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George R. Szymanski v. Thomas Sacchetta

January 25, 2012

GEORGE R. SZYMANSKI,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
THOMAS SACCHETTA, GERALD BALDINO, JR., AND SACCHETTA AND BALDINO, DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM

I. INTRODUCTION

In this action, plaintiff George Szymanski seeks an attorney's fee from defendants Thomas Sacchetta, Gerald Baldino, and the law firm of Sacchetta and Baldino (collectively, "defendants"). Plaintiff, an attorney, alleges that after a client discharged plaintiff, the client's new counsel-defendants-promised plaintiff orally and in writing that they would pay him an attorney's fee for his work on the case but failed to do so. Plaintiff asserts claims for breach of contract and promissory estoppel.

Presently before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss Plaintiff's Claim for Breach of Contract from Plaintiff's Amended Complaint.*fn1 For the reasons stated below, the Court denies defendants' motion.

II. BACKGROUND

On December 10, 1999, Eric Fine entered into a contract with plaintiff's law firm whereby plaintiff agreed to represent Fine in a dental malpractice claim.*fn2 (Pl.'s Br. Opp'n Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. ("Pl.'s Br.") Ex. A.) Fine and plaintiff agreed that plaintiff would receive forty percent of the amount of Fine's recovery if he prevailed. (Id.) On August 8, 2000, plaintiff filed a complaint on Fine's behalf in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County against Dr. Mary Anne Checchio, Fine's oral surgeon. Fine v. Checcio, 870 A.2d 850, 855 (Pa. 2005). *fn3

Plaintiff worked on Fine's case until March 2002, when Fine discharged him and retained defendants. (Letter from George Szymanski to Eric Fine (March 6, 2002), Mem. Law Supp. Defs.' Mot. Summ. J. ("Defs.' Br.") Ex. D.) On or about March 11, 2002, plaintiff spoke to Baldino on the telephone and demanded payment of his fee and costs and asked whether he would have to sue Fine to recover. (Dep. of George Szymanski, Defs.' Br. Ex. A ("Szymanski Dep."), at 40.) In response, Baldino said that if plaintiff wanted to be a "partner" of Sacchetta and Baldino in this case, plaintiff would have to refrain from suing Fine and forego payment of his fee and costs until the conclusion of the case. (Pl.'s Certification and Statement of Material Facts ("Pl.'s SOF") ¶ 27; see also Szymanski Dep. 42.) On March 18, 2002, plaintiff sent Sacchetta a letter that, inter alia, stated that plaintiff expected "to receive the majority of the attorney fees in this case." (Letter from George Szymanski to Thomas Sacchetta (March 18, 2002), Defs.' Br. Ex. H.) In this letter, plaintiff also requested a refund of his litigation costs in the amount of $3,322.02. (Id.) On March 21, 2002, in response, Sacchetta wrote to plaintiff, stating "if this matter if [sic] favorably resolved on behalf of Mr. Fine, we will be happy to reimburse your costs and quantum meruit fee." (Letter from Thomas Sacchetta to George Szymanski (March 21, 2002), Defs.' Br. Ex. I.)

The next day, plaintiff wrote to Sacchetta and proposed a specific fee agreement. (Letter from George Szymanski to Thomas Sacchetta (March 22, 2002), Defs.' Br. Ex. J.) In the letter, plaintiff propose[d] the following:

1. [Defendants] will reimburse [plaintiff] the full amount of [plaintiff's] costs within 7 days, and [plaintiff] will get 60% of the fees if the case is settled before Easter;

2. [Defendants] will reimburse [plaintiff] the full amount of [plaintiff's] costs within 7 days, and [plaintiff] will get 40% of the fees if the case is settled before a jury is picked;

3. [Defendants] will reimburse [plaintiff] the full amount of [plaintiff's] costs within 7 days, and [plaintiff] will get 20% of the fees if the case is settled before the jury renders a verdict; or

4. [Defendants] will reimburse [plaintiff] the full amount of [plaintiff's] fees within 7 days, and [plaintiff] will receive none of the fees if the case is settled after a jury renders a verdict. (Id.) Defendants did not respond to this letter.

