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Malonis v. Harrington

Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court
816 N.E.2d 115 (2004)


Facts

Marc Loiselle was injured in a vehicle accident in which the other vehicle was driven by an employee of Browning-Ferris Industries, Inc. Loiselle retained attorney George Malonis (plaintiff) to represent him in a personal injury suit against Browning-Ferris. Loiselle and Malonis agreed to a contingent fee arrangement through which Malonis was to receive one-third of the amount recovered. Malonis performed legal work for Loiselle in this matter for approximately two and one-half years, including completing discovery, performing depositions, and negotiating with Browning-Ferris. While Malonis and Browning-Ferris were in settlement discussions, Loiselle discharged Malonis and retained attorney Robert Harrington under a similar contingent fee arrangement. Malonis forwarded his case files to Harrington and notified Loiselle, Harrington, and Browning-Ferris that he intended to establish an attorney’s lien on any recovery in the case. Approximately six months later, Harrington reached a settlement with Browning-Ferris for $57,500, with $40,000 going to Loiselle and $17,500 to Harrington for his contingency fee. Harrington assured Browning-Ferris’s counsel that he would take care of Malonis’s attorney’s lien. Malonis sent Harrington an itemized statement for his work and expenses totaling approximately $11,000. Harrington responded that Malonis’s claimed fee was ridiculous and refused to pay. Malonis filed a complaint in superior court against Loiselle and Harrington to recover his fee. The superior court held that all parties had expected Harrington would pay Malonis’s attorney’s fees from Harrington’s contingent fees and held Harrington liable for Malonis’s fees. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court transferred the case on its own motion to review the judgment.

Rule of Law

Issue

Holding and Reasoning (Greaney, J.)

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