January 10, 2018
A recent Delaware Business Court Insider by Celia Ampel, “Holland & Knight Nabs $10M Fee Award in Subway Co-Founder Case” reports that Holland & Knight attorneys were awarded more than $10 million in fees and costs on a nearly $13 million verdict they won for the estate of a Subway co-founder.
The fee award stemmed from the jury’s finding of civil theft against developer Anthony Pugliese, his business manager Joseph Reamer and the Pugliese Co. The defendants stole $2.9 million from Subway co-founder Fred DeLuca that was meant to be invested in a real estate project south of Orlando, the jury found in February 2017.
Civil theft findings allow judges to award attorney fees before an appeal is complete. The defendants are challenging the DeLuca verdict before the Fourth District Court of Appeal.
Palm Beach Circuit Judge Donald Hafele awarded Holland & Knight about $8.6 million in attorney fees, $1.3 million in costs and $19,000 in expert witness fees for eight years of litigation. He also added $317,000 in prejudgment interest for a total of $10.3 million.
The firm tallied about 25,000 hours of work on the civil theft claims from 10 attorneys and two paralegals. “The amount of attorney’s fees and costs awarded by the court was reasonable, given the fact that the Pugliese parties contested nearly every issue, regardless of how small or insignificant it was,” said Holland & Knight partner Rick Hutchison in West Palm Beach, who put in more than 5,000 hours on the claims.
The defense challenged the fee award, arguing Holland & Knight deserved no more than about $1.5 million in fees, particularly given that the civil theft award was $2.9 million.
The judgment came to $12.8 million after the theft amount was tripled and the jury awarded $4 million for breach of contract. The judge added interest but deducted $1.2 million in restitution Pugliese paid as the result of a criminal case in which he was sentenced to six months in jail and 10 years of probation.
“The DeLuca parties’ counsel were only able to convince a jury to award an additional $1.7 million in damages after 20 days of trial,” wrote Pugliese attorney John Mariani of Kammerer Mariani in West Palm Beach in a court filing. “Consequently, compared to the $43 million they demanded but did not receive, the DeLuca parties cannot state to this court that the attorney’s fees Fexpended are justified by the result.” The door is still open for the DeLuca parties to ask for more attorney fees under the Florida Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act after the appeal is done.