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Hafterlaw, LLC v. Pal

United States District Court, D. Nevada

September 17, 2014

HAFTERLAW, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
NEELU PAL, Defendant.

ORDER

GLORIA M. NAVARRO, Chief District Judge.

Pending before the Court is the Motion to Transfer Venue, (ECF No. 17), filed by Pro Se Defendant Neelu Pal ("Dr. Pal"). Plaintiff HafterLaw, LLC filed a Response, (ECF No. 21), and Dr. Pal filed a Reply, (ECF No. 22).

I. BACKGROUND

This action arises out of a dispute regarding attorney Jacob Hafter's representation of Dr. Pal in two cases that were litigated in New Jersey state and federal courts. (Compl. 4:2-6, ECF No. 4). Dr. Pal first entered into a representation agreement with the Law Office of Jacob Hafter and Associates ("H&A") on June 14, 2012. (Ex. A to Compl., at 9, ECF No. 5). Dr. Pal and H&A executed an amended agreement on November 2, 2012, (the "November Agreement"). (Am. Agreement, ECF No. 17-2). The November Agreement provided, inter alia, that H&A would represent Dr. Pal in two cases that were pending in New Jersey federal and state courts, would receive a fee of 40% of all gross amounts recovered through the litigation, and, if terminated, would be entitled to a receive payment at an hourly rate for the time spent on the litigation. ( Id. at 2-4). Of particular relevance to the instant motion, the November Agreement contained a forum-selection clause stating:

[E]ach of the Parties irrevocably submit [sic] to the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States District Court for the District of Nevada or any court of the State of Nevada located in Clark County in any action suit or proceeding arising out of or relating to this Agreement or any of the transactions contemplated hereby, and agrees that any such action, suit, or proceeding shall be brought only in such court; provided, however, that such consent to jurisdiction is solely for the purpose referred to in this Section 11 [sic] and shall not be deemed to be a general submission to the jurisdiction of said courts or in the State of Nevada other than for such purpose. Each of the Parties hereby irrevocably waives, to the fullest extent permitted by Law, any objection that it may now or hereafter have to the laying of the venue of any such action, suit or proceeding brought in such a court. Each of the Parties further irrevocably waives and agrees not to plead or claim that any such action, suit, or proceeding brought in such a court has been brought in an inconvenient forum.

( Id. at 5).

In February 2013, after discovering that H&A was involved in bankruptcy proceedings, Dr. Pal suggested that the November Agreement be further amended, and sent a proposed draft for Mr. Hafter's approval. (Proposed Am. Agreement at 11-14, ECF No. 17-3). Emails attached to Dr. Pal's Motion indicate that Mr. Hafter subsequently responded that he could not amend the November Agreement without the permission of the bankruptcy trustee. ( Id. ). This exchange ended with Dr. Pal unconditionally stating, "Absent this revised agreement, you are not representing me." ( Id. ). Though Dr. Pal has provided a copy of the proposed amended agreement bearing her signature, there is no indication that Mr. Hafter or any other agent of H&A signed this version.

On April 16, 2013, a jury verdict was entered in Dr. Pal's favor in the New Jersey state case. (Def.'s Motion 5:17-18). For reasons that are not clear from the record, the relationship between Mr. Hafter and Dr. Pal soon deteriorated. In an email sent to Dr. Pal on May 8, 2013, Mr. Hafter stated, "I really don't know what I ever did to hurt you or make you mistrust me. It is really a shame. I think I am going to be withdrawing from the federal case. I will get you an invoice for that shortly. It is clear that we cannot work together." (Ex. 5 to Def.'s Mot. at 2, ECF No. 17-5).

Dr. Pal claims that following this exchange, Mr. Hafter demanded immediate payment in excess of $100, 000 for his work in the New Jersey federal case, but refused to submit an independent audit of the hours billed. (Def.'s Mot. 5:19-20). On May 20, 2013, Dr. Pal sent an email to Mr. Hafter stating, "You are not representing me in any capacity. I WILL NOT communicate any further." (Ex. 6 to Def.'s Mot. at 2, ECF No. 17-6). To which Mr. Hafter replied, "CLEARLY YOU ARE A THIEF AND SOMEONE WHOSE WORD CANNOT BE BELIEVED. An honest person would be willing to live by the agreement which they signed." ( Id. ). Later that evening, Mr. Hafter sent another email stating, "Please be advised that I will be including your husband in the complaint when I sue you, as many of the checks you wrote came from his account, as well." (Ex. 7 to Def.'s Mot. at 2, ECF No. 17-7). Ostensibly, this exchange concluded with an email sent shortly after midnight on May 21, 2013, in which Dr. Pal stated, "Provide all documents, invoices and information that I have repeatedly requested. I will pay you all that is due to you after an audit. Please provide this information that I have requested so many times. I will not communicate with you any more [sic]." (Ex. 6 to Def.'s Mot at 2).

Incidentally, the same day that this exchange took place, Mr. Hafter signed an "Assignment of Case" which purported to transfer the legal representation of Dr. Pal, as well as any rights contained the November Agreement, from H&A to HafterLaw. (Ex. D to Compl., ECF No. 5). This document was not signed by Dr. Pal and there is no indication on the record as to when she received notice of its existence.

HafterLaw filed the instant case on October 1, 2013, in Clark County District Court. (Compl., ECF No. 5). Dr. Pal removed the action on October 23, 2013, citing this Court's diversity jurisdiction pursuant to 28 U.S.C. ยง 1332. (Removal Pet., ECF No. 1).

Despite the pendency of the instant action and numerous protests by Dr. Pal, Mr. Hafter continued to receive payments and distribute funds related to the New Jersey state case on Dr. Pal's behalf. ( See Distribution Letter at 4, ECF 17-13). On October 17, 2013, Mr. Hafter sent a letter to Dr. Pal explaining that out of $2, 118, 156.96 awarded to Dr. Pal in the New Jersey state case, he had deducted $847, 262.78 for legal fees and $52, 900.60 for other fees and costs. ( Id. ). This letter also disclosed that Mr. Hafter withheld $130, 000 based on the legal fees to which he claimed to be entitled for his work on the New Jersey federal case. ( Id. ). On the final page of the distribution letter, Mr. Hafter stated, "[T]o be quite frank, I have made a personal request that you engage in mental health counseling." ( Id. at 4).

In the instant motion, Dr. Pal requests that HafterLaw's claims be dismissed or, in the alternative, transferred to the District of New Jersey. HafterLaw contends that venue is proper in the District of Nevada, and any transfer would be unwarranted. For the reasons stated herein, the Court will ...


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