United States District Court, D. Kansas
WILLIAM J. SKEPNEK and STEVEN M. SMOOT, Plaintiffs,
ROPER & TWARDOWSKY, LLC, Defendant.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
D. Crabtree United States District Judge
action arose from a fee dispute between plaintiffs, attorneys
William Skepnek and Steven Smoot, and defendant, a law firm
named Roper & Twardowsky, LLC. Following a jury verdict
in plaintiffs' favor, defendant moved for judgment as a
matter of law or, alternatively, for a new trial or
remittitur. Doc. 372. In its Memorandum supporting that
motion, defendant asserts separate arguments supporting each
outcome. Doc. 373. This order rules on all those arguments in
the order they are presented, and for reasons explained
below, denies defendant's motion.
Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law
asserts it is entitled to judgment as a matter of law because
plaintiffs failed to provide evidence about the number of
hours they worked or their hourly rates; plaintiffs failed to
provide expert testimony about the quality of their services
and failed to show that their efforts contributed to the
advancement of the case; and Mr. Smoot did not testify. Doc.
373 at 1. None of these arguments supports judgment in
defendant's favor as a matter of law.
court does not grant a motion for judgment as a matter of law
under Rule 50(a), the movant may file a renewed motion for
judgment as a matter of law. Fed.R.Civ.P. 50(b). The Tenth
Circuit has instructed district courts to grant renewed
motions for judgment as a matter of law “cautiously and
sparingly.” Zuchel v. City & Cty. of
Denver, 997 F.2d 730, 734 (10th Cir. 1993).
“Movants are entitled to judgment as a matter of law
only if all of the evidence, viewed in the light most
favorable to the nonmoving party, reveals no legally
sufficient evidentiary basis to find for the nonmoving
party.” Weichert v. E-Fin. Call Ctr. Support,
No. CV 13-2493-KHV, 2016 WL 1273922, at *2 (D. Kan. Mar. 30,
2016); see also Burrell v. Armijo, 603 F.3d 825, 832
(10th Cir. 2010). “Judgment as a matter of law is
appropriate only if the evidence points but one way and is
susceptible to no reasonable inferences to support the
nonmoving party.” Weichert, 2016 WL 1273922,
at *2; see also Baty v. Willamette Indus., Inc., 172
F.3d 1232, 1241 (10th Cir. 1999), overruled on other
grounds by Nat'l R.R. Passenger Corp. v. Morgan, 536
U.S. 101 (2002); Riggs v. Scrivner, Inc., 927 F.2d
1146, 1149 (10th Cir.), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 867
(1991). “Such judgment is proper only when ‘the
evidence so strongly supports an issue that reasonable minds
could not differ.'” Weichert, 2016 WL
1273922, at *2 (quoting Ryder v. City of Topeka, 814
F.2d 1412, 1418 (10th Cir. 1987)). “In determining
whether to grant judgment as a matter of law, the Court may
not weigh the evidence, consider the credibility of witnesses
or substitute its judgment for that of the jury.”
Id.; see also Lucas v. Dover Corp., 857
F.2d 1397, 1400 (10th Cir. 1988). “Nevertheless, the
Court must find more than a mere scintilla of evidence
favoring the nonmovant; the Court must find that
‘evidence was before the jury upon which it could
properly find against the movant.'”
Weichert, 2016 WL 1273922, at *2 (quoting Cooper
v. Asplundh Tree Expert Co., 836 F.2d 1544, 1547 (10th
Time and Hourly Rate
first contends that it is entitled to judgment as a matter of
law because plaintiffs failed to provide evidence showing the
number of hours they worked or their hourly rates. Doc. 373
at 9-11. Defendant contends, “New Jersey law makes
clear that when an attorney does not cede a substantially
prepared case, did not originate the case, or had not
obtained a settlement offer that the lawyer's standard
hourly rate is the most that can be recovered.” Doc.
373 at 9.
argument, in large measure, reprises a theory that the court
rejected long ago. See Doc. 293 at 35 (Memorandum
and Order of July 23, 2015 denying summary judgment against
plaintiffs' quantum meruit claim and rejecting
defendant's argument that “the court must grant
summary judgment unless plaintiffs present evidence of the
hours they spent representing each Prudential
client.”). As the court explained at summary judgment,
“time [spent] is not the only factor to be used in
ascertaining a reasonable fee. . . .” Id.
(citing Buckelew v. Grossbard, 461 A.2d 590, 592 (
N.J.Super. Ct. Law Div. 1983), aff'd 469 A.2d
518 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. 1983). The court again rejects
defendant's characterization of New Jersey law governing
quantum meruit principles, as applied to attorney
proper measure of compensation under quantum meruit
is ‘as much as is deserved.'” Bruno v.
Gale, Wentworth & Dillon Realty, 852 A.2d 198, 201 (
N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. 2004). Quantum meruit is an
equitable remedy so a “mere listing of hours expended
is insufficient” because it may lead to an inequitable
result. Id. “The crucial factor in determining
the amount of recovery is the contribution which the lawyer
made to advanc[e] the client's cause.”
Id.; see also Glick v. Barclays DeZoete Wedd,
Inc., 692 A.2d 1004, 1010 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. 1997);
Dinter v. Sears, Roebuck & Co., 651 A.2d 1033,
1038 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. 1995), cert. denied,
658 A.2d 728 (N.J. 1995); La Mantia v. Durst, 561
A.2d 275, 277 ( N.J.Super.Ct.App.Div. 1989), cert.
denied, 570 A.2d 950 (N.J. 1989); Anderson v.
