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Greto v. Messa

Superior Court of Delaware

July 23, 2018

ALBERT M. GRETO, Plaintiff,
v.
JOSEPH L. MESSA, JR & ASSOCIATES, P.C. and JOSEPH MESSA, JR., JENIMAE ALMQUIST ENGELBRECHT, RICHARD JOHN HELENIAK and LEE DAVID ROSENFELD, Defendants.

          Submitted: May 18, 2018

         On Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment. GRANTED, in part and DENIED, in part.

          ORDER

          Calvin L. Scott, Jr. Judge.

         This action arises out of a claim for breach of contract. Plaintiff Albert M. Greto (Greto) alleges that he contracted to serve as Delaware counsel for the Messa & Associates Law Firm (Messa Firm) in several matters before Delaware Courts. The complaint was filed in January 2017. Defendants filed this Motion for Summary Judgement arguing Greto's claims are barred by the statute of limitations and individual Messa Firm associates cannot be held individually liable for actions taken as agents or employees of the Messa Firm.

         Background

         In late 2010, Greto was contacted by Richard Heleniak from the Messa Firm to serve as Delaware counsel for two cases pending before the this Court.[1] Greto was substituted as Delaware counsel on January 5, 2011 for the consolidated action of these two cases.[2] Greto served as counsel for at least two actions filed in Delaware Courts for which Messa attorneys were admitted on a pro hac vice basis.[3] Sometime in 2013 the relationship began to sour and Greto sought to discontinue the relationship with the Messa Firm and its various associates. Greto now seeks payment for his representation in these matters.

         Standard of Review

         The Court may grant summary judgment if "the pleadings, depositions, answers to interrogatories, and admissions on file, together with the affidavits, if any, show that there is no genuine issue as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to summary judgment as a matter of law."[4] The moving party bears the initial burden of showing that no material issues of fact are present.[5] Once such a showing is made, the burden shifts to the non-moving party to demonstrate that there are material issues of fact in dispute.[6] In considering a motion for summary judgment, the Court must view the record in a light most favorable to the non-moving party.[7] The Court will not grant summary judgment if it seems desirable to inquire more thoroughly into the facts in order to clarify the application of the law.[8]

         Parties Assertions

         Plaintiff Greto claims he served as Delaware counsel for the Messa Firm in four cases before Delaware Courts. Two of these cases were before this Court and two cases were before the United States District Court for the District of Delaware. Greto claims the parties entered into an agreement for each case whereby he would be reimbursed for all costs and expenses related to work as Delaware counsel incurred on behalf of the Messa Firm. Greto claims breach of contract, unjust enrichment, and quantum meruit for each of the four cases for which he served as Delaware counsel. The claims are leveled at the Messa Firm and the respective Messa attorneys admitted pro hac vice for each individual case.

         Defendants have denied that Greto was Delaware counsel for the four cases before Delaware Courts. Defendants also deny contracting with Greto, and dispute that any fees are owed to Greto. Defendants move for summary judgment asserting Greto's claims are barred by the statute of limitations and that the Messa attorneys at all times were acting as agents or employees of the Messa Firm.

         In response to this motion Plaintiff has submitted correspondence from Defendant Messa showing that an agreement for payment existed, the terms of which seem to be contradictory. In a letter dated April 15, 2014, Defendant Messa states Greto could expect his "reasonable bills (for billable time) [would] be paid at the time the matters [were] concluded."[9] The letter seems to indicate that payment would be made regardless of outcome. A second letter dated April 23, 2015, appears to contradict this stating Greto would receive contingency fees for contingency cases.[10]

         Additionally, Plaintiff responds that individual Defendants Messa, Heleniak, and Rosenfeld are partners in the Messa Firm, a professional corporation, and therefore may be held individually liable for the debts of the firm. Plaintiff concedes Defendant Almquist is not a partner in the Messa Firm and summary judgment is proper as to her as an individual.

         Discussion

         This Court has repeatedly held "a cause of action for breach of contract accrues at the time of the breach."[11] In the instant case Greto claims to not have been paid for services rendered under the several agreements entered into. The letters from Defendant Messa indicate the Messa Firm would only perform its contractual obligation to compensate Greto upon conclusion of a case. Plaintiff has submitted evidence reflecting the following termination dates for three of the cases in question: March 19 and 25 2015, and February 26, 2016. The Complaint in this case was filed on January 30, 2017, ...


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