A recent Law.com story by Nate Robson, “Quinn Emanuel Wins $14M in Legal Fees for Client’s $5M Case,” reports that Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan landed nearly $14 million in legal fees and costs for a client, nearly three times the $5.4 million in damages awarded at trial in the underlying dispute. The fees, granted by a federal judge in Minnesota, cap off an especially litigious case that came after most other parties settled once another defendant mortgage lender was hit with a $28 million verdict in 2018.
The recent trial involved ResCap Liquidating Trust, which was created in the wake of the 2012 bankruptcy of Residential Funding Corp. after it faced billions of dollars in liabilities tied to residential mortgage-backed securities it sold leading up to the 2008 housing collapse. ResCap was formed to sue banks and mortgage lenders that sold the loans bundled into those mortgage-backed securities.
In the ruling against mortgage lender Primary Residential Mortgage Inc., U.S. District Judge Susan Richard Nelson repeatedly noted that PRMI’s litigation tactics were responsible for inflating ResCap’s legal fees as the case went to trial. The judge said PRMI was aware “the parties would not ‘split the tab’ or ‘go Dutch’ on attorney’s fees and costs,” given its contractual agreement at issue in the case and the legal fees awarded in the first trial. “Given all of this notice, PRMI cannot credibly express indignation now,” Nelson wrote. “Its own poor judgment in relitigating settled issues throughout this litigation significantly drove up ResCap’s attorney’s fees and costs.”
Nelson said PRMI, represented by a team from Williams & Connolly, challenged relatively miniscule claims for damages and reargued items that were handled in the first trial against another lender. Nelson pointed to one claim on a loan involving $30,000 in damages as an example. PRMI’s stance on that loan required discovery, motion practice, expert and fact witness deposition testimony, and then trial testimony. “While PRMI argues that ResCap’s fee request is out of proportion to its damages award, PRMI overlooks its own practice of litigating aspects of plaintiff’s damages claim in ways that were out of proportion to the amounts at issue, thereby driving up ResCap’s attorney’s fees,” Nelson wrote.
Nelson also rejected PRMI’s claim that paying nearly $14 million in legal fees and costs on a $5.4 million award is disproportionate, noting ResCap was also granted nearly $2 million in prejudgement interest, bringing the total to $7.4 million in damages. The ruling, granting $10.5 million in attorney fees and $3.5 million in costs, also notes that fees don’t have to be proportional to the award.
Isaac Nesser, the lead attorney on the case for Quinn Emanuel, said neither side had cited a similar instance where legal fees so outpaced the award given. Nesser said a key to landing the fees was building a record during court appearances of how much work was going into the case because of PRMI’s litigation strategy.
“It was important to us to build a record that we were being forced to spend time and money litigating issues that seemed disproportionate to the actual amount of damages in the dispute,” Nesser said. “As a result, we came to the view that it was important for us to communicate that information clearly to PRMI and Judge Nelson. And so we made a record of that any chance we could.”