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McReynolds v. Matthews

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Southern Division

November 20, 2017




         BEFORE THE COURT is Defendants Thomas M. Matthews, III and Matthews & Matthews, PLLC's (collectively, “Matthews”) Motion [117] to Strike Plaintiff's Rebuttal Expert and Expert's Supplemental Report. The Motion has been fully briefed. For the reasons that follow, the Motion will be granted in part as to Plaintiff's expert John Corlew and as to the portion of the Supplement to Report of Robert Williford that relates to the reasonableness of attorneys' fees and denied in part as to the portion of that report that relates to concealed fraud.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual Background

         This dispute is a legal malpractice action against Matthews relating to the administration of the Estate of Jack Dick, Deceased, Cause No. 2013-0065-PR-G, in the Chancery Court of Pearl River County, Mississippi. Plaintiff Aimee McReynolds (“McReynolds”) was the sole beneficiary of Jack Dick's handwritten Will. Shortly after Dick passed away, McReynolds retained Matthews in April 2013 to probate Dick's Will. McReynolds was initially appointed by the Chancery Court to serve as Administratrix of the Estate. McReynolds claims that Matthews failed to administer the Estate in a timely and proper manner, causing her to suffer monetary damages.

         McReynolds terminated Matthews in March 2015, and in May 2015, the Chancery Court removed McReynolds as Administratrix. McReynolds later retained the Law Office of B. Ruth Johnson - which is also her counsel in this present litigation - to represent her in Dick's Estate proceedings. McReynolds signed a 1% contingency fee agreement on October 9, 2015. Two of Dick's half-siblings filed a Will contest on October 13, 2015. McReynolds subsequently amended her contingency fee agreement, increasing the fee three times: first, to 15% on October 20, 2015; second, to 25% on March 28, 2016; and finally, to 33 1/3% on May 31, 2016. McReynolds eventually settled the challenges to the Will, and on July 19, 2016, the Chancery Court entered a Decree closing the Estate.

         B. Procedural History

         1. The Parties' Expert Designations

         On April 8, 2016, McReynolds filed a Complaint against Matthews in the Circuit Court of Pearl River County, Mississippi. Compl. [1-1]. Matthews removed the case to this Court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction on August 26, 2016. Id. at 1-2. On January 9, 2017, McReynolds filed an Amended Complaint. Am. Compl. [14]. The Amended Complaint alleges claims for breach of fiduciary duty and breach of the duty of care. McReynolds contends that a litany of Matthews' wrongful acts caused her to suffer damages including that, but for Matthews' negligence in handling the case, the contest of the Will would have been time-barred, and McReynolds would not have incurred attorneys' fees to represent her interest in the Estate. Id. at 11-12.

         The Court entered its Case Management Order on December 8, 2016, and ordered that McReynolds designate her experts by April 3, 2017. Case Management Order [13] at 4. Upon joint motion of the parties, the Court extended McReynolds' expert designation deadline to April 10, 2017. Matthews' expert designation deadline was later reset to June 15, 2017. Order [38]. Matthews moved ore tenus to extend the designation deadline for its expert attorney Lawrence Gunn (“Gunn”). Order [51]. The Court granted that extension, and set Matthews' expert designation deadline for Gunn to July 10, 2017. Id. The existing June 15, 2017, deadline for designation of all other defense experts remained in place. Id.

         On April 10, 2017, McReynolds timely designated two experts, Robert E. Williford, Esq. (“Williford”), and Joseph E. Hines, and submitted their reports. Designation of Expert Witnesses [126-5] at 1. Williford was designated as an expert on “the legal, ethical and fiduciary duties of an attorney in the administration of estates, ” id. at 4, while Hines was tendered to offer expert testimony in the field of accounting and financial analysis, see Id. at 28, 59. Williford's timely April 10, 2017 report (“First Report”) opined as to Matthews' duties and breaches, id. at 7-20, and took the position that had the Estate been properly opened and administered, the later challenges to the Will would have been barred by the applicable two-year statute of limitations, id. at 7.

         On June 15, 2017, Matthews identified Gunn as an expert. Suppl. Answers to Pl.'s First Set of Interrogs. [117-2] at 2-3. Matthews advised that “Gunn is expected to testify the fees and expenses paid by McReynolds to the Law Office of B. Ruth Johnson, PLLC were excessive and unreasonable.” Id. at 6. Matthews also disclosed that Gunn was expected to testify that the Will contests could have been filed under a theory of concealed fraud, such that the two-year statute of limitations did not apply. Id. at 5. On June 30, 2017, McReynolds disclosed to Matthews a Supplement to Report of Williford (“Second Report”). Williford Suppl. to Rep. [117-3]. After Williford's Second Report noted that Matthews expects Gunn to testify that McReynolds' attorneys' fees were unreasonable, it then offered a countering opinion, for the first time, that McReynolds' attorneys' fees were reasonable. Id. at 2. Williford's Second Report dismissed the concealed fraud theory because the Will was made public record and never concealed. Id.

         On July 10, 2017, Matthews formally designated Gunn and disclosed his report, in which Gunn stated that “the amount of fees Ms. McReynolds paid to the Law Office of Ruth B. Johnson was unreasonable.” Gunn Report [117-2] at 6. On July 20, 2017, McReynolds designated John G. Corlew, Esq. (“Corlew”) as a rebuttal expert and submitted his “Rule 26(a)(2) Report.” Designation of Expert Rebuttal Witness [126-9] at 1. McReynolds retained Corlew to address Gunn's opinions regarding the reasonableness of her attorneys' fees. Id. at 3. Corlew asserts in his report that “those fees were reasonable.” Id.

         2. Matthew ...

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