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11/14/80 Mrs. Lewis W. Hamilton, v. Ford Motor Company Et Al.

November 14, 1980

LEWIS W. HAMILTON, DECEASED, APPELLANT

v.

FORD MOTOR COMPANY ET AL.

v.

THE DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, A MUNICIPAL CORPORATION, ET AL.; MRS. LEWIS W. HAMILTON, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF LEWIS W. HAMILTON, DECEASED, AND AS WIDOW AND NEXT OF KIN OF LEWIS W.

HAMILTON, DECEASED, APPELLANT

v.

THE DYGHTON CORPORATION

v.

MOTOROLA, INC. ET AL.; MRS. LEWIS W. HAMILTON, ADMINISTRATRIX OF THE ESTATE OF LEWIS W. HAMILTON, DECEASED, AND AS WIDOW AND NEXT OF KIN OF LEWIS W.

HAMILTON, DECEASED, APPELLANT

v.

ECONO-CAR INTERNATIONAL, INC. ET AL. NOS. 79-2177 TO 79-2179 1980.CDC.275



Before WRIGHT, Chief Judge, and MIKVA and EDWARDS, Circuit Judges.

UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA CIRCUIT

Mrs. Lewis W. HAMILTON, Administratrix of the Estate of

Appeals from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia (D.C. Civil Action Nos. 75-0232, 75-1449 and 75-1866).

APPELLATE PANEL:

Opinion for the Court filed by Circuit Judge EDWARDS.

DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE EDWARDS

This case is an appeal from a District Court order declaring that a court-ordered award of attorneys' fees should be given directly to the plaintiff's attorneys and not the plaintiff. Because we find that the Retainer Agreement between the plaintiff and her attorneys governed the award, and that the plaintiff fully compensated her attorneys as required by that agreement, we reverse the District Court's order, remanding the case for an order directing that the court-ordered award of attorneys' fees be given to the plaintiff. I. BACKGROUND

The plaintiff in this case, Mrs. Hamilton, hired the law firm of Williams & Connolly, *fn1 to prosecute her claim for the wrongful death of her husband. The Retainer Agreement between Mrs. Hamilton and her attorneys provided that:

I hereby retain the law firm of WILLIAMS, CONNOLLY & CALIFANO to represent me against whomsoever may be liable in my claim for damages arising out of an accident which occurred on or about November 15, 1974 in the District of Columbia concerning my husband, Lewis W. Hamilton, deceased.

I agree that the fee of WILLIAMS, CONNOLLY & CALIFANO for these professional services will be one-third of any amount recovered. *fn2

The fourth paragraph of the agreement provided that Mrs. Hamilton was responsible for the costs of the litigation, regardless of the outcome of the case.

The law firm filed an action on Mrs. Hamilton's behalf against several defendants. During the course of pre-trial discovery, two defendants, Westinghouse and Econo-Car, refused to produce documents that the plaintiff's attorneys had requested. The Magistrate handling discovery issued an order compelling discovery, but the defendants continued to refuse to turn over the documents. The plaintiff's attorneys then filed a motion for default judgment and other relief pursuant to Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.

In ruling on the plaintiff's motion, the Magistrate declined to grant a default judgment, *fn3 but he ordered "the imposition of all reasonable expenses including attorneys' fees incurred by the injured party due to the wrongful acts of the party at fault." J.A. at 5.

Following this order, Williams & Connolly submitted affidavits detailing their expenses and work done relating to the defendants' abuse of discovery. Based on their then-current hourly rates, the lawyers claimed $50,746.50 in attorneys' fees and $2,886.22 in expenses. See Plaintiff's Application for Fees, J.A. at 6; Supplemental Memorandum in Support of Plaintiff's Application for Fees, J.A. at 8. The Magistrate issued an order stating that the "Plaintiff is awarded fifty thousand dollars ($50,000) in reasonable expenses including attorney's fees." J.A. at 39. The District Court later affirmed ...


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