GULF COAST BANK & TRUST COMPANY, INC.
GILLES J. CASSE, GMD INTERNATIONAL, INC. AND DAMON BALDONE
FROM CIVIL DISTRICT COURT, ORLEANS PARISH NOS. 2010-01908,
2014-11068, DIVISION "L-6" Honorable Kern A. Reese,
A. Ricci Michael S. Ricci Jonathan L. Schultis Brian G. LeBon
RICCI PARTNERS, LLC COUNSEL FOR PLAINTIFF/APPELLEE
J. Baldone Thomas E. Dunn COUNSEL FOR DEFENDANT/APPELLANT
composed of Chief Judge James F. McKay, III, Judge Edwin A.
Lombard, Judge Roland L. Belsome
A. LOMBARD JUDGE.
instant appeal involves a dispute over attorneys' fees
pursuant to a contingency fee agreement between Gulf Coast
Bank and Trust ("GCBT") and the Appellee, Ricci
Partners, LLC ("the Appellee"). The Appellant,
Damon Baldone, seeks review of the district court's
January 10, 2017 judgment wherein it reduced its prior award
of attorneys' fees to the Appellee to $800, 000. Finding
the district court did not abuse its discretion, we affirm.
Appellee represented GCBT in a contract suit filed by GCBT in
2010 against Mr. Baldone in his capacity as a personal
guarantor for obligations that were defaulted upon. In
January 2014, GCBT and the Appellee entered into a
contingency fee agreement.
the trial and while the matter was under advisement in Civil
District Court ("district court"), in May 2014, Mr.
Baldone filed a complaint with the Federal Deposit Insurance
Corporation ("FDIC")- and a similar complaint with
the Louisiana Office of Financial Institutions
("OFI")- seeking damages and penalties for himself
against GCBT as well as the revocation of GCBT's charter.
According to the Appellee, Mr. Baldone's filings
referenced this litigation and asserted that GCBT
purposefully hid or destroyed documents. The FDIC claim
against GCBT was closed in May 2014, after the Appellee
intervened on behalf of GCBT.
following month, Mr. Baldone filed a bar complaint against
Jack A. Ricci ("Mr. Ricci"), who is an attorney
with the Appellee's firm and was representing GCBT, with
the Office of Disciplinary Counsel ("ODC"). The bar
complaint was later dismissed by the ODC.
Baldone then filed a petition for damages on July 23, 2014,
in the 32ndJudicial District Court for the Parish
of Terrebonne, raising spoliation claims against GCBT. Such
claims had previously been raised by Mr. Baldone in a motion
for spoliation of evidence in the district court, but had
been dismissed. As such, on August 4, 2014, GCBT filed a
declinatory exception, which was granted by the
32nd Judicial District Court. The matter was
dismissed and transferred to the district
January 2015, Mr. Baldone filed an amended petition in the
lawsuit that had been transferred from Terrebonne Parish to
the district court and consolidated with the underlying
litigation. GCBT, in response, filed an exception of res
judicata/collateral estoppel to dismiss the new claims raised
in the amended petition.
February 11, 2015, the district court rendered judgment in
favor of GCBT, and granted its declinatory exceptions
dismissing the claims raised in Mr. Baldone's amended
petition. The district court awarded GCBT $2, 109, 221.69,
plus unpaid fees in the amount of $127, 030.85, plus interest
until paid. Lastly, the district court awarded attorneys'
fees to GCBT, pursuant to the contingency fee agreement, in
the amount of 40% of the final judgment, or approximately
Baldone appealed the February 11, 2015 judgment, which was
affirmed in all respects by this Court, except as to the
attorneys' fee award. The attorneys' fee award was
vacated and the matter was remanded to the district court to
conduct a reasonableness hearing. The Supreme Court denied
Mr. Baldone's application for a writ of certiorari on
September 16, 2016.
district court held a reasonableness hearing on August 22,
2016, and later rendered a judgment reducing its award to
$800, 000. Mr. Baldone timely filed the instant appeal. He
raises three assignments of error:
1. The district court erred in awarding attorneys' fees
to the Appellee based on a contingency fee agreement;
2. The district court erred in awarding attorneys' fees
based on an affidavit of counsel for GCBT that it had stopped
billing GCBT after the execution of a contingency fee
3. The district court erred in accepting the Appellee's
misleading representations of the number of hours spent in
prosecuting GCBT's case.
of Review and Applicable Law
trial court has much discretion in fixing an award of
attorneys' fees, and its award will not be modified on
appeal absent a showing of an abuse of discretion.
Whitney Bank v. NOGG, L.L.C., 15-1399, pp. 6-7
(La.App. 1 Cir. 6/3/16), 194 So.3d 819, 824 (citing
Regions Bank v. Automax USA, L.L.C., 02-1755, p. 4
(La.App. 1 Cir. 6/27/03), 858 So.2d 593, 595. The trial
court's determination of whether a fee is clearly
excessive is a factual question which will not be disturbed
absent manifest error. Teche Bank and Trust Co. v.
Willis, 93-732 (La.App. 3d Cir. 02/02/94), 631 So.2d
First Circuit recently set forth the role of Louisiana courts
in reviewing contracts executed between attorneys and their
clients involving the amount of attorneys' fees charged:
Further, "[c]ourts are vested with the responsibility of
both monitoring and analyzing the attorney-client
relationship, even when it is based on a written contract
between the parties." In re Interdiction of
DeMarco, 2009-1791 (La.App. 1 Cir. 4/7/10), 38 So.3d
417, 427. However, that responsibility must be carried out
with restraint, especially when the parties have signed a
contract that sets the terms of the attorney-client
relationship. DeMarco, 38 So.3d at 427. Part of any
attorney-client relationship is the fee the attorney may
charge the client for professional services. Any
court-ordered reduction in an attorney's fee must rest
upon a factual finding that the excessive fee amount was
never earned.DeMarco, 38 So.3d at 427.