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Parnoff v. Yuille

Appellate Court of Connecticut

February 23, 2016

LAURENCE V. PARNOFF
v.
DARCY YUILLE

         Argued October 28, 2015

Page 49

          Action to recover damages for, inter alia, breach of contract, and for other relief, brought to the Superior Court in the judicial district of Fairfield and tried to the jury before Tobin, J.; verdict in part for the plaintiff; thereafter, the court rendered judgment in accordance with the verdict, from which the plaintiff appealed and the defendant cross appealed to this court; subsequently, this court reversed the judgment of the trial court as to the breach of contract counts of the complaint and remanded the case with direction to dismiss those counts; thereafter, the court, Hon. Richard P. Gilardi, judge trial referee, granted the defendant's motion for judgment and rendered judgment thereon, from which the plaintiff appealed to this court.

          SYLLABUS

         The plaintiff attorney appealed to this court from the judgment of the trial court rendered after it had granted the defendant's motion for judgment on his claim for damages in quantum meruit in connection with a dispute between the parties over their contingency fee agreement. The plaintiff had represented the defendant in a personal injury action and obtained an award of damages in her favor. The parties' contingency fee agreement provided for a contingent fee of 40 percent, which exceeded the cap set forth in the statute (§ 52-251c) that limits the amount of the fee an attorney may charge in a contingency fee agreement. The plaintiff thereafter sought to recover damages under theories of breach of contract, quantum meruit and bad faith. The matter was tried to a jury, which returned a verdict for the plaintiff on the breach of contract and bad faith claims. The jury did not reach the quantum meruit claim. The trial court thereafter rendered judgment for the plaintiff in accordance with the verdict, and the plaintiff appealed and the defendant cross appealed to this court. This court reversed the judgment, and remanded the case with direction to dismiss the breach of contract and bad faith claims because the contingency fee agreement was not enforceable and against public policy for having exceeded the cap set forth in § 52-251c. This court did not address the plaintiff's quantum meruit claim. On appeal after remand, the plaintiff claimed that the trial court had improperly granted the defendant's motion for judgment because his quantum meruit claim had never been decided on the merits by the jury. Held that the trial court properly granted the defendant's motion for judgment on the plaintiff's claim for damages in quantum meruit; the plaintiff was unable to recover because he was barred from contractual recovery as a result of the parties' contingency fee agreement having violated the fee cap of § 52-251c, the plain language of § 52-251c indicated that other methods of recovery are forbidden and, although a motion for judgment does not exist under the rules of practice, the trial court acted in conformity with this court's holding in the parties' previous appeal in rendering judgment in favor of the defendant on the quantum meruit count of the complaint.

         Thomas J. Weihing, with whom, on the brief, were Dana P. Lonergan, John T. Bochanis and Laurence V. Parnoff, Jr., for the appellant (plaintiff).

         Barbara L. Cox, for the appellee (defendant).

         Gruendel, Prescott and Pellegrino, Js. PELLEGRINO, J. In this opinion the other judges concurred.

          OPINION

Page 50

          [163 Conn.App. 275] PELLEGRINO, J.

          The issue raised in this appeal requires us to assess whether an attorney who executes a fee agreement that violates General Statutes § 52-251c,[1] commonly known as the " fee cap statute," may, nevertheless, recover against the client under the doctrine of quantum meruit. The plaintiff, Laurence V. Parnoff, appeals from the judgment of the trial court, rendered on remand from this court, in favor of the defendant, Darcy Yuille. On appeal, the plaintiff claims that the trial court improperly rendered judgment in favor of the defendant on his claim of quantum meruit. We disagree and, accordingly, affirm the judgment of the trial court.

          [163 Conn.App. 276] The following facts, set forth in the first appeal of this case, Parnoff v. Yuille, 139 Conn.App. 147, 57 A.3d 349 (2012), cert. denied, 307 Conn. 956, 59 A.3d 1192 (2013) ( Parnoff I ), and procedural history are relevant to our resolution of this appeal. On December 5, 1998, the plaintiff and the defendant entered into a contingent fee retainer agreement through which the defendant retained the plaintiff to seek damages for personal injuries that she sustained as a result of her employer's allegedly bad faith handling of her workers' compensation claim. Id., 152, 160. The fee agreement provided for a contingent fee of 40 percent, which exceeds the cap set forth in § 52-251c. Id., 152. An arbitration panel issued its decision on the personal injury case on June 29, 2004, and awarded the defendant damages in the amount of $1,096,032.93. Id., 153. The plaintiff sent the defendant an itemized invoice with an attorney's fee representing 40 percent of the gross settlement proceeds. Id. The defendant objected to the fee and, after the parties were unable to reach an accord, the plaintiff served a three count complaint against the defendant. Id., 153-54.

Page 51

          The first count alleged a breach of contract claim that was based on the written fee agreement. The second count alleged a quantum meruit claim. The third count alleged a bad faith claim, specifically, that the defendant's conduct was intentional and wilful. Id., 154-55. Following a jury trial, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff on the first and third count. Id., 157. As to the second count, quantum meruit, the jury was instructed that it need ...


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