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In re Estate of Branson

Court of Chancery of Delaware

April 22, 2014

In the Matter of Estate of Dorothea Branson

Vincent Branson, pro se 7008 Braeburn Court Bethesda, MD 20817Vincent Branson, pro se 7008 Braeburn Court Bethesda, MD 20817

Shannon Owens, Esquire Moore & Rutt, P.A. 122 West Market Street Georgetown, Delaware 19947

Dear Litigant and Counsel:

This letter represents the final installment, at least in its current incarnation, of protracted and unfortunate litigation involving the real property and estate of Dorothea Branson. On April 30, 2013, at Oral Argument on Mr. Branson's Exceptions to the Final Accounting of the Estate, I found that Mr. Branson lacked standing to prosecute exceptions, and that, for reasons expressed in that bench ruling, his litigation was vexatious and frivolous. At that time, counsel sought a ruling that attorney's fees and expenses be shifted from the estate to Mr. Branson. Since I found that Mr. Branson's Exceptions were frivolous and that he lacked standing to proceed, I deemed it appropriate to shift fees under the bad faith exception to the American Rule.[1] I asked counsel for the estate to submit an affidavit of reasonable fees in connection with defending Mr. Branson's Exceptions.

Counsel for the estate filed an Affidavit of Fees on May 3, 2013, requesting $5, 252.50 in fees and expenses. Mr. Branson did not respond to counsel's request.

Meanwhile, Mr. Branson pursued an appeal of my decision that he lacked standing to bring Exceptions to the Final Accounting. That matter was pending until March 18, 2014, at which point Mr. Branson's appeal was dismissed as interlocutory, in light of the fact that the fee issue referred to above remained pending.

On April 3, 2014, I directed Mr. Branson to notify me of any opposition to the fees requested by April 18, 2014. This Court received a response, dated April 16, in which Mr. Branson takes the position that he is entitled to attorney's fees due to the executor's purported misconduct. In his letter, however, Mr. Branson does not contest the amount of fees requested by counsel for the estate, despite being afforded the opportunity to do so.[2]

The only remaining issue is thus whether the fees requested by the attorney for the estate are reasonable. Upon review of counsel's Affidavit of Fees and the attached breakdown, I find that the attorney's fees requested are reasonable. "Under settled Delaware law, a court is to consider the factors set forth in Delaware Lawyers' Rule of Professional Conduct 1.5 in assessing the reasonableness of attorneys' fees, "[3] which include:

(1) the time and labor required, the novelty and difficulty of the questions involved, and the skill requisite to perform the legal service properly;
(2)the likelihood, if apparent to the client, that the acceptance of the particular employment will preclude other employment by the lawyer;
(3) the fee customarily charged in the locality for similar legal services;
(4)the amount involved and the results obtained;
(5)the time limitations imposed by the client or by the circumstances;
(6) the nature and length of the professional relationship ...

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