The Battle for Fair Fees: Latham Luna Eden & Beaudine LLP v. Grunow and Harbor Course Properties LLC

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(USA Herald) – In a recent decision, the Eleventh Circuit affirmed a $1 million attorney fee award to Latham Luna Eden & Beaudine LLP (LLEB) in a dispute with their former clients, John E.D. Grunow Jr. and Harbor Course Properties LLC. The case centered around the reasonableness of the fees charged by LLEB following two settlements in an environmental case.

Grunow and Harbor Course Properties LLC argued that the district court wrongly adopted a magistrate judge’s conclusion that they couldn’t challenge the reasonableness of the firm’s fees because of a fee agreement between the parties. However, the Eleventh Circuit panel rejected that argument, stating that when attorney fees are governed by a contractual fee agreement and the client doesn’t “dispute or otherwise question” the amount billed, a court can’t rewrite the agreement based on what it considers to be a reasonable fee.

The clients further alleged that the firm violated their ethical obligation to charge “fair and reasonable fees” by billing for multiple attorneys to attend depositions and meetings, having partners perform tasks that could’ve been performed by paralegals, and charging too much time for simple matters that should’ve taken less time. However, the panel found that, as a matter of law, it is too late for Grunow and Harbor Course to object to the number of hours billed. If they had an issue with the hours they were billed for, the panel said they were required under their fee agreement with the firm to do so within 30 days of receiving the invoice for those hours.

According to court records, LLEB represented Grunow and Harbor Course for nearly 20 years in connection with litigation arising from the improper cutting of mangroves on state land and private property on and near their property in Key Largo, Florida. From 2002 to 2013, records indicate that the clients paid the firm monthly, but as costs of litigation continued to pile up, the parties devised a mixed contingency fee agreement that would allow Grunow and Harbor Course to pay the firm substantially discounted hourly rates each month, while giving the firm the right to impose retrospectively higher hourly rates based on the amount of money it recovered.

The fee agreement, according to the opinion, also provided that the clients were required to notify the law firm within 30 days of receiving an invoice if they disputed the amount charged. Grunow and Harbor Course received 82 invoices from the firm, the panel said, and paid each within 30 days at the reduced hourly rate. After the firm recovered for the clients two settlements, a final invoice for $1.072 million was sent to Grunow and Harbor Course on March 6, 2020, six-and-a-half weeks later, the clients filed an objection to the amount charged.

The case highlights the importance of clear and specific fee agreements in legal representation, as well as the potential consequences of not raising objections to fees in a timely manner. As Samuel Lopez, senior paralegal and investigative reporter for the USA Herald, points out, “the decision serves as a reminder to clients to carefully review and object to any invoice they believe to be excessive within the time frame outlined in their fee agreement with their attorney.”

In conclusion, the Eleventh Circuit’s decision affirms the $1 million attorney fee award to Latham Luna Eden & Beaudine LLP, and serves as a reminder to clients to carefully review and object to any invoice they believe to be excessive within the time frame outlined in their fee agreement with their attorney.