Parnoff v. Yuille
An attorney who violates Connecticut's attorney's fee cap statute, Connecticut General Statutes §52-251c, may not be entitled to recover on an alternative quantum meruit count for the value of services provided. Allegedly, Attorney Laurence Parnoff represented the defendant, Darcy Yuille, on workers' compensation and wrongful-discharge claims, and Yuille was awarded $1.09 million. The attorney charged a 40 percent contingency fee and sent an invoice for $484,446. Yuille objected to Attorney Parnoff's fees and agreed to pay Attorney Parnoff $125,000. Parnoff sued Yuille, alleging that she breached a contract to pay a 40 percent contingency fee and that, alternatively, the reasonable value of his services was $438,413. Yuille filed special defenses, alleging that Parnoff's fee agreement violated the attorney fee cap statute and was excessive and unconscionable. Connecticut's attorney fee cap statute generally provides that attorneys shall not charge clients more than 33.3 percent of the first $300,000. A jury awarded Attorney Parnoff $139,404, which was the maximum fee permitted under the attorney fee cap statute, plus punitive damages of $75,000. Attorney Parnoff appealed and argued that the attorney fee cap statute did not apply to allegations of wrongful discharge and workplace discrimination. The Connecticut Appellate Court held that the attorney fee cap statute applied and that the attorney fee contract was not enforceable. The Connecticut Appellate Court vacated the jury's award of $139,404 on breach of contract. On remand, the Connecticut Superior Court considered whether the attorney could recover on a quantum meruit theory, even though the attorney fee contract violated the attorney fee cap. If the contract had complied with the statute and the attorney had been unable to collect attorneys' fees, because the client had discharged the attorney, the attorney could recover in quantum meruit. "Recovery cannot," wrote the Superior Court, "be available to an attorney whose retainer with a client clearly violates the statute, even when an attorney obtained a desirable result." Ruling on an issue of apparent first impression in Connecticut, the Superior Court granted judgment to the defendant on the attorney's quantum meruit count.