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Braddock Law Firm, PLLC v. Becnel

Court of Appeals of Mississippi

August 6, 2013

BRADDOCK LAW FIRM, PLLC, APPELLANT
v.
DANIEL E. BECNEL JR., APPELLEE

COURT FROM WHICH APPEALED: HINDS COUNTY CHANCERY COURT. DATE OF JUDGMENT: 01/31/2012. TRIAL JUDGE: HON. J. DEWAYNE THOMAS. TRIAL COURT DISMISSED APPELLANT'S JOINT-VENTURE AND CIVIL -CONSPIRACY CLAIMS.

FOR APPELLANT: C. ERIC MALOUF.

FOR APPELLEE: DANIEL E. BECNEL JR. (Pro se).

ISHEE, SPECIAL P.J., ROBERTS AND FAIR, JJ. GRIFFIS, P.J., BARNES, ROBERTS, CARLTON AND FAIR, JJ., CONCUR. MAXWELL, J., CONCURS IN PART AND IN THE RESULT. LEE, C.J., IRVING, P.J., AND JAMES, J., NOT PARTICIPATING.

OPINION

Page 723

NATURE OF THE CASE: CIVIL - CONTRACT

ISHEE, J.

¶1. In the late 1990's, a group of approximately 224 clients were gathered to pursue a class-action lawsuit against a pharmaceutical company for damages suffered from a dangerous product produced and marketed by the pharmaceutical company.[1] Daniel E. Becnel Jr. and the Braddock Law Firm PLLC (Braddock Law), run by Tal Braddock (Braddock), were both associated with the lawsuit. After a successful trial on the merits, P.C. agreed to settle a limited number of the remaining future cases. Attorneys' fees were distributed to the associated plaintiffs' attorneys pursuant to a fee-splitting agreement. A dispute arose as to the distribution of fees, among other issues. Braddock filed suit in the Hinds County Chancery Court on behalf of Braddock Law against Becnel and other attorneys associated with the lawsuit for breach of the fee-splitting agreement. After the first trial on the merits was reversed and remanded on appeal,[2] Braddock proceeded with a second trial in 2011. During the trial, Braddock agreed to a settlement with all attorneys other than Becnel. At the close of the trial, the chancery court determined that no contract existed between Braddock and Becnel with regard to attorneys' fees, and that all other claims against Becnel were without merit. Aggrieved, Braddock appeals. Finding no reversible error, we affirm.

STATEMENT OF FACTS AND PROCEDURAL HISTORY

¶2. Becnel, who practiced law in Louisiana, was the originating attorney in this products-liability lawsuit. He associated Michael T. Gallagher and his law firm, which included lawyers in Texas and Mississippi, to bring more claimants into the class-action lawsuit and to try the lawsuit. After a successful trial resulted in a substantial judgment for the plaintiffs, Becnel and Gallagher began settlement talks with P.C. regarding future cases. The negotiations

Page 724

centered on P.C.'s flat-rate settlement offer on a per-case basis.

¶3. Gallagher soon approached Braddock about associating with them in the settlement talks and referring more Mississippi claims that would fall within the purview of the settlement. This would, theoretically, increase P.C.'s settlement offer since the total settlement offer would depend on the number of claims procured. Braddock claims that Gallagher entered into an agreement with him to split the fees, with forty percent going to Gallagher and sixty percent to Braddock. Gallagher admits that an oral agreement on attorneys' fees was discussed with Braddock, but disputes the percentages.

¶4. Based on the sixty-percent-fee promise, Braddock associated Bobby Gill and Richard Martin to assist him in finding claimants they could represent and include in Gallagher's settlement negotiations. The three attorneys agreed to split Braddock's sixty-percent fee between themselves, with Gill ...


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