How Many Attorneys Does it Take to …

February 21, 2017 § 3 Comments

… Okay, I’ll spare us all the rest of the joke. But the question does arise from time to time as to how many attorneys can be compensated in an award of attorney’s fees. The oft-heard formula is ” … a fee to compensate one competent attorney …” or words to that effect.

That was one issue in the recent case of Moore v. McDonald, et al., decided by the COA on February 7, 2017. The appellants argued that the chancellor erred by granting attorney’s fees for more than one attorney. The COA rejected the argument in an opinion by Judge Wilson:

¶7. The Moores next assert that the chancellor “erred by assessing attorneys’ fees . . . that cover the costs of more than one attorney.” The Moores argue that Mississippi Supreme Court precedent “clearly sets forth that . . . only a sufficient fee to secure one competent attorney may be granted.” In fact, however, our Supreme Court has rejected this very argument. Coleman & Coleman Enters. Inc. v. Waller Funeral Home, 106 So. 3d 309, 318 (¶27) (Miss. 2012) (“We do not interpret [McKee v. McKee, 418 So. 2d 764 (Miss. 1982),] as having held that attorneys’ fees in Mississippi are limited to the fees of only one lawyer.”); see also Upchurch Plumbing Inc.v. Greenwood Utils. Comm’n, 964 So. 2d 1100, 1116 (¶40) (Miss. 2007) (affirming an award of attorneys’ fees for the work of two attorneys); Mabus v. Mabus, 910 So. 2d 486, 490 (¶13) (Miss. 2005) (same). The Moores do not identify any duplicative time entries or excessive charges. They make only a broad argument that fees for the work of more than one attorney are not recoverable. This argument is contrary to Supreme Court precedent and thus without merit.

You may well question how the above squares with the express language of McKee, wherein the Supreme Court stated, “In determining an appropriate amount of attorneys fees, a sum sufficient to secure one competent attorney is the criterion by which we are directed. Rees v. Rees, 188 Miss. 256, 194 So. 750 (1940).” Well, if you read the Mabus case, cited above, you will see that the MSSC said that the “one competent attorney” language is more about non-duplication than about the number of attorneys involved to produce the result.

You are going to see more of this Moore case in some future posts. Not only is the fact situation interesting, but so are the observations of the chancellor and some of the other holdings.

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