Frauenglass & Associates LLC v. Crawford
Allegations that a law firm billed excessive fees that were greater than those customarily charged in the legal community for similar work, although the law firm had represented that attorneys' fees would be reasonable, can be sufficient to allege a claim that the law firm violated CUTPA, the Connecticut Unfair Trade Practices Act. The plaintiff law firm, Frauenglass & Associates LLC, sued its former client, Cheryl Crawford, alleging that she did not pay attorneys' fees. Crawford filed a counterclaim, alleging breach of contract, because the law firm's fees allegedly were excessive, and the law firm represented it would charge reasonable fees. The plaintiff law firm moved to strike the breach-of-contract count and argued it sounded in negligence. "The claim that the fees charged were unreasonable under the terms of the contract," wrote the court, "do not depend solely on the claim that the quality of work was poor." The court denied the law firm's motion to strike the counterclaim alleging breach of contract. The plaintiff law firm also moved to strike the defendant's counterclaim alleging that the law firm violated CUTPA and argued that the counterclaim did not relate to the entrepreneurial aspects of the practice of law. The defendant client objected that the defendant's allegations about excessive fees concerned the practice of law and were sufficient to state a CUTPA claim. "Contrary to the plaintiff's claim," wrote the court, "courts have found CUTPA violations based on allegations of unreasonable fees and an attorney's deception as to the reasonableness of his fee." Allegations that the plaintiff law firm's representations about the reasonableness of fees were false and greatly exceeded the attorneys' fees customarily charged in the legal community for similar legal services were sufficient to state a CUTPA claim. The court denied the plaintiff law firm's motion to strike.