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George R. Szymanski v. Thomas Sacchetta

February 7, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: DuBOIS, J.



This is an action to recover attorney‟s fees allegedly owed to plaintiff George R. Szymanski, an attorney, from Thomas Sacchetta, Gerald Baldino Jr., and the law firm of Sacchetta and Baldino (collectively, "the defendants"). Plaintiff alleges that after a client terminated plaintiff‟s representation in the client‟s dental malpractice action, the defendants- attorneys who represented the client after plaintiff‟s discharge-promised plaintiff both orally and in writing that they would reimburse his attorney‟s fees in quantum meruit. The Complaint alleges claims for breach of contract (Count I), promissory estoppel (Count II), and unjust enrichment (Count III).

Presently before the Court is Defendants‟ Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff‟s Complaint Pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6). For the reasons set forth below, defendants‟ motion is granted in part and denied in part. The Court grants defendants‟ motion with respect to plaintiff‟s breach-of-contract and unjust enrichment claims, and denies the motion in all other respects. The breach-of-contract claim is dismissed without prejudice to plaintiff‟s right to file an amended complaint within twenty days, if warranted by the facts. The unjust enrichment claim is dismissed with prejudice.


Plaintiff began representing Eric Fine in a dental malpractice action against Mary Anne Checchio, D.D.S., in December 1999. (Compl. ¶ 7.) In March 2002, Fine discharged plaintiff and retained defendants as new counsel. (Id. ¶ 8.) On March 11, 2002, plaintiff received a call from defendant Baldino, who "promised [plaintiff] that he would receive his share of the attorney fees at the conclusion of Mr. Fine‟s dental malpractice case." (Id. ¶ 9.) Plaintiff then received a letter typed on Sacchetta and Baldino letterhead, dated March 21, 2002, in which defendant Sacchetta stated that "if this matter if [sic] favorably resolved on behalf of Mr. Fine, we will be happy to reimburse your costs and quantum meruit fee." (Id. ¶ 10; Defs.‟ Mot., Ex. 6.) Plaintiff alleges that as a result of the defendants‟ promises, he refrained from pursuing legal action against either them or Fine. (Compl. ¶ 11.)

Fine‟s Pennsylvania state-court dental malpractice action eventually was resolved in his favor, and on May 16, 2006, Checchio‟s attorneys mailed a check in the amount of $597,382.99 to Sacchetta and Baldino. (Id. ¶¶ 12-13.) Sacchetta and Baldino received Checchio‟s check and deposited it in their trust account on May 20, 2006. (Id. ¶ 14.)

On October 10, 2006, Szymanski filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas, subsequently amended two times, alleging his entitlement to attorney‟s fees from Fine and Checchio. (Pl.‟s Resp., Ex. D at 36.) The defendants in this action, acting as counsel for Fine, filed preliminary objections on October 30, 2006. (Compl. ¶ 15; Pl.‟s Resp. at 9.) On April 17, 2008, the Court of Common Pleas issued an opinion granting summary judgment in favor of Fine on the ground that the statute of limitations for a quantum meruit action had expired. (See Pl.‟s Resp., Ex. C.) That decision was affirmed by the Superior Court on November 25, 2009. (See id., Ex. D.)

Plaintiff filed the Complaint against the defendants in this action on May 19, 2010, seeking to recover attorney‟s fees based on claims of breach of contract, promissory estoppel, and unjust enrichment.


Rule 12(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that, in response to a pleading, a defense of "failure to state a claim upon which relief can be granted" may be raised by motion. In analyzing a motion to dismiss pursuant to Rule 12(b)(6), the Court "accept[s] all factual allegations as true, [and] construe[s] the complaint in the light most favorable to the plaintiff. . . ." Phillips v. County of Allegheny, 515 F.3d 224, 231, 233 (3d Cir. 2008) (internal quotations omitted).

"To survive a motion to dismiss, a civil plaintiff must allege facts that "raise a right to relief above the speculative level . . . .‟" Victaulic Co. v. Tieman, 499 F.3d 227, 234 (3d Cir. 2007) (quoting Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly, 550 U.S. 544, 555 (2007)). A complaint must contain "sufficient factual matter, accepted as true, to "state a claim to relief that is plausible on its face.‟" Ashcroft v. Iqbal, 556 U.S. ---- (2009) (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 570). To satisfy the plausibility standard, a plaintiff's allegations must show that a defendant‟s liability is more than "a sheer possibility." Id. "Where a complaint pleads facts that are "merely consistent with‟ a defendant‟s liability, it "stops short of the line between possibility and plausibility of entitlement to relief.‟" Id. (quoting Twombly, 550 U.S. at 557).

In Twombly, the Supreme Court utilized a "two-pronged approach," which it later formalized in Iqbal.Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950; Fowler v. UPMC Shadyside, 578 F.3d 203, 210-11 (3d Cir. 2009). Under this approach, a district court first identifies those factual allegations that constitute nothing more than "legal conclusions" or "naked assertions." Twombly, 550 U.S. at 555, 557. Such allegations are "not entitled to the assumption of truth" and must be disregarded. Iqbal, 129 S.Ct. at 1950. The court then assesses "the "nub‟ of the ...

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