the case" - if anything, defendants' knowledge that she was new to the case, with only a month to get up to speed, placed her at a significant dis advantage in settlement negotiations.

Therefore, it is hardly surprising that Ms. Reddy had to devote substantial time to familiarize herself with the details of this case, which was by no means easy. Even if the ultimate goal was to settle, the only way to reach that goal was by preparing to try the case if necessary - for if defendants believed that she was not up to the task, it is highly unlikely that they would have agreed to the $750, 000 settlement placed on the record on November 5, 2012 [337, 402].

Plaintiff argues that "Reddy provided no benefit to Plaintiff after November 5, 2012. The case was settled in open court on that date.... This is obvious from the fact that this Court entered Judgment on November 13, 2013 memorializing the terms of the settlement." Plaintiff's Memorandum of Law [453], pp. 4-5. However, this argument ignores the fact that defendants did not immediately agree to pay the stipulated amount - instead, they insisted on additional terms which had not been part of the agreed ...


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