May L. Walker v. Carmelo Guiffre (A-72-10) (066969) Consumer Fraud and Attorney Fees
Attorney Fees and the Consumer Fraud Act
Application for attorney fees
The Supreme Court recently took up the issue of fee shifting and the right to apply for a multiplier by the winning plaintiff's lawyer. In a fee shifting case such as would be filed under the NJ Consumer Fraud Act there would be an award of attorney fees under certain circumstances to the plaintiff. The courts have recognized the right of the plaintiff's attorney to apply for an increased fee based on many factors. The courts had held that contingent fee agreements warrant a reward for the plaintiff's attorney in the form of a multiplier. Fraud and consumer fraud consumer lawyer.
The underling and basic premise behind the Consumer Fraud Act is to permit the act to attract competent experienced trial counsel to litigate these cases. This can be a difficult task. In Consumer Fraud Act cases the amount of damages might be small as compared to other claims in the court or even the attorney's fees. The individuals who drafted this law or where that who sustain minimal or small damage needed to attract competent counsel to litigate these cases. The law has provisions for payment of counsel fees to litigate consumers who have sustained small damages. There is a concept that started in employment law of a multiplier and fee shifting. In short, a litigant who has been successful in the court can apply for attorney's fees under the Consumer Broad Act with a multiplier. This means that if an attorney is successful and depending on the circumstances in each case the attorney can seek a multiplier. A multiplier means that if an attorney has submitted a bill for thousand dollars the court could multiply this amount by 15 % to 50%. This might seem extreme however of the purpose is to incentivize company attorneys to litigate a difficult and novel Consumer Fraud Act cases. Thus, if an attorney works on a contingency basis, litigates a difficult case, has novel theories and succeeds they will rewarded by a multiplier for success in the litigation.
This is not true in every case but is based on the specific circumstances. Further, you must request the multiplier or the added fee from the judge who heard the case. You have to submit a lengthy application explaining why the case is difficult, the effort you put in, would cause the effort and your results. If the case was a difficult case with excellent result will be rewarded appropriately. If it is an easy case for which you had a poor result your fee application will be appropriately addressed. The better you do the more you get the work she do the last you get. I know the sounds very simple but to keep it basic this is the concept of the law.
As usual in the practice of law the concept the simple but it can be complicated in the application. This also requires a detailed application and analysis by the judge with the trier of fact who heard the case. The law permits recovery of attorney’s fees. The law permits recovery of some costs. However, the law does not permit recovery of all attorney’s fees nor the recovery of all costs. It depends on the case, depends on the claims, depends on the proof, depends on the presentation.
I would also submit that this legal fee analysis encourages defendants to resolve cases earlier rather than later. The risk of defending a case, taking a difficult defense position in forcing the plaintiff to expend a lot of time and attorney’s fees can have a disastrous result. A Consumer Fraud Act or a Employment Case that his fee shifting does not translate into a blank check for an attorney. The amount of hours must be reasonable in light of your experience, the hourly rate must be reasonable for the specialty and/or amount of experience in the method of litigation must be reasonable. There does not necessarily have to be any proportionality between the fee and the damages. However, there must be proportionality between the difficulty of the case, the nature of the defense and the level of success.
For difficult cases with better results more attorney’s fees are warranted. For easier cases with the worst results lower fees are warranted. None of it is automatic always subject to review of the judge and were trier of fact in a detailed record must be created.