Pittsburgh-based Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott has sued New Jersey-based Powers Kirn over more than $250,000 in unpaid legal fees and the parties are now disputing the appropriate venue for the case.
Eckert Seamans filed the suit against Powers Kirn in the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas in early July. Powers Kirn has now removed the case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.
Eckert Seamans argued in its complaint that Powers Kirn paid some of the legal bills for Eckert Seamans’ services, but has allegedly refused to pay the remaining unpaid balance of $252,573.
Eckert Seamans signed on to represent Powers Kirn in April 2013 as part of a contractual dispute Powers Kirn was having with a Pennsylvania bankruptcy attorney, Gregory Javardian. Powers Kirn and Javardian had created a separate entity, Powers Kirn & Javardian, to handle creditors’ rights matters and expand Powers Kirn’s services into Pennsylvania, according to a filing in the litigation between the New Jersey firm and Javardian.
According to Eckert Seamans’ complaint and the attached engagement letter, the parties agreed Eckert Seamans would work for Powers Kirn on an hourly rate basis and that Eckert Seamans would submit its bills monthly.
According to the engagement letter, Eckert Seamans member Michael A. Wessell would charge an hourly rate of $275. Any associates who worked on the case with him would charge his or her hourly rate for 2013, which could range from $165 to $370 an hour, according to the complaint. Paralegals would charge at a rate of between $110 and $215 an hour, the complaint noted.
Eckert Seamans’ lawyers initially worked on the contractual disputes and then were retained to work on the federal litigation Javardian filed against Powers Kirn in September 2013, according to Eckert Seamans’ complaint. Eckert Seamans said in the filing that it continued to represent Powers Kirn through April 2014 when the dispute between Powers Kirn and Javardian was settled. It handled that representation, Eckert Seamans said, despite not having been paid for all of its work at that point.
The fees incurred were for services such as defending Javardian’s litigation claims, filing counterclaims against Javardian, preliminary injunction pleadings and proceedings, multiple depositions and court hearings along with multiple client meetings and calls, according to the complaint.
Eckert Seamans said Powers Kirn paid a portion of the fees with full knowledge of the hourly rates being charged considering those rates were itemized on the invoices.
Eckert Seamans raised claims of breach of contract and unjust enrichment. Powers Kirn removed the case to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania on Aug. 8. The firm argued that, as the only defendant and a New Jersey-based entity, there was complete diversity jurisdiction between it and Pennsylvania-based Eckert Seamans.
In an answer to the complaint, filed Aug. 11, Powers Kirn did not detail its defenses, but rather simply denied the bulk of the assertions made in Eckert Seamans’ complaint. Powers Kirn did admit that it “has not paid all amounts that plaintiff demands.”
Powers Kirn is represented in the suit by Michael Gentlesk II of Del Duca Lewis in Haddonfield, N.J. Gentlesk did not return a call seeking comment.
Eckert Seamans General Counsel Timothy S. Coon is representing his firm in the dispute. He said it was a simple commercial dispute and declined to comment on why Powers Kirn has not paid the remaining bills.
As to jurisdiction, Coon said he hoped Powers Kirn’s counsel would withdraw the removal request in light of the fact that Eckert Seamans is a limited liability company with partners who live in New Jersey. Coon said it is well-settled law in the Third Circuit that the citizenship of an LLC is the citizenship of where all of its various partners reside.