In April 2002, Fine's case went to trial with Sacchetta and Joe H. Tucker, Esq., who is not a party to this litigation, as trial counsel. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 35.) A jury returned a verdict of $500,000 in Fine's favor on April 26, 2002. (Id. ¶ 36.) On May 2, 2002, plaintiff sent defendants a letter stating, inter alia, that plaintiff was "anticipating a dispute about the fees" and asking defendants to keep the fee earned from the case in escrow until the resolution of the dispute. (Letter from George Szymanski to Thomas Sacchetta and Gerald Baldino (May 2, 2002), Defs.' Br. Ex. K.)

On July 9, 2002, Tucker sent plaintiff a letter enclosing plaintiff's litigation costs. (Letter from Joe Tucker to George Szymanski (July 9, 2002), Defs.' Br. Ex. L.) The letter stated that plaintiff's "financial involvement in this matter ha[d] ended." (Id.) The letter also informed plaintiff that Dr. Checchio had filed a post-trial motion on the issue of statute of limitations and that if Dr. Checchio prevailed, Tucker would sue plaintiff for malpractice on Fine's behalf. (Id.) Plaintiff responded with a letter to Tucker on August 23, 2002, arguing that plaintiff had "done almost all of the work" in the case and that the July 9, 2002, letter was "a cheap attempt to try to cheat [plaintiff] out of the fees [he] earned in this case." (Letter from George Szymanski to Joe Tucker (Aug. 23, 2002), Defs.' Br. Ex. M.) The letter also stated that the trial court would not grant Dr. Checchio's post-trial motion because the same argument had failed in an earlier summary judgment motion. (Id.) The trial court denied the post-trial motion. Fine, 870 A.2d at 855.

In October 2002, plaintiff had another telephone conversation with Baldino regarding, inter alia, plaintiff's share of the attorney's fee; plaintiff memorialized this conversation in a letter to Baldino. (Letter from George Szymanski to Gerald Baldino (Oct. 28, 2002), Pl.'s Br. Ex. C.) The letter states that Baldino had inquired "about what [plaintiff's] expectations [were] for [his] share of the fees that might be forthcoming from the Eric Fine case." (Id.) Plaintiff stated that he could not estimate his fee at that time because he did not know the extent of the work of defendants and Tucker on the case. (Id.)

On May 22, 2003, the Pennsylvania Superior Court overturned Fine's verdict on statute of limitations grounds. (Letter from Joe Tucker to Michael Meehan (Sept. 3, 2003), Defs.' Br. Ex. N.) Thereafter, Tucker filed a Writ of Summons against plaintiff in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County on behalf of Fine for malpractice in failing to timely file Fine's complaint. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 49.) On September 3, 2003-while the malpractice case against plaintiff was pending-Tucker wrote to plaintiff's counsel stating that plaintiff was not entitled to quantum meruit because he committed malpractice. (Letter from Joe Tucker to Michael Meehan (Sept. 3, 2003), Defs.' Br. Ex. N.) On March 30, 2005, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court reversed the Superior Court's decision and reinstated the jury verdict in Fine's case. Fine, 870 A.2d 850. Tucker withdrew the malpractice action against plaintiff some time thereafter. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 51.)

On May 19, 2006, Baldino received a check from Checchio's counsel for $597,382.99, which included the judgment, costs, and post-judgment interest. (Letter from John Hare to Gerald Baldino (May 16, 2006), Pl.'s Br. Ex. D.) Checchio then filed an interpleader petition on June 12, 2006, in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County with respect to the fee dispute. (Pl.'s SOF ¶ 53.) On September 20, 2006, the Common Pleas judge ordered plaintiff to file a complaint alleging his entitlement to an attorney's fee, which plaintiff did on October 10, 2006. (Id. ¶¶ 55, 56.) Fine filed a motion for summary judgment on November 8, 2007, seeking a ruling from the court in his favor on plaintiff's claim for an attorney's fee; the court granted Fine's motion on January 11, 2008. Fine v. Checcio, No. 00-315 (Ct. C.P. Phila. Cnty. Apr. 17, 2008) (attached to Pl.'s Br. as Ex. E). The ...


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