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Law offices of David Efron v. Matthews & Fullmer Law Firm

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

April 1, 2015

LAW OFFICES OF DAVID EFRON, Appellant,
v.
MATTHEWS & FULLMER LAW FIRM; CARLOS R. IGUINA-OHARRIZ; HATUEY A. INFANTE-CASTELLANOS, Appellees

As Amended April 7, 2015.

Page 47

APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO. Hon. Silvia Carreño-Coll, U.S. Magistrate Judge.

David Efron and Law Offices of David Efron, P.C., on brief for appellant.

Toby B. Fullmer, Matthews & Fullmer, L.L.C., Hatuey A. Infante-Castellanos, and Hatuey Infante Law Offices, P.S.C., on brief for appellees.

Before Lynch, Chief Judge, Howard and Kayatta, Circuit Judges.

OPINION

Page 48

KAYATTA, Circuit Judge.

This appeal arises out of a dispute between two law firms over how to split attorneys' fees due them as a result of their mutual clients' recovery in the personal injury lawsuit that gave rise to this action. The appellant, the Law Offices of David Efron (" Efron" ),[1] expresses unhappiness with the 40 percent share the district court awarded to his firm.[2] In support of Efron's request that we order the district court to reapportion the fees in some unspecified manner, he challenges the court's factual findings that he was not credible and that he intended to mislead the court about his fee agreement with pro hac vice counsel Toby Fullmer (" Fullmer" ), of the law firm Matthews & Fullmer. Efron also challenges the court's ex parte communication with the plaintiffs in order to resolve a dispute about which lawyer represented them. After determining that the district court had ancillary jurisdiction over the attorneys' fees dispute, and finding no error at all in the district court's analysis or conduct, we affirm.

I. Background

In 2008, plaintiff Orlando Alejandro-Ortiz (" Alejandro" ) suffered injuries from an electrical shock as he attempted to move a downed power line. Alejandro-Ortiz v. P.R. Elec. Power Auth., 756 F.3d 23, 25 (1st Cir. 2014). Alejandro, along with his wife Sonia Rodríguez-Jimenez (" Rodríguez" ) and their two minor children (collectively, " plaintiffs" ), retained the Texas law firm Matthews & Fullmer to represent them in a lawsuit against Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (" PREPA" ) and its insurer. On March 30, 2010, Matthews & Fullmer entered into a " joint venture agreement" with Efron that provided that Efron would perform local counsel duties in exchange for 20 percent of the attorneys' fees.

Several weeks before trial in 2012, Fullmer informed Efron that Matthews & Fullmer could not try the case. Efron therefore tried the case and obtained a judgment for the plaintiffs in the amounts of $2,025,000 for Alejandro, $855,000 for Rodríguez, and $292,500 for each of the two minor children. The district court later reduced the amount due Alejandro

Page 49

and the children to $1,000,000 in light of a settlement agreement between those three plaintiffs and PREPA's insurer. PREPA successfully appealed the award to plaintiff Rodríguez. Alejandro-Ortiz, 756 F.3d at 30.

Meanwhile, in the wake of the judgment, the relationship between Efron and Matthews & Fullmer deteriorated, with their clients becoming ping-pong balls in a contest between counsel. Matthews & Fullmer tried to fire Efron as local counsel in this case and two others. Efron parried the move by getting the plaintiffs to fire Matthews & Fullmer. Fullmer then convinced the plaintiffs to undo the firing (and to fire Efron instead).

These events bounced onto the district court docket on October 3, 2013, when appellees Carlos Iguina-Oharriz (" Iguina" ) and Hatuey Infante-Castellanos (" Infante" ), having been retained by Matthews & Fullmer as new local counsel, filed a motion for leave to appear as substitute local counsel for the plaintiffs. The next day, Efron filed a motion to disqualify substitute local counsel and Matthews & Fullmer, or, alternatively, for an attorney's lien for 80 percent of the attorneys' fees. Efron's motion explained that he " had expressed and verbally agreed, not in writing," with Matthews & Fullmer that Efron would receive ...


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