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Walker v. Giuffre

Supreme Court of New Jersey

October 25, 2011, Argued; January 25, 2012, Decided

A-72 September Term 2010, 066969, A-100 September Term 2010, 067267

Opinion

 [*127]  [**1179]   JUSTICE HOENS delivered the opinion of the Court.

] Courts in New Jersey have traditionally adhered to the American Rule as the principle that governs attorneys' fees. This guiding concept provides that, absent authorization by contract, statute or rule, each party to a litigation is responsible for the fees charged by his or her attorney. Fees charged by one's own attorney, of course, must comply with our Rules of Professional Conduct, see RPC 1.5, and fees awarded by courts, regardless of  [*128]  their basis, are governed by principles of reasonableness, see R. 4:42-9; see, e.g., Litton Indus., Inc. v. IMO Indus., Inc., 200 N.J. 372, 386, 982 A.2d 420 (2009) (commenting upon reasonableness in contract-based fee award).

Notwithstanding our continued adherence to the American Rule, there are numerous  [***12] statutes that include fee-shifting provisions. Those statutes do not define the method for quantification of fees, but uniformly are in accord with the overarching principles of reasonableness that we have fixed. As a result, over time, we have provided guidance and direction to our courts to utilize in considering fee applications brought pursuant to fee-shifting statutes.

Today we are called upon to consider the principles that govern attorneys' fee awards arising from statutory fee-shifting provisions anew, and we do so in the context of two separate appeals. Each of these appeals raises a threshold challenge to the continued validity of the "contingency enhancement" that this Court first adopted nearly two decades ago in the context of a fee-shifting provision, N.J.S.A. 10:5-27.1, found in our Law Against Discrimination (LAD), N.J.S.A. 10:5-1 to -49; see Rendine v. Pantzer, 141 N.J. 292, 316-45, 661 A.2d 1202 (1995). Each appeal arises from the Appellate Division's decision that recent guidance from the United States Supreme Court rejecting contingency enhancements now precludes our courts from including them in awards made pursuant to any of our statutory fee-shifting provisions. Walker v. Giuffre, 415 N.J. Super. 597, 601, 2 A.3d 1165 (App.Div.2010)  [***13] (citing and construing Perdue v. Kenny A., 559 U.S. 542, 130 S. Ct. 1662, 176 L. Ed. 2d 494 (2010)). Although the two appeals arise in the context of different fee-shifting statutes and although each confronts this Court with its own unique challenges, because they present one overarching question concerning the continuing validity of the Rendine approach, we have elected to consolidate them for the purpose of issuing this single opinion.

Having considered the arguments of the parties to these appeals concerning the ] continuing validity of the Rendine framework both  [*129]  generally and as it relates to contingency enhancements, and having further considered the contrary approach to fee-shifting utilized by the United States Supreme Court in Perdue, we hold that the mechanisms for awarding fees, including contingency enhancements, that we adopted in Rendine shall remain in full force and effect as the governing principles for attorneys' fee awards made pursuant to fee-shifting provisions in our state statutes and rules. That holding notwithstanding, these appeals have made it apparent that some of the principles set forth in Rendine are in need of further explanation so that our trial courts  [***14] may properly apply them and, in the process, create adequate records for review on appeal.  [**1180]  We therefore both reiterate and explain the principles that shall henceforth govern such awards.

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209 N.J. 124 *; 35 A.3d 1177 **; 2012 N.J. LEXIS 15 ***

MAY L. WALKER, ON BEHALF OF HERSELF AND ALL OTHERS SIMILARLY SITUATED, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, v. CARMELO GIUFFRE, INDIVIDUALLY, CARMELO GIUFFRE, D/B/A BAY RIDGE AUTOMOTIVE MANAGEMENT CORP., ROUTE 22 AUTO SALES, INC., ROUTE 22 AUTOMOBILES, INC., HUDSON AUTO SALES, INC., FREEHOLD AUTO SALES, INC., FREEHOLD AUTOMOTIVE LIMITED INC., AND FREEHOLD JEEP/EAGLE, INC., DEFENDANTS, AND ROUTE 22 NISSAN, INC., DEFENDANT-RESPONDENT.BOBBIE HUMPHRIES, PLAINTIFF-APPELLANT, v. POWDER MILL SHOPPING PLAZA AND HOLLY GARDENS, INC., DEFENDANTS-RESPONDENTS.

Prior History:  [***1] On certification to the Superior Court, Appellate Division, whose opinion is reported at 415 N.J. Super. 597, 2 A.3d 1165 (2011). (A-72-10, Walker v. Guiffre). On certification to the Superior Court, Appellant Division. (A-100-10, Humphries v. Powder Mill Shopping Plaza).

Humphries v. Powder Mill Shopping Plaza & Holly Gardens, Inc., 2010 N.J. Super. Unpub. LEXIS 2664 (App.Div., Nov. 4, 2010)Walker v. Giuffre, 415 N.J. Super. 597, 2 A.3d 1165, 2010 N.J. Super. LEXIS 181 (App.Div., 2010)

CORE TERMS

enhancement, contingency, lodestar, fee-shifting, spaces, calculation, Shopping, handicap, hourly, expended, guidelines, prevailing, settlement, ramp, discovery, reiterate, curb, certification, Disabilities, forty-five, nonpayment, equitable, partial

Civil Procedure, Attorney Fees & Expenses, Basis of Recovery, American Rule, Legal Ethics, Client Relations, Attorney Fees, Excessive Fees, Costs & Attorney Fees, Reasonable Fees, Statutory Awards, Contingency Fees, Preliminary Considerations, Equity, Relief, Governments, Courts, Judicial Precedent