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3rd Circuit Denies 'Outrageously Excessive' Attorney's Fees

By William Vogeler, Esq. | Last updated on

Attorneys always complain when a judge cuts their fees in a case.

And while they complain about it, they also try to figure out why. They'll conjure up everything from cost-cutting to paranoid delusions: "The judge was mad because I make more money than she does."

In Clemens v. New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance Company, the judge cut $900,000 in attorney's fees to zero. Go figure.

"Astounding" and "Exorbitant"

Judge Malachy Mannion didn't leave much to guesswork in the bad-faith, uninsured motorist case. After settling the underlying claim for $25,000, the plaintiffs' attorneys wanted fees based on a $100,000 punitive award against the insurer.

Mannion said the $900,000 in fees were "astounding" and "exorbitant." First, the judge reduced the fees by 87 percent. Then he denied the request altogether.

The Pisanchyn Law Firm appealed, but the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed. Actually, it was worse than that.

The panel called the fees "grossly excessive." The lawyers billed 562 hours to prepare for a one-week trial.

"Grossly Excessive"

It really bothered the appeals court that the firm didn't keep contemporaneous time records, and instead recreated them. One lawyer did the work, estimating time for herself and others who had already left the firm.

"Astonishingly, counsel then attempted to recover attorney's fees in the amount of $27,090 for the 64.5 hours it supposedly took to reconstruct the time records," wrote Judge Joseph Greenway, Jr.

No mystery about the outcome. The Third Circuit said the trial judge properly exercised his discretion in denying the fees.

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