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Rff Family Partnership v. Link Development, LLC

United States District Court, D. Massachusetts

March 31, 2015

RFF FAMILY PARTNERSHIP, LP, Plaintiff,
v.
LINK DEVELOPMENT, LLC and STEVEN A. ROSS, individually and in his capacity as Trustee of BD Lending Trust, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM & ORDER

NATHANIEL M. GORTON, District Judge.

This pending motion for attorneys' fees is the latest installment in this protracted litigation involving ownership of a 22-acre, undeveloped commercial property in Saugus, Massachusetts ("the Property"). The lawsuit centers on a threeway dispute between RFF Family Partnership LP ("RFF"), Steven A. Ross, individually and in his capacity as trustee of BD Lending Trust ("Ross") and Link Development, LLC ("Link") as to the ramifications of two contradictory settlement agreements made by BD Lending Trust ("BD Lending") in 2012. The Court presided over a six-day jury trial in January, 2015, wherein, inter alia, RFF prevailed against Ross on its claim brought under the Massachusetts Consumer Protection Act, M.G.L. c. 93A ("Chapter 93A"). RFF's motion seeks to recover the fees and costs it purportedly incurred in prosecuting its Chapter 93A claim. Specifically, RFF is seeking attorneys' fees in the amount of $191, 029 and costs in the amount of $3, 229. For the following reasons, the motion will be allowed, in part, and denied, in part.

I. Background

The facts of this complex case have been described at length in previous orders issued by this Court. See, e.g., RFF Family P'ship, LP v. Link Dev., LLC, Nos. 11-cv-10968-NMG, 14cv-10065-NMG, 2014 WL 5151521, at *1-6 (D. Mass. Sept. 30, 2014). Therefore, the Court will summarize here only the salient facts relevant to this Memorandum & Order.

In November, 2012, RFF entered into a settlement agreement with BD Lending that called for BD Lending to discharge the underlying mortgage on the Property ("the BD Mortgage"). That settlement agreement resolved all of the claims asserted by RFF against BD Lending in a previously-filed case in this Court ("the 2011 federal case") and, had the terms of the settlement been performed, would have provided RFF unencumbered title to the Property. BD Lending failed, however, to discharge the BD Mortgage, claiming it was impossible to do so because Link had impermissibly recorded an assignment of the BD Mortgage in violation of a written settlement agreement between BD Lending and Link executed in June, 2012.

In January, 2014, RFF filed the instant action against Ross and Link, seeking 1) a declaratory judgment that the BD Mortgage was void (Count I) and 2) monetary damages against both defendants for slander of title (Count IV) and against Ross for breach of contract (Count II), negligent and/or intentional misrepresentation (Count III) and for violating Chapter 93A, §§ 2 and 11 (Count V).

In September, 2014, the Court issued a lengthy opinion ruling on a myriad of motions in both the instant case and the 2011 case. In that opinion, the Court, inter alia, allowed Link's motion for partial summary judgment and judicially estopped RFF from contesting the validity of the BD Mortgage. Accordingly, Counts I and IV of RFF's complaint were dismissed. The Court also allowed, in part, RFF's motion for partial summary judgment and held Ross in breach of contract for failing to discharge the BD Mortgage as called for in the November, 2012 settlement agreement between RFF and BD Lending.[1] Therefore, the remaining issues with respect to RFF's complaint were 1) the amount of damages, if any, owed by BD Lending Trust to RFF for its breach of contract and 2) RFF's claims against Ross for negligent and/or intentional misrepresentation and violating Chapter 93A.[2]

In January, 2015, the Court held a six-day jury trial. On January 21, 2015, the jury returned a verdict that, inter alia, found Ross liable for both misrepresentation and for violating Chapter 93A, although it determined that Ross's violation of that statute was not willful or knowing. The jury, however, awarded RFF only nominal damages in the amount of one dollar on each of the breach of contract, misrepresentation and Chapter 93A claims. It also found Ross personally liable for both the misrepresentation and the 93A violation.

On February 4, 2015, pursuant to M.G.L. c. 93A, § 11, RFF filed the instant motion seeking to recover $194, 258 in attorneys' fees and costs it purportedly incurred in prosecuting its Chapter 93A claim.

II. Attorneys' Fees and Costs

A. Legal Standard

Chapter 93A, § 11(6) of the Massachusetts General Laws establishes that a prevailing party is entitled to recover "reasonable attorneys' fees and costs incurred" in connection with its action. The amount of reasonable attorneys' fees recoverable under Chapter 93A is largely within the Court's sound discretion. NASCO, Inc. v. Public Storage, Inc., 127 F.3d 148, 154 (1st Cir. 1997) (citations omitted).

The factors for the Court to consider in determining reasonable attorneys' fees include: 1) the nature of the case and issues presented, 2) the time and labor required, 3) the amount of damages involved, 4) the result obtained, 5) the experience, reputation, ability and competence of the attorney, 6) the usual price charged for similar services by other attorneys in the same area and 7) the amount of awards in similar cases. See, e.g., Twin Fires Inv., LLC v. Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., 837 N.E.2d 1121, 1138 (Mass. 2005) (citing Linthicum v. Archambault, 398 N.E.2d 482, 488 (Mass. 1979), overruled in part on other grounds by Knapp Shoes, Inc. v. Sylvania Shoe Mfg. Corp., 640 N.E.2d 1101 (Mass. 1994)). See also Trenwick Am. Reinsurance Corp. v. IRC, Inc., 2011 WL 2009919, at *2 (D. Mass. May 23, 2011) (explaining that reasonable attorneys' fees under Chapter 93A are determined using "less structured, more flexible approach" identified in Linthicum, rather than more formal lodestar method). No single factor is determinative and, although helpful, the Court need not engage in a factor-by-factor analysis. Incase, Inc. v. Timex Corp., 421 F.Supp.2d 226, 242-43 (D. Mass. 2006) (citing Berman v. Linnane, 748 N.E.2d 466, 469 ...


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