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Patel v. Vaccaro

United States District Court, E.D. Pennsylvania

July 19, 2018

ALKESH PATEL, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH VACCARO, ESQUIRE, and ERIE LAW CENTER, Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          DUBOIS, J.

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This legal malpractice case arises out of Joseph Vacarro and the Erie Law Center‘s ("defendants") legal representation of Alkesh Patel ("plaintiff") in a case regarding a physical altercation between plaintiff and Pratik Patel. Default was entered by the Clerk of Court and the Court granted plaintiff‘s Motion to Enter Default Judgment. A Damages Hearing was held on February 7, 2018.

         Based on the following Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, judgment is entered in favor of plaintiff and against defendants, jointly and severally, for compensatory damages in the amount of $556, 923 and punitive damages in amount of $100, 000, for a total judgment of $656, 923.

         II. PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         On April 29, 2014, plaintiff filed a Complaint against Pratik Patel in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County, asserting claims for assault and battery arising out of a physical altercation that took place on March 22, 2014. Pratik Patel removed the case (the “underlying action”) to this court and filed counterclaims against plaintiff for, inter alia, assault, battery and defamation. On February 10, 2016, judgment was entered on Pratik Patel‘s counterclaims in favor of Pratik Patel and against Alkesh Patel in the amount of $1, 322, 500. Plaintiff thereafter retained the law firm of Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel LLP (“Obermayer”), who appealed and negotiated a settlement of the underlying action for $375, 000.

         On June 30, 2017, plaintiff brought the present action against Vaccaro and Erie Law Center for legal malpractice and breach of contract relating to defendants‘ representation of plaintiff in the underlying action. The case was thereafter transferred from the calendar of Judge Robert F. Kelly, who presided over the underlying action, to this Court by Order dated July 5, 2017.

         The Complaint was properly served on defendants on July 11, 2017. Defendants failed to respond to the Complaint as required by law. Accordingly, a default was entered by the Clerk of Court on August 10, 2017. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 55(a). Thereafter, plaintiff filed a Motion to Enter Default Judgment on September 25, 2017. By Order dated December 4, 2017, the Court granted plaintiff‘s Motion to Enter Default Judgment and entered judgment in favor of plaintiff and against defendants. The Court held a Damages Hearing on February 7, 2018. Notwithstanding notice to defendants, they did not appear at the Hearing.

         III. FINDINGS OF FACT

         1. Plaintiff is, and was at the time the suit was initiated, a resident, citizen, and domiciliary of the State of Washington, residing at 511 NE 138th Avenue, Vancouver, Washington.

         2. Defendant Jospeh Vacarro, Esquire is an attorney licensed to practice law in Pennsylvania with a business address at 5918 Torresdale Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Vacarro is, and was at the time the suit was initiated, a resident, citizen, and domiciliary of the State of Pennsylvania, residing at 930 Delaware Avenue, Lansdale, Pennsylvania.

         3. Defendant Erie Law Center is a registered business engaged in the practice of law with a principal place of business at 635 West Erie Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Vacarro is the registered owner of Erie Law Center.

         4. Plaintiff retained defendants to represent him in a matter arising out of a physical altercation between plaintiff and Pratik Patel that took place during a March 22, 2014 industry convention at the Pennsylvania Convention Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Plaintiff and defendants entered into a Legal Services Agreement in which defendants agreed to provide legal representation to plaintiff regarding the altercation. Compl., Exhibit A.

         5. On April 29, 2014, Vaccaro filed a Complaint on behalf of plaintiff against Pratik Patel in the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia. The Complaint asserted claims for assault and battery.

         6. On May 23, 2014, Pratik Patel removed that case to this court, Patel v. Patel, Case No. 14-cv-02949. Pratik Patel then filed counterclaims against plaintiff for, inter alia, assault, battery and defamation.

         7. Unbeknownst to plaintiff, defendants failed to take any action of record in the underlying case from May 23, 2014, to February 8, 2016. Specifically, defendants failed to respond to, inter alia, the following filings by Pratik Patel: Answer to Plaintiff‘s Complaint with New Matter and Counterclaims, First Amended Answer to Plaintiff‘s Complaint with New Matter and Counterclaims, Motion for Sanctions, Second Motion for Sanctions, Motion to Compel Discovery Responses, Motion to Dismiss Pursuant to Rule 37(b)(2)(A), Motion to Deem Admitted All Averments Made in Counter Plaintiff‘s Request for Admissions, Motion for Summary Judgment, Pretrial Memorandum, Motion in Limine, Proposed Points for Charge, Amended Proposed Points for Charge, and Admissions of Fact to be Read Into the Record.

         8. Defendants failed to inform plaintiff of the court filings by Pratik Patel and failed to communicate with plaintiff to ...


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