On Jan. 16, a Fort Worth jury awarded the plaintiffs in a breach of contract and declaratory judgment case nearly $4 million in “attorney fees” — the central question the court asked jurors to address.

Plaintiffs’ lawyer Ralph Duggins “almost jumped from his chair” when the jury announced the verdict, recalls his co-counsel Nancy Scher Cohen, a partner in the Los Angeles office of Proskauer Rose.

Duggins, a senior partner in Fort Worth’s Cantey Hanger, says his clients in Wells Fargo Bank, et al. v. West Coast Life Insurance Co. are trustees for life insurance policies. They sued West Coast Life Insurance Co. in the 153rd District Court in Tarrant County and prevailed in a series of summary judgment rulings, he says. The judge then scheduled a trial to determine attorneys’ fees.

The week-long trial to determine attorneys’ fees in Wells Fargo began on Jan. 9. In the jury charge, the court asked the panel to consider several questions:

Were the plaintiffs represented by counsel?

Did the plaintiffs present their claims to the defendant?

Did the defendant fail to comply within 30 days?

And what was a reasonable fee for the plaintiffs’ attorneys who pursued the breach of contract and declaratory judgment claims?

Edward Holt, a shareholder in the Birmingham, Ala., office of Maynard, Cooper & Gale who represents the defendant, says Texas Civil Practice & Remedies Code §38.001 requires those questions to be answered when determining attorneys’ fees in a breach of contract claim.

The jury awarded the plaintiffs $3.76 million in fees for legal services the plaintiffs’ lawyers provided for the breach of contract claim, and up to $205,000 in fees for future appeals. The jury also awarded $3.02 million in fees for legal services provided for the declaratory judgment claims and up to $205,000 in fees for future appeals. [See the verdict.]

The plaintiffs must choose whether to recover attorneys’ fees under their breach of contract claim or their declaratory judgment claims “because there is no double recovery,” Cohen says.

Duggins says the plaintiffs’ lawyers logged 10,000 hours on the complicated litigation. Cohen says in the fees case, Duggins had to testify about the value of their lawyering.

“There is not final judgment yet,” Holt says. “We intend to appeal the verdict and the underlying rulings on merit.”

To suggest a Litigator of the Week,email cmcgushin@alm.com.

Previous Litigators of the Week:

Litigator of the Week: $1.9 Million in Negligence Case
Litigator of the Week: No-Show No Problem
Litigator of the Week: Take-Nothing Verdict
Litigator of the Week: Termite Trouble
Litigator of the Week: Proof and Loser Pays
Litigator of the Week: Arbitration Acumen
Litigator of the Week: An Emotional Win
Litigator of the Week: The Peanut Butter Warehouse Lofts Project
Litigator of the Week: Devon’s Data-Driven Suit
Litigator of the Week: Man on a Mission
Litigator of the Week: RICO Suave
Litigator of the Week: Drill Rig Mast Collapse
Litigator of the Week: Last of the Water-Damage Cases?
Litigator of the Week: Victory Over the Tax Man
Litigator of the Week: $3.2 Million Victory
Litigator of the Week: Kevin Hedges
Litigator of the Week: Sink Re-Enactment Critical to Win
Litigator of the Week: The Man With a Plan
Litigator of the Week: Victory Is Sweet
Litigator of the Week: A Trade Secrets Test
Litigator of the Week: Do-Over More Than Doubles Award
Litigator of the Week: Aftermath of Hurricane Ike
Litigator of the Week: Gone, But Not Forgotten
Litigators of the Week: $60 Million More
Litigator of the Week: Patent War Chest
Litigator of the Week: A Pound of Flesh