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Epstein, Becker & Green, P.C. v. Anduro Holdings, LLC

Court of Appeals of Georgia, Fifth Division

May 25, 2018

EPSTEIN, BECKER & GREEN, P.C.
v.
ANDURO HOLDINGS, LLC et al.

          MCFADDEN, P. J., RAY and RICKMAN, JJ.

          McFadden, Presiding Judge.

         Law firm Epstein, Becker & Green, P.C. filed this breach of contract action against former clients Anduro Holdings, LLC, La Famiglia Family Trust, and Henry Datelle for $522, 489.66 in outstanding legal fees. The law firm alleged that the defendants were jointly and severally liable for the fees, while the defendants contended that Anduro Holdings was solely responsible for the fees.

         The jury returned a verdict in favor of Epstein, Becker & Green, but the trial court granted Datelle and La Famiglia's motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict. Epstein, Becker & Green appeals, arguing that the trial court erred because some evidence supported the jury's verdict. We agree. So we reverse.

         1. Facts.

A trial court may grant a judgment notwithstanding the verdict
only when, without weighing the credibility of the evidence, there can be but one reasonable conclusion as to the proper judgment. Where there is conflicting evidence, or there is insufficient evidence to make a "one-way" verdict proper, judgment [notwithstanding the verdict] should not be awarded. In considering the motion, the court must view the evidence in the light most favorable to the party who secured the jury verdict. And this approach governs the actions of appellate courts as well as trial courts.

Church's Fried Chicken v. Lewis, 150 Ga.App. 154, 159 (1) (c) (256 S.E.2d 916) (1979) (citation and punctuation omitted).

         So viewed, the evidence shows that Datelle formerly was the chairman of the board of Anduro Holdings, and he and his family have a controlling interest in the company. La Famiglia is an entity established to loan money to and to invest in Anduro Holdings. Datelle is a trustee of La Famiglia.

         In 2010, La Famiglia sued two co-owners of Anduro Holdings in a case removed to federal court. See La Famiglia Trust v. O'Connor, No. 1:10-CV-1438-CAP, 2010 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 146932 (N.D.Ga. Dec. 22, 2010). The co-owners countersued La Famiglia, Datelle, and Anduro Holdings. Datelle retained Michael Coleman, his longtime attorney and, at that time, a partner at Epstein, Becker & Green, to represent him, Anduro Holdings, and La Famiglia in the federal litigation.

         The parties signed a "Joint Representation Letter Agreement" regarding conflicts that could arise from Epstein, Becker & Green jointly representing Anduro Holdings, La Famiglia, and Datelle. The agreement provided that the signatures of Anduro Holdings, La Famiglia, and Datelle indicated their wish "to be jointly represented by E[pstein, ]B[ecker & ]G[reen]" in the federal litigation. Coleman signed on behalf of the firm, a board member signed on behalf of Anduro Holdings, and Datelle signed on behalf of La Famiglia and on his own behalf.

         The agreement contained nothing about payment of the legal fees incurred in the federal court representation. At trial, the law firm's chief operating officer explained that the firm had represented Datelle, his business interests, and La Famiglia in other matters, so the rates for legal fees were established. Over the course of the representation, Anduro Holdings paid about $400, 000 in fees. Datelle personally made two payments of roughly $50, 000 each, although he said that any money that he paid was a loan to Anduro Holdings. An entity called Buona Fortuna in which Datelle owned an interest also paid some of the fees.

         At some point, with the defendants' consent, Epstein, Becker & Green withdrew from the representation in federal court because the defendants owed more than $500, 000 in fees. The law firm then filed this lawsuit, alleging that under the Joint Representation Letter Agreement, the three defendants were jointly and severally liable for the outstanding fees.

         Anduro Holdings consented to the entry of judgment against it, and the case proceeded to trial against La Famiglia and Datelle. The jury returned a verdict in favor of Epstein, Becker & Green, awarding damages of $522, 489.66 against each defendant. The trial court granted the defendants' ...


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