A Philadelphia lawyer is suing Los Angeles litigation boutique Pierce Bainbridge Beck Price & Hecht, alleging that the firm acted in bad faith by failing to follow through with a $160,000 settlement for attorney fees.
Solo attorney Bruce Chasan filed his complaint Dec. 14 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania against litigator John Pierce and Pierce Bainbridge, where Pierce is a founder and managing partner.
Pierce, a former partner at Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan, Latham & Watkins and K&L Gates, founded Pierce Sergenian in early 2017 with David Sergenian, who has since left. Despite a couple of departures and name changes in quick succession, the firm has grown quickly. Pierce has said he expects that within the next five to seven years, “we’re going to replace Quinn Emanuel as the next dominant global litigation firm, no question.”
According to Chasan’s complaint, former pro footballer and wrestler Lenwood Hamilton engaged Chasan’s firm in December 2016 to represent him in a lawsuit against Epic Games, Lester Speight and Microsoft. Hamilton had alleged that his likeness and voice were used in the video game “Gears of War,” bringing right-of-publicity and other claims. That case is ongoing.
Chasan’s representation of Hamilton was intended to be on a contingent fee basis, the complaint said, except that Hamilton would be required to pay Chasan $450 per hour if he terminated the representation before the underlying litigation resolved.
Chasan looked for a third party to fund the litigation, as Hamilton did not provide enough to pay for all the required expenses, the complaint said. And in March 2018, Chasan met Pierce Bainbridge’s Pierce, the complaint said.
“Chasan proposed to Pierce that if Pierce could provide funding for Hamilton’s right of publicity case, and assist in the litigation, he would split any recovery of a contingent fee with Pierce’s law firm on a 50-50 basis,” the complaint said.
Chasan, Hamilton and Pierce met March 20 to discuss the joint representation, the complaint said, and about a week later, Hamilton terminated Chasan as his lawyer, retaining Pierce instead. The next day, Chasan emailed Pierce to say Hamilton was liable for attorney fees to Chasan of about $320,000.
About a month later, Pierce told Chasan via email that Hamilton was planning to file “‘a multimillion-dollar, eight-figure legal malpractice action against you,” and suggesting they try to reach a settlement. The settlement negotiations began in May, the complaint said, and continued until September.
According to Chasan’s suit, he accepted a $160,000 settlement offer via email in September.
But in late October, when Pierce’s partner Jim Bainbridge sent a final copy of the settlement agreement, it included a change—Hamilton would not be releasing Chasan or his firm from future claims, Chasan’s complaint said.
“Evidently, Hamilton was not willing to release his potential malpractice claims. Chasan had not expected that Hamilton would balk at signing a release,” the complaint said.
Chasan sent Bainbridge a memo and revised settlement agreement in mid-November, the complaint said, which would remove Hamilton as a party to the agreement. But Pierce and his firm have not accepted that proposed settlement.
“Pierce and [his firm] should not be permitted to rely on Hamilton’s refusal to sign a release as a basis for avoiding the settlement they proposed,” Chasan’s complaint said.
Chasan asked the court to enter judgment in the amount of $160,000 plus interest, costs and expenses.
Pierce said in a statement Monday that he plans to contest Chasan’s claims vigorously.
“His shameless attempt to capitalize on the incredible, international press coverage regarding Mr. Hamilton’s lawsuit, as well as another recently filed suit against Epic Games, will not distract us from our duty to our client. We look forward to prevailing on our client’s claims against Microsoft and Epic,” Pierce said.