(Photo: Lauren Welles)

A former Duane Morris client is seeking nearly $700,000 from the firm claiming it misrepresented how much it would cost for the firm to represent him.

Edward Zaloga, a doctor from Moosic, sued the firm and attorneys Anthony Gallia and James J. Halligan June 15 in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

Zaloga, who had retained the firm to pursue First Amendment claims against several members of Moosic’s municipal government, claimed that the firm went over its initially agreed upon budget by more than $600,000. Zaloga raised negligence, breach of contract, breach of fiduciary duty and negligent misrepresentation claims.

Peter Buckley of Fox Rothschild, who is representing Duane Morris, declined to comment.

Patrick Gibson of Gibson & Perkins, who is representing the plaintiffs, said, “We believe in the merits and the strength of the case and we’re optimistic about a successful outcome.”

According to the complaint, Zaloga was friends with Gallia’s parents, and so, after a dispute arose between Zaloga and the Moosic Borough Council, zoning adjustment board and borough planning commission, he hired Gallia and Duane Morris to pursue a claim alleging deprivation of free speech under 42 U.S.C. Section 1983, retaliation and conspiracy.

According to Zaloga’s complaint, the firm drafted a litigation budget estimating $255,750 to take the case through post-trial motions.

However, according to the complaint, at the time the suit was filed, neither Gallia, Halligan, nor any other attorney at Duane Morris had represented clients on 1983 claims. Zaloga further alleged that nobody at the firm told him that there was almost no chance recovery on a First Amendment retaliation claim would not net enough to cover the budgeted fees.

“At no time did defendants advise plaintiffs that even if plaintiff prevailed, the amount of damages they might recover including attorney fees, would be far less than he would have paid defendants, or that in fee shifting cases, the courts generally do not grant a recovery for all services performed by attorneys, nor do the courts generally accept the rates charged by attorneys as the rate for the award, or allow the use of multiple attorneys,” Zaloga said in the complaint.

According to the complaint, the federal judge presiding over the underlying case tossed most of the claims in mid-2011. Additional allegations were added, but, the case was dismissed in May 2013, the complaint said, and after a third amended complaint was filed in 2014, the Moosic defendants filed for summary judgment.

By this point, according to the complaint, Duane Morris’ total charges for the work exceeded $900,000.

The complaint said that, in January 2015, after the summary judgment motions were briefed, the defendants moved to withdraw from representing Zaloga, and argued Zaloga owed $300,000 to the firm.

Zaloga hired additional counsel to represent him on the First Amendment claims, but he eventually lost the suit, the complaint said.

Zaloga’s complaint alleged that the underlying case should never have been filed in the first place, and that the Duane Morris attorneys had a duty to re-evaluate their fee agreement after each summary judgment decision.

In total, the complaint asks for $682,120 in attorney fees and litigation expenses, some of which stem from the subsequent attorney’s handling of the underlying case.

Max Mitchell can be contacted at 215-557-2354 or mmitchell@alm.com. Follow him on Twitter @MMitchellTLI.