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Becka v. Dieterich

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

April 24, 2015

DANIEL J. BECKA & LAW OFFICES of DANIEL J. BECKA, LLC, Plaintiffs,
v.
CHRISTOPHER H. DIETERICH, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

HARRY D. LEINENWEBER, District Judge.

At issue is whether two retainer agreements that refer to all represented parties as the "Clients" impose joint and several liability on one individual client, Defendant Christopher H. Dieterich ("Dieterich"). From 2012 to 2014, Plaintiffs Daniel J. Becka and the Law Offices of Daniel J. Becka, LLC (collectively, "Becka") represented Dieterich, along with several other clients, pursuant to two such agreements, the "DGRP Agreement" and the "Superkite Agreement." On October 22, 2014, in an effort to recover unpaid attorneys' fees, Becka filed a Complaint against Dieterich alleging breach of contract. Becka moved for summary judgment on January 20, 2015, prompting Dieterich to file a counter-motion for partial summary judgment on the DGRP Agreement only. For the reasons stated herein, Becka's Motion [ECF No. 8] is granted, but only to the extent it seeks to impose joint and several liability among the "Clients" specifically identified in the retainer agreements. Dieterich's Counter-Motion [ECF No. 18] is denied.

I. BACKGROUND

The Court has derived the following information from the Parties' Local Rule 56.1 statements. Daniel J. Becka, a citizen of Illinois, is a licensed attorney, and the sole member of the Law Offices of Daniel J. Becka, LLC. Christopher H. Dieterich, a California citizen, is also a licensed attorney.

On December 24, 2011, Dieterich, along with Robert Masud, Andrew Bacik, Hayman Private Equity LLC ("HPE"), and Masud & Company, hired Becka to represent them in an action in the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, captioned DGRP Management, LLC et al. v. Roland Husner, et al., No. 11 L 2740 (the "DGRP Action"). Dieterich, Masud, Bacik, and the two corporate entities executed a two-page Retainer Agreement with Becka. The Agreement begins by defining all five parties as the "Clients, " and provides that:

Clients hereby retain Law Firm to provide legal services in connection with the Litigation, which may include, in addition to the defense of the claims asserted by the plaintiffs, the investigation, filing and prosecution of affirmative claims against one or more of the plaintiffs, or others.
Clients will pay Law Firm for the legal services provided at Daniel J. Becka's hourly rate of $450.... In addition to the hourly fees, Clients agree to be responsible for the payment of all out-of-pocket expenses and costs related to Law Firm's representation of Clients....

(DGRP Agreement, Ex. 1 to Pls.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt., ECF No. 10-1.) The DGRP Retainer Agreement makes no mention of how fees or costs are to be apportioned among the "Clients."

Pursuant to the Agreement, Becka represented the clients in the DGRP Action. As a result of Becka's efforts, Dieterich, Masud, and Bacik were dismissed from the action on April 10, 2012 for lack of personal jurisdiction. Through May of 2012, the first five invoices that Becka sent the clients were paid. Becka secured summary judgment on the remaining claims against HPE and ultimately obtained a $5, 000, 000 judgment on a defamation counterclaim in HPE's favor. By that point, Becka had sent fifteen additional invoices. A balance of $69, 634.21 remains outstanding.

On February 18, 2013, Dieterich, Masud, Bacik, and HPE hired Becka to represent them in an action in the Northern District of Illinois, captioned Superkite Pty Limited. v. Ross Glickman, et al., No. 12 C 7754 (the "Superkite Action"). Like the DGRP Agreement, the Superkite Agreement begins by defining all four parties as the "Clients, " and provides that:

Clients hereby retain Law Firm to provide legal services in connection with the Superkite Litigation, and Law Firm agrees to provide such services, under the same terms and conditions as contained in the [DGRP Agreement]....

(Superkite Agreement, Ex. 2 to Pls.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt., ECF No. 10-1.) The Superkite Agreement does not state whether or how fees are to be apportioned among the "Clients."

Becka states that an additional party, Hayman Private Equity Australia Pty Ltd. ("HPE Australia") was later added to the Superkite Agreement, a fact that Dieterich disputes. There is only one piece of evidence supporting the addition of HPE Australia to the Superkite Agreement as a fifth party - a March 7, 2013 email exchange between Becka and Dieterich. Becka asks Dieterich, Masud, and Bacik whether they foresee any potential conflict in Becka's representation of HPE Australia, and indicates that if there are no conflicts, he will enter an appearance on behalf of HPE Australia. Dieterich responds: "I have no objection to your representation of the 3 individuals, [HPE], and [HPE] Australia...." (Ex. 3 to Pls.' L.R. 56.1 Stmt., ECF No. 10-1.)

Upon executing the Superkite Agreement, Becka represented Dieterich, Masud, Bacik, HPE, and HPE Australia, and sent them twelve invoices reflecting the fees and costs incurred in connection with the Superkite Action. Although the clients made payments totaling $55, 382.19, a balance of $119, 598.03 remains outstanding. On April 15, 2014, Becka withdrew from representing HPE Australia. On October 21, ...


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