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Pennsylvania Supreme Court Rules Discharged Predecessor Law Firm Can Collect Fees from Succeeding Firm in Wrongful Death Action

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled that predecessor law firms who are discharged by a client can recover damages in quantum meruit from a successor law firm that takes over the case. In Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck, P.L.L.C. v. Law Firm of Malone Middleman, P.C., 137 A.3d 1247 (Pa. 2016), the case involved a dispute between two law firms about attorney’s fees earned in a wrongful death litigation settlement. Plaintiff, Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebenek & Eck law firm, (“Meyer”) brought a breach of contract and quantum meruit action against Defendant, Law Firm of Malone Middleman (“Middleman”).

In the case, an attorney named William Weiler, Jr. formally represented the Eazor estate in March 2005. Later that year, Weiler became associated with Meyer, and entered into a written employment agreement acknowledging that “any and all legal work performed by him will be deemed work on behalf of the firm.” Weiler brought to the firm the Eazor estate litigation, and along with other Meyer attorneys and staff, worked on the case over the course of 19 months. 2 years later, Weiler resigned from Meyer and agreed Meyer would receive two-thirds of attorney’s fees arising from the Eazor estate litigation. Weiler then subsequently became affiliated with Middleman. The Eazor estate discharged Meyer, and entered into a contingency fee agreement with Middleman without addressing payment or protection of attorney’s fees to Meyer. Middleman ultimately obtained settlement for the Eazor estate. Meyer filed this action claiming entitlement to two-thirds of attorney’s fees.

The court ruled that Meyer could not recover under a breach of contract claim because Middleman, as the successor firm, was not bound by the predecessor firm’s employment agreement with Weiler. However, Meyer was not deprived of its right to recover under quantum meruit the proper amount for the services which they had rendered for the litigation.

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