January 23, 2012
SHANTA WARTHEN, BY PHOENIX PHYSICAL MEDICINE, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT,
HIGH POINT INSURANCE COMPANY, DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.
On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Special Civil Part, Camden County, Docket No. DC-020376-10.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Submitted January 9, 2012
Before Judges Grall and Skillman.
Shanta Warthen was injured in an automobile accident on May 19, 2006. Following the accident, she received medical treatment from Phoenix Physical Medicine.
At the time of the accident, Warthen had an automobile insurance policy issued by defendant High Point Insurance Company that provided personal injury protection (PIP) coverage. Warthen assigned her claim for PIP benefits to Phoenix.
After High Point rejected Phoenix's claim for $516.06 worth of medical services provided to Warthen, Phoenix submitted this claim to arbitration. The arbitrator found that $292.03 of the disputed medical services had been necessary but that the remainder had not been. Consequently, the arbitrator made an award of $292.03 in Phoenix's favor. The arbitrator awarded Phoenix an additional $1,375 for attorneys fees and $240 for the costs of the arbitration.
High Point paid the award for attorneys fees and costs directly to the law firm of Wallace & Legome, which filed the demand for arbitration on behalf of Phoenix. This check was endorsed and deposited into the law firm's bank account.
Plaintiff Shanta Warthen by Phoenix Physical Medicine subsequently filed this action in the Special Civil Part seeking recovery of the $1,615 awarded by the arbitrator for attorneys fees and costs. Plaintiff alleged that High Point had disbursed the payment for this amount to the wrong law firm because Harris Legome, the attorney who filed the claim for arbitration on plaintiff's behalf while a member of Wallace & Legome, subsequently left that law firm and joined another law firm, Friedman, Spalletta & Legome, which represented plaintiff at the hearing before the arbitrator. No substitution of attorney or other formal notice of this change of attorney was given to High Point. However, plaintiff alleged that the attorney representing High Point had to have known of the change because plaintiff filed various papers under the name of the new law firm in the arbitration proceeding and that this knowledge should be imputed to High Point.
High Point filed a motion for summary judgment dismissing plaintiff's complaint, which the trial court granted. Plaintiff filed a motion for reconsideration, alleging that it had not received High Point's motion. The trial court reconsidered and reaffirmed its decision dismissing plaintiff's complaint. The court concluded that if Friedman, Spalletta and Legome was entitled to some or all of the award for attorneys fees and costs that had been paid to Harris & Legome, this dispute should be resolved between the two law firms,*fn1 but did not provide any basis for plaintiff to obtain an additional recovery against High Point.
We affirm the judgment dismissing plaintiff's complaint substantially for the reasons expressed by the trial court. Plaintiff's arguments do not warrant any additional discussion.
R. 2:11-3(e)(1)(E). We only note that it appears some of the legal work involved in this arbitration proceeding was performed while Harris Legome was still a partner in Wallace & Legome.