September 6, 2017
A recent Legal Intelligencer story by Max Mitchell, “Judge Tosses $1M Fee Request, Refers Matter to Ethics Board,” reports that a Scranton attorney who recovered $125,000 for his client in a bad-faith case wanted $1.12 million in fees, costs and interest, but the presiding judge has instead awarded his firm nothing and referred the case to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
U.S. District Judge Malachy E. Mannion of the Middle District of Pennsylvania issued an order chiding attorneys Michael Pisanchyn and Marsha Lee Albright over their handling of the case Clemens v. New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance, and saying their request for fees and costs was "outrageous and abusively excessive."
Mannion's 100-page opinion went line-by-line through the request, slashing billed fees he deemed vague, duplicative and excessive. Mannion also took issue with how the firm recreated its timesheets, saying that, while recreating timesheets is allowable if the attorneys did not make them contemporaneously, a number of the entries appeared to be based on guesswork.
Mannion ended his opinion by saying that, "given the conduct of the plaintiff's counsel and the exorbitant request for fees in this case, a copy of this memorandum will be referred to the Disciplinary Board of the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania for their independent determination of whether disciplinary action should be taken against attorney Pisanchyn and/or attorney Albright."
Pisanchyn, the name partner of Pisanchyn Law Firm, said that, while he tried the case, he had not been involved in preparing the attorney fees petition. However, he said, both he and Albright conducted themselves according to the Rules of Professional Conduct.
"I believe that either no action will be taken, or if a complaint is opened, it will be dismissed," Pisanchyn said. He added he did not think the fees were unreasonable, since the case had been litigated for nearly nine years. "The defendants took the position of a scorched earth litigation, and we had to go toe-to-toe with them every step of the way," he said. "I certainly tried the case to the jury. I didn't try the case to the judge. The jury obviously liked my presentation and obviously thought it was effective."
According to Mannion, plaintiff Bernie Clemens' bad-faith claims came before a jury in November 2015, and ended with a $100,000 award. The defendants had settled Clemens' uninsured motorist claim for $25,000. When it came to the attorney fees, according to Mannion, the plaintiff's attorneys sought $48,050 for their work on the UIM claim, $827,515 for working on the bad-faith claim and $27,090 for preparing the fee petition, for a total of $902,655 in fees. Except for awarding $4,986 in interest, Mannion denied the requests entirely.
"In addition to the unconscionable number of vague entries which had been billed for (or more accurately guessed about) by the plaintiff's counsel, there also appear to be a number of duplicative entries in the bad faith time logs for which no explanation is provided," Mannion said. Mannion said one of the most "egregious" requests included billing 562 hours for trial preparation, with the plaintiff's attorneys entering between 20 and 22 hours per day on some days.
"If counsel did nothing else for eight hours a day, every day, this would mean that counsel spent approximately 70 days doing nothing but preparing for the trial in this matter—a trial in which the only issue was whether the defendant had committed bad faith in its handling of the UIM claim; a trial which consisted of a total of four days of substantive testimony; a trial which involved only five witnesses; a trial during which trial counsel had to be repeatedly admonished for not being prepared because he was obviously unfamiliar with the Federal Rules of Evidence, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the rulings of this court," Mannion said. "For this, the plaintiff's counsel are billing $196,700."