TRENTON, N.J. (Legal Newsline) – A ruling that granted a judgment of nearly $5,000 to a lawyer who was hired to collect a judgment in a trip-and-fall case and found himself in a dispute with his employer was affirmed by a New Jersey appeals court.
The Superior Court of New Jersey’s Appellate Division ruled on the case on Oct. 2.
Craig A. Altman PC filed the appeal after the New Jersey Superior Court - Law Division granted attorney Chester A. Lusczcz $4,878 in a civil matter. Altman previously represented Veronica McAllister in a trip-and-fall suit and prevailed with a $65,000 default judgment against Mordechai Cohen, who owned the venue where McAllister fell.
Altman didn’t have the easiest time collecting the judgment and retained Luszcz to assist. The ruling states the agreement was that Luszcz would get paid a contingency schedule for 20 percent of the money he was able to collect. Cohen sought help through his insurer, who was able to settle the case for $45,000. McAllister OK'd that judgment and Luszcz subsequently asked for $9,000 for the contingency fee. Altman said he wouldn’t pay since Luszcz didn’t actually collect the judgment.
Luszcz then sued over allegations of breach of contract, implied contract and quasi-contract and was awarded $4,878 by the trial court, which is 33 percent of Altman’s counsel fee recovery. Altman then appealed, insisting that the plaintiff didn’t collect the judgment. Luszcz cross-appealed, stating he should have received $8,781.04 for the contingency fee.
"We reject the defendant’s argument and affirm substantially for the reasons expressed by the trial judge," the ruling states. "The record supports the judge’s finding that plaintiff’s efforts resulted in a recovery for McAllister. Moreover, as the judge noted, because this was a contingency matter, it was not unusual for plaintiff not to have kept time sheets.”
Some of Luszcz’s efforts included serving a writ of execution on five banks, performing a property search, distributed two information subpoenas, and locating Cohen.
The court also disagreed with Altman’s argument that McAllister should have been a defendant in the lawsuit too. It pointed out that the lower court said she wasn’t necessary for the case to move forward. Luszcz didn’t go after her because she signed his retainer to verify that she knew of the agreement between him and Altman, not because she was to be held responsible. Plus, she could only had to pay her attorneys a third of the $45,000 to keep her end of the deal.
“The trial judge did not err when he concluded McAllister was not a necessary party to resolve this dispute," the ruling states. "Employing the entire controversy doctrine to bar plaintiff’s ability to recover from defendant for the work he performed would work an inequitable and unfair result.”
Still, it disagreed with the plaintiff that he should have received more than $8,000 on his cross appeal. While he made efforts to help get the settlement, he wasn’t owed more than that.