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Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman v. Jameson

December 14, 2009

LEVIN, FISHBEIN, SEDRAN & BERMAN PLAINTIFF,
v.
RICHARD A. JAMESON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Eduardo C. Robreno, J.

MEMORANDUM

Presently before the Court are Defendants, Kemppel, Huffman & Ellis, P.C. (the "KHE Firm"); George S. Harrington ("Harrington"); Richard A. Jameson ("Jameson"); and Richard A. Jameson and Associates, P.C.'s (the "Jameson Firm")*fn1 (collectively, "Defendants") motions to transfer, or, alternatively, to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction.*fn2

Defendants seek to have this case transferred to the United States District Court for the District of Alaska. For the reasons that follow, the Court concludes that transfer is appropriate and Defendants' motions will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

This case arises from a fee dispute between attorneys who were involved in the litigation concerning the Exxon Valdez Oil Spill in March 1989 (the "Exxon Litigation").*fn3 Plaintiff, Levin, Fishbein, Sedran & Berman ("Plaintiff") is a Pennsylvania law firm located in Philadelphia. Plaintiff alleges that it entered into a written agreement with the Jameson Defendants in order to provide litigation services with respect to the Exxon Litigation. (Pl.'s Compl. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff alleges that it has performed legal services and provided substantial funds for more than 20 years with respect to the Exxon Litigation, and that Defendants received the benefit of these services and funds without providing the appropriate payment. (Id. at ¶¶ 8-9.)

In April 1989, the Jameson Defendants entered into an agreement with Harrington and the KHE Firm which provided for the joint prosecution of claims in the Exxon Litigation (the "Harrington Agreement"). (Id. at ¶ 12.) Harrington was essentially the only attorney in Cordova, Alaska (the location of the Exxon Valdex Oil Spill), and therefore was the point-person for dealing with clients in the Exxon Litigation. At the time the Harrington Agreement was entered into, the Jameson Firm was located in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. (Id. at ¶ 11.) The Harrington Agreement provided that Harrington would be retained by clients in the Exxon Litigation pursuant to a 33 1/3 % contingent fee arrangement, and then refer those clients to the Jameson Firm. (Id. at ¶ 12.) In exchange for these referrals, Harrington would receive 31 1/2 % of net fee generated by those claims. (Id. at ¶ 12.)

Pursuant to the Harrington Agreement, the KHE Firm agreed to act as liaison counsel between Harrington and the Jameson Firm, by providing office space, staffing, and overhead in prosecution of the Exxon Litigation claims. (Id. at ¶ 13.) In exchange for providing these logistical services, the Harrington Agreement provided that the KHE Firm would receive 18 1/2 % of the net fee generated by these Exxon Litigation claims. (Id. at ¶ 13.)

Under the Harrington Agreement, the Jameson Defendants are entitled to receive 50% of the fees on the Harrington-referred clients under the 33 1/3 client contingency agreements secured by Harrington. (Id. at ¶ 15.) The Harrington Agreement further provided that in any cases referred to the Jameson Firm directly by the KHE Firm, the KHE Firm would receive 33% of the net fee and the Jameson Firm would receive the remaining 66%. (Id. at ¶ 16.)

The Harrington Agreement further provided that the Jameson Firm would be listed as "Of Counsel" to the KHE Firm, but that the Jameson Firm would retain separate letterhead in which it could list the office locations of the KHE Firm as its own. (Id. at ¶ 22.)

Plaintiff alleges that the KHE Firm and Harrington failed to fulfill their obligations under the Harrington Agreement by not providing the required office space, administrative support, litigation funds, or legal services. (Id. at ¶¶ 24-30.) As a result of these breaches, Plaintiff alleges that Harrington and the KHE Firm effectively abandoned the Exxon Litigation and that Plaintiff was forced to expend its own resources to make up for the breach of these obligations.

In July 1989, Plaintiff and the Jameson Defendants entered into an agreement for joint representation of clients who had claims in the Exxon Litigation (the "Jameson Agreement") (Id. at ¶¶ 31-32.) The Jameson Agreement provided for the allocation between Plaintiff and the Jameson Firm of expenses and liabilities in connection with the Exxon Litigation. (Id.) Pursuant to the Jameson Agreement, the Jameson Firm was responsible for 66 2/3% of all expenses, liabilities, duties, and obligations, and entitled to receive 66 2/3% of the net fee. (Id.) Plaintiff was entitled to receive 33 1/3% of the net fee on the same basis. (Id.)

Plaintiff alleges that it fulfilled all of its obligations under the Jameson Agreement and provided funding for the Exxon Litigation on a monthly basis in amounts representing 33 1/3% of the expenses that the Jameson Firm was incurring on behalf of the clients. (Id. at ¶ 35.) These payments made by Plaintiff were required, in part, due to Harrington and the KHE Firm breaching their obligations under the Harrington Agreement. (Id.) On November 14, 1991, Plaintiff and the Jameson Defendants amended the Jameson Agreement in order to provide for a sliding scale of a 50/50 allocation of any fees earned depending upon whether the subject claim was resolved after August 1, 1992. (Id. at ¶ 38.) During the period from November 1991 until 1994, the Jameson Firm gradually ceased funding its share under the Jameson Agreement and Plaintiff was required to fund virtually 100% of the prosecution of the Exxon Litigation claims. (Id. at ¶ 41.)

Plaintiff alleges that eventually the Jameson Defendants, Harrington, and the KHE Firm all effectively abandoned the legal representation of the Exxon Litigation clients. (Id. ¶¶ at 43-45.) Plaintiff argues that it has advanced costs in excess of $4 million and expended over $10 million in lodestar time with respect to the Exxon Litigation. Plaintiff has received partial reimbursement for its costs, but has not received any payments for its legal fees with respect to its representation of the referred clients.

The Exxon Qualified Settlement Fund ("EQSF") was established in the Exxon Litigation to provide for the orderly payment of litigation expenses and fees for the attorneys involved. Plaintiff alleges that approximately $1.9 million has been set aside by the EQSF for the services provided by Plaintiff, and Plaintiff now seeks to obtain a ...


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