Case Conclusion Date: 02.27.2008
Practice Area: Appeals
Outcome: PLAINTIFF WINS AT MARYLAND’S HIGHEST COURT
Description: On February 27, 2008, The Maryland Court of Appeals issued its second ruling in favor of Mr. Goldsmith’s client, Joy Friolo, on the issue of attorneys' fees. The decision was noted in The Daily Record newspaper and the oral argument can be viewed at http://www.youtube.com/watch? Ms. Friolo originally brought claims against Defendants Dr. Douglas Frankel and the Maryland/Virginia Med Trauma Group for unpaid bonuses and overtime. The case was tried over two days, June 25-26, 2001, before the Honorable Judge DeLawrence Beard. The jury awarded Ms. Friolo $11,778.85.00 for unpaid bonuses/breach of contract, and unpaid overtime, finding the Defendants both liable on all questions of liability presented to them. After the defendant’s unsuccessful Motion for New Trial by the Defendants, the parties litigated the attorneys' fees to be paid by the Defendant. Ignoring our fee petition seeking lodestar fees- the reasonable hourly rate times the number of hours reasonably expended on the representation, Judge Beard awarded forty percent of the verdict, which came to approximately $4,700.00, or approximately $17.00 per hour. After we appealed the fee ruling to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, the Court of Appeals granted sua sponte certiorari-- meaning, it took the case without being asked. The question presented to the Maryland Court of Appeals was whether the Circuit Court judge erred in failing to apply the "lodestar" to an attorneys' fees petition under the Maryland Wage Payment and Overtime laws, and instead awarding forty percent of the judgment. The Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Ms. Friolo, stating that the purpose of the attorneys' fees provisions in the statutes is to enable individuals whose rights under the statutes have been violated to obtain counsel, even when their claims may be for small sums of money. In this regard, the Court recognized that the fee award may properly be higher than the damages amount in certain circumstances, and referred generally to the existence of federal precedent on that point. The employer attempted to convince the Court to treat the (wage payment) case differently from a civil rights case, but the Court declined to adopt any such distinction. The Court also rejected the notion that the statutes' "permissive" language (that fees may be awarded) could in any way undermine the fact that the purpose is remedial and that the usual result when the Plaintiff wins should be an award of fees. After the case was returned to the trial court, the defendant, Dr. Douglas Frankel, prevailed in 2006 at the intermediate appellate court, in arguing that Ms. Friolo was not entitled to shifted attorneys’ fees for the effort involved in obtaining the earlier victory before the Court of Appeals. However, the Court of Appeals has now reversed that ruling, underscoring the principle that under Maryland's wage payment and overtime laws, a plaintiff is entitled to reasonable fees for the efforts necessary to obtain any of her remedies, including attorneys' fees. After further litigation in the lower courts, Dr. Frankel filed for bankruptcy. Mr. Goldsmith represented Ms. Friolo’s interests before the bankruptcy court, persuading that court to permit resumption of the fees litigation. The Maryland Court of Appeals will be hearing the case for a third time in spring 2014, on the novel issue of whether the fees to be awarded should be reduced on account of the progression of settlement negotiations.