April 4, 2012

The Supreme Court, Suffolk County has rejected a prior lawyer’s claim of entitlement to a broad contingency fee because his retainer agreement did not clearly provide for an award under the circumstances, in Moore v. Trent, Suff. Index No. 12-35962.  The attorney in question had an originally been retained by several neighbors, including the defendants, in connection with an anticipated action against the Town of Riverhead over flooding caused to their properties on Hortons Lane.  The attorney’s retainer agreement contained some inconsistencies but included a provision for a 20% contingency on any “award” obtained.  Rather than sue the town for damages, the defendants ended up negotiating a sale of their properties to the town, at which point the attorney claimed entitlement to 20% of the entire purchase price as his contingency fee.  The Supreme Court (Hon. Andrew G. Tarantino, Jr.) rejected the claim for the contingency fee on the basis that the agreement did not clearly contemplate a contingency under the circumstances of a sale.