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Nostrame v. Santiago

New Jersey Supreme Court
213 N.J.109 (2013)


Facts

Natividad Santiago (defendant) sustained a serious eye injury during a cataract surgery. Santiago hired attorney Frank Nostrame (plaintiff) to represent her in a medical-malpractice case. Santiago signed a contingent-fee agreement. A contingent-fee arrangement means the lawyer’s compensation is a percentage of the plaintiff’s ultimate award if the case is successful. Nostrame then began work on the case. Nostrame gathered documents, performed research, and consulted with experts. Nostrame filed the complaint in the case on May 23, 2007. Approximately one week later, Santiago failed to come to a client meeting and notified Nostrame that she had retained a new attorney, Mazie Slater Katz & Freeman, LLC (Mazie) (defendant). Later, Mazie settled the malpractice case for $1,200,000, with approximately $360,000 of that going to Mazie for attorney’s fees. Nostrame was only paid an hourly rate based on the number of hours that he had worked on the case rather than receiving a portion of the larger contingent-fee amount. Nostrame sued Mazie, alleging tortious inference with contract and seeking a portion of the larger contingency-fee amount that he claimed would have been his if Mazie had not induced Santiago to fire Nostrame. Mazie filed a motion to dismiss. The trial court denied the motion, and Mazie appealed. The appellate court reversed and dismissed the tortious-interference claims. Nostrame petitioned the New Jersey Supreme Court for review.

Rule of Law

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Issue

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Holding and Reasoning (Hoens, J.)

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  • A "yes" or "no" answer to the question framed in the issue section;
  • A summary of the majority or plurality opinion, using the CREAC method; and
  • The procedural disposition (e.g. reversed and remanded, affirmed, etc.).

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