Court Upholds Denial Of Scranton Attorney’s $1M Fees

September 13, 2018

A federal appellate court upheld a judge’s decision to deny a Scranton attorney’s request for nearly $1 million in attorneys fees in a case that netted his client $125,000. The 3rd Circuit Court of Appeals said U.S. District Judge Malachy Mannion’s decision regarding Michael Pisanchyn’s law firm was unusual. It was justified given the lack of documentation and “outrageous” number of hours he and other attorneys billed. Pisanchyn and attorney Marsha Lee Albright, who no longer works for his firm, sought $902,655 from an insurance company for work relating to a lawsuit filed on behalf of Bernie Clemens, of Stroudsburg. The suit alleged New York Central Mutual Fire Insurance Company acted with bad faith when it delayed paying Clemens $25,000 to settle a claim for injuries in a car crash. A federal jury awarded Clemens $100,000 in November 2015, for the bad faith claim following a five-day trial. Under federal law, an attorney who prevails in a civil case can seek payment for each hour worked on the case but must provide detailed records to justify all hours billed. In a scathing opinion issued last September, Mannion denounced Pisanchyn’s fee petition, calling it “mind boggling” and “outrageously excessive.” Mannion said the petition, which Albright prepared, failed to properly document hours spent and sought an unreasonable amount of hours. He was particularly troubled by a bill for 562 hours for trial preparation. He noted that even if the attorneys did nothing else for eight hours every day, they would have had to spend 70 days doing nothing but preparing for the trial. Mannion found the attorneys did properly document several hundred hours worked, but he was so disturbed by the fee petition that he invoked a rarely used authority to deny it in its entirety. In upholding the decision, the 3rd Circuit Court agreed the fee request was vague and excessive. “Review of the record and the district court’s comprehensive opinion makes clear that denial of a fee award was entirely appropriate under the circumstances of this case,” the court said. Charles Haddick, attorney for the insurance company, said his client is pleased with the court’s decision. Pisanchyn acknowledged Thursday that the bills should have been more specific but that does not justify denying him any compensation. In addition to the bad faith claim, his firm spent years fighting for the $25,000 settlement in the underlying car crash suit, he said. He also said he is out about $50,000 he spent for an expert and other costs related to the bad faith case. “In essence, despite us obtaining a $100,000 award on a zero written offer case while we represented the plaintiff (during) eight to nine years of litigation, the Court has determined the plaintiff’s attorney should be awarded nothing,” Pisanchyn said. Still, Pisanchyn said he is happy his client was compensated and it’s only his fee that wasn’t paid. Contact the writer: tbesecker@timesshamrock.com; 570-348-9137; @tmbeseckerTT on Twitter