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Monday, February 17, 2020

N.H. Supreme Court rules for lawyer seeking fees from colleague

By Elizabeth Alt | May 30, 2017

General court 07

CONCORD, N.H. (Legal Newsline) – Attorney Harvey J. Garod received a ruling in his favor against another attorney he claims essentially poached his former client and did not pay him his share from a subsequent settlement. 

The Supreme Court of New Hampshire held on May 17 that the trial court erred in dismissing Garod’s complaint, stating a large factor was that the Superior Court gave no explanation for denying the contractual lien claim. The court reversed the trial court’s judgment and remanded for further proceedings.

Garod is a personal injury lawyer in New Hampshire and was retained by the client, Lisa Lewis, to pursue a personal injury action in 2012. Lewis allegedly signed a standard engagement contract with Garod, which outlined the fees and lien claim she would pay if she were to dismiss Garod without cause. 

After two years working on the case, in March 2014 Lewis dismissed Garod, allegedly without cause. Lewis then hired R. James Steiner, Steiner Associates PLL, who filed a lawsuit that was settled in mediation in September 2015.  

In October 2015 Garod filed several motions against the underlying action that were denied. Garod then filed suit against Steiner, claiming he had a contractual lien for fees against the defendants. Steiner moved to dismiss the action, which was granted.

In reversing the Superior Court’s order, the state Supreme Court agreed with Garod’s argument that he may have had a valid lien and the contract signed by the client was enforceable against Steiner because they were aware of his lien at the time they were retained. The court stated the client should not be required to pay both lawyers’ fees.

The Supreme Court advised Garod he will bear the burden of establishing the reasonable value of his services, to be measured by the benefit conferred upon the client during the remand.  The panel stated the relevancy to the entitlement of fees will be the issue of whether he was discharged without cause as he alleges.

Garod is seeking to recover fees he accrued for legal work he performed on the client’s case and the contracted amount for costs on the settlement. The Supreme Court advised Garod that the amount may or may not be commensurate with the time or effort expended by the plaintiff.

The Supreme Court of New Hampshire case number 2016-0178

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New Hampshire Supreme Court