Court Affirms Trial Court’s Award of Attorney’s Fees
Rose v. Penn & Seaborn, LLC; Cervera, Ralph, Reeves, Baker & Hastings, LLC; and Gregg
Christopher E. Rose entered into a contingency fee agreement (“the fee agreement”) with Shane Seaborn of Penn & Seaborn and Grady Reeves and Clifton Hastings of Cervera, Ralph, Reeves, Baker & Hastings, LLC (“the attorneys”) for representation against corporate defendants in an underground-tank litigation case. In the fee agreement, Rose agreed to pay the attorneys 45% “solely from the proceeds” of the net amount recovered, “whether by settlement, trial, or otherwise.”
Rose and the corporate defendants mediated the claims and agreed to settle (“the first settlement agreement”). After Rose failed to cooperate, the corporate defendants filed a motion to enforce the settlement agreement, which was ultimately granted by the Pike Circuit Court. Shortly after the circuit court granted the motion to enforce, Rose sent an email to Seaborn informing him that he was meeting with another attorney to “make plans” to appeal the circuit court’s decision and that Rose was terminating the fee agreement. Rose further provided that the email was intended “as an emergency stop order” for Seaborn’s work on the case. Rose proceeded with the appeal pro se and the circuit court reversed its decision, which resulted in the parties entering into a new settlement agreement (“the second settlement agreement”).
In addition, the attorneys filed a notice of an attorney’s lien in the circuit court to recover for their work on Rose’s case. During the circuit court’s ore tenus hearing on the attorney-fee issue, Rose stated that he did not believe that the attorneys were entitled to compensation due to their alleged questionable ethics. After the attorneys provided testimony regarding their billing rates, experience, and estimated time spent on Rose’s case, the circuit court held that Rose failed to provide evidence of any wrongdoing or misconduct and entered an order awarding the attorneys their fees according to the fee agreement. Rose appealed the award of attorney’s fees.
On appeal, Rose argued that the attorneys were not entitled to compensation because the fee agreement did not include appellate work, the attorneys “declined to take an appeal,” and they did not represent him when the second settlement was reached. However, the Alabama Court of Civil Appeals noted that it was Rose’s failure to cooperate that resulted in the motion to enforce being entered against him and that the attorneys did not abandon the case. Thus, the Court emphasized that it was reasonable for the circuit court to conclude that Rose terminated the attorneys without cause. Further, the Court noted that Rose benefited financially from the work that the attorneys conducted for the first settlement. Therefore, the Court affirmed.