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Walder, Hayden & Brogan, P.A v. Joseph Catullo

July 14, 2011

WALDER, HAYDEN & BROGAN, P.A., PLAINTIFF-RESPONDENT,
v.
JOSEPH CATULLO, DEFENDANT, AND PHILIP J. SCUTIERI, JR., DEFENDANT-APPELLANT.



On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Essex County, Docket No. L-1010-09.

Per curiam.

NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION

Submitted May 25, 2011

Before Judges Fuentes and Ashrafi.

Plaintiff law firm filed a complaint seeking to collect fees and related charges. Defendant Philip Scutieri appeals from a September 10, 2010 order denying his motion for summary judgment and granting plaintiff's cross-motion for summary judgment in the amount of $118,463.16. We affirm.

Viewed most favorably to defendant, see R. 4:46-2(c); Brill v. Guardian Life Ins. Co. of Am., 142 N.J. 520, 540 (1995), the evidence presented in the motions for summary judgment motion revealed the following facts.

Scutieri had a long-standing dispute with Raymond Chambers about family business matters dating back to the time that Scutieri's father died in 1978. Scutieri alleged that Chambers cheated his mother of funds that rightfully belonged to his father's estate. In 2007, Scutieri engaged the services of Joseph Catullo to hire and manage demonstrators to carry pickets in downtown Morristown expressing his views about Chambers and the alleged fraud committed against his family. On December 26, 2007, Scutieri signed and had notarized an "Indemnification Agreement" that stated:

All protestors involved in this demonstration shall be indemnified and held Harmless against any act or omission involving this Peaceful Demonstration against Raymond G. Chambers.

I Philip Scutieri shall personally indemnify and Hold Harmless the undersigned [sic] Joseph G. Catullo of [address] against any adverse Issue that may emanate and/or derive from the above demonstrations against Raymond G. Chambers beginning November 20, 2007.

Demonstrations and picketing occurred in Morristown periodically in late 2007 and 2008. Chambers filed a lawsuit against Catullo and others in the Superior Court for money damages and injunctive relief. Scutieri states he was not a defendant in the Chambers lawsuit, but the record shows that he was a defendant in a subsequently docketed case brought by Chambers. Scutieri was represented in the Chambers litigation by attorney Peter Bennett of the law firm of Giordano, Halleran & Ciesla.

On an unspecified date in early 2008, Bennett called attorney James Plaisted, a partner in the plaintiff firm who was a former colleague of Bennett and long-time friend. Bennett asked Plaisted to represent Catullo in the lawsuit filed by Chambers. He told Plaisted that he represented Scutieri and that Scutieri would pay all fees and costs plaintiff would charge in representing Catullo. He said that Scutieri had signed an indemnity agreement in favor of Catullo that would assure payment of the legal fees.

Plaisted and another partner from the plaintiff law firm met with Catullo, who provided to them a copy of the indemnification agreement signed by Scutieri. Catullo signed a written retainer agreement dated March 4, 2008, setting the terms of representation by plaintiff for the Chambers litigation. In payment of its retainer and additional charges, plaintiff received two bank checks dated March 6, 2008, each for $25,000 and each with a notation that Philip Scutieri was the remitter of the funds.

In the course of the Chambers litigation, plaintiff issued its billing statements to Catullo, not Scutieri. On April 29, 2008, plaintiff received a wire transfer of another $25,000 in payment of its fees from a company associated with Scutieri. After payment of the $75,000 in total, plaintiff received no further payments on its bills.

On October 2, 2008, plaintiff issued a letter in compliance with Rule 1:20A-6 as notification of its fee claim and the client's right to seek arbitration before the District Fee Arbitration Committee. The letter was addressed to Catullo, but plaintiff also sent a copy by certified mail to Scutieri at his ...


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