Conley, 501 A.2d 1057, 1067 ( N.J.Super. Ct. Law Div.
1985); Buckelew, 461 A.2d at 591-92.
defendant and plaintiffs cite La Mantia v. Durst as
authority favoring them. Doc. 373 at 9; Doc. 405 at 3. In
La Mantia, the New Jersey Superior Court observed
“that when dealing with an equitable determination such
as quantum meruit, hard and fast rules are difficult
to apply, let alone construct.” 561 A.2d at 277. But,
the New Jersey courts developed guidelines that this court
found useful to its analysis of the quantum meruit
claim asserted here. Id. at 278. These guidelines
identify the following seven factors: the length of time
invested by the claimant compared to the entire time
expended; the quality of representation; the result of each
attorney's efforts; the reason the client changed
attorneys; the viability of the claim at transfer; the amount
of recovery realized; and any pre-existing partnership
agreements between the attorneys who now compete for a
percentage of the contingency fee. Id. Although not
all the factors apply to this dispute, they provide a clear
message for the defendant's argument. Under New Jersey
law, an hourly rate-based calculation alone is inadequate. In
fact, the New Jersey courts have found that applying a purely
hourly calculation was reversible error. Id.
years after the La Mantia court collected these
seven factors, the New Jersey Superior Court affirmed its
confidence in them in Bruno v. Gale, Wentworth &
Dillon Realty. 852 A.2d at 201 (“Trial courts
should consider the length of time each of the firms spent on
the case relative to the total amount of time expended to
conclude the client's case. The quality of that
representation is also relevant. . . . Viability of the claim
at transfer also bears upon the value of a former firm's
contribution . . . The amount of the recovery realized in the
underlying lawsuit also impacts upon the quantum meruit
valuation.” (quoting La Mantia, 561 A.2d at
278 (other citations omitted))).
directs the analysis to two more cases that purportedly
require plaintiffs, as a condition to quantum meruit
recovery, to reconstruct time records and produce those
records in discovery, or testify about them to the jury. Doc.
373 at 11; Doc. 408 at 5-6 (first citing Starkey, Kelly,
Blaney & White v. Estate of Nicolaysen, 796 A.2d 238
(N.J. 2002); then citing Szcepanski v. Newcomb Med. Ctr.,
Inc., 661 A.2d 1232 (N.J. 1995)). But, defendant's
cases are not on point. Neither one deals with a quantum
meruit fee dispute between attorneys. And while both
cases reach tangentially-related issues,  La
Mantia and Bruno consider the same setting
presented in this case-a quantum meruit fee dispute
between counsel sharing a common client. For this reason, the
court concludes that the La Mantia factors control
the analysis here and considers whether the evidence will
support the jury's verdict under those factors.
the court considers the evidence about the length of time
plaintiffs invested in the case. Defendant makes much of
plaintiffs' lack of any time records, but defendant did
not produce any time records either. The absence of any time
records from either plaintiffs or defendant may have
prevented the jury from comparing the time invested by either
side to the total expended. But, the evidentiary record
isn't as barren as defendant's motion suggests. The
jury heard evidence estimating the time that Mr. Skepnek
devoted to the case. During Mr. Skepnek's testimony, a
blow-up calendar from 2002 to 2010 was marked to show dates
worked on the case. See Doc. 405-4 at 2. During
direct examination, Mr. Skepnek methodically recounted dates
that he travelled to New Jersey to work on the case. Doc. 391
at 36-96. He also provided dates when he performed other
work. Although this does not strictly comply with the time
records factor, the jury did not reach its verdict without
any evidence of the time contributed by plaintiffs.
jury also heard evidence about the quality of plaintiffs'
representation in the battle to keep the Prudential clients.
Ex. 68; Doc. 392 at 214-17. The jury heard about a letter Mr.
Skepnek drafted and defendant's employee distributed to
the shared clients. In the letter, Mr. Skepnek provided the
clients with reasons why they should not dismiss their claims
against one of the defendants in their cases. In the client
email attaching the letter, one of defendant's employees
reported that Mr. Skepnek was available to speak with the
clients-making him a central point of contact for the matter.
This evidence allowed the jury to understand the role Mr.
Skepnek had played in this critical phase of the cases. The
jury also heard testimony about the results of Mr.
Skepnek's efforts-it allowed plaintiffs and defendant to
keep the 160 shared clients. Ex. 109; Doc. 393 at 97-101.
evidence included ample proof about the quality of Mr.
Skepnek's representation, including his
“masterpiece” and the result of those efforts
(Ex. 290; Doc. 393 at 82-84). Mr. Skepnek's
“masterpiece” was a 30-page analysis that he
prepared and used to draft a motion for summary judgment in
the underlying cases. Finally, the jury heard evidence of the
fee realized from the joint representation-approximately
$16.5 million. Doc. 393 at 193-96. This evidence is not the
only evidence the jury heard about plaintiffs'
contributions to the success of the shared representation,
but they provided the jury with a significant evidentiary
basis to support their verdict under the La Mantia
the jury did not hear an exact accounting of time and an
hourly rate, it heard evidence of the factors that New Jersey
law considers relevant to quantum meruit. This
evidence was far more than “a mere scintilla”
favoring plaintiffs. In fact, plaintiffs presented evidence to
the jury from which it properly could find ...