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Timothy D. Naegele v. Deanna J. Albers et al

February 21, 2012

TIMOTHY D. NAEGELE, PLAINTIFF,
v.
DEANNA J. ALBERS ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Re Document No.: 102

MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING THE PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR A TEMPORARY RESTRAINING ORDER

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on the plaintiff's motion for a temporary restraining order. The plaintiff is an attorney who contends that the defendants, his former clients, failed to pay him for certain legal services. The defendants maintain that they were overcharged and should not be required to pay for the plaintiff's services. After this fee dispute arose, the defendants sought resolution of this matter via arbitration in California. The plaintiff now moves for a temporary restraining order, asking this court to issue an injunction that would stay any proceedings in the Los Angeles County Superior Court that relate to the arbitration. Because the plaintiff has not demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on the merits or an irreparable injury, the court denies his motion.

II. FACTUAL & PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

A. Statutory Framework

This case involves a fee dispute arising out of an attorney-client relationship that originated in California. See generally Am. Compl. California's Mandatory Fee Arbitration Act, CAL. BUS. & PROF. CODE §§ 6200 et seq., provides the relevant statutory framework for resolving attorney-client fee disputes that originate in California. See Meis & Waite v. Parr, 654 F. Supp. 867, 868 (N.D. Cal. 1987). Specifically, if there is an attorney-client fee dispute, the client has a statutory right to arbitrate the matter. CAL. BUS. & PROF. CODE §§ 6200(b), 6200(c), 6201. If the client chooses to arbitrate, the attorney must join the arbitration proceedings. Id.; see also Meis and Waite, 654 F. Supp. at 686. The result of this arbitration is normally non-binding. Schatz v. Allen Matkins Leck Gamble & Mallory LLP, 198 F.3d 1109, 1118 (Cal. 2009). Accordingly, a party who disagrees with the result reached by the arbitration panel may initiate a lawsuit to challenge the arbitrators' decision. Id. One important exception applies, however; if one of the parties willfully fails to appear at the arbitration hearing, that party cannot later challenge the result in a separate lawsuit. CAL. PROF. & BUS. CODE § 6204(a).

B. Factual & Procedural History

The plaintiff, Timothy D. Naegele, is an attorney who practices in California and Washington, D.C. Am. Compl. ¶ 4. The defendants, Deanna Albers and Raymond Albers II, are two of the plaintiff's former clients. Id. ¶¶ 4-6. After a dispute over legal fees arose between the parties, the plaintiff brought suit in this court. Id. ¶¶ 11-48. At the same time, the defendants elected to initiate arbitration hearings under California's Mandatory Fee Arbitration Act, and a hearing before a panel of arbitrators subsequently took place in Los Angeles, California. Defs.' Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. at 2.*fn1

The plaintiff did not appear at the arbitration panel. Id. Shortly thereafter, the panel ruled against him. Pl.'s Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. to Dismiss, Ex. B, Arbitration Award Opinion ("Arbitration Award") at 1. The panel ruled that the plaintiff was not entitled to recover any fees from the defendants and that the plaintiff had repeatedly pursued meritless litigation at a needlessly great cost. Id. at 7-8. The panel thus concluded that the plaintiff owed the defendants $735,481.32 for legal fees. Id.

In February 2012, the plaintiff filed a motion for a temporary restraining order. See generally Pl.'s Mot. The plaintiff's motion seeks an injunction that would stay any proceedings in the Los Angeles County Superior Court that relate to the arbitration. Id. With that motion now ripe for adjudication, the court turns to the relevant legal standards and the parties' arguments.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Temporary Restraining Order

This court may issue interim injunctive relief only when the movant demonstrates "[1] that he is likely to succeed on the merits, [2] that he is likely to suffer irreparable harm in the absence of preliminary relief, [3] that the balance of equities tips in his favor, and [4] that an injunction is in the public interest." Winter v. Natural Res. Def. Council, Inc., 129 S. Ct. 365, 374 (2008) (citing Munaf v. Geren, 128 S. Ct. 2207, 2218-19 (2008)). It is particularly important for the movant to demonstrate a likelihood of success on the merits. Cf. Benten v. Kessler, 505 U.S. 1084, 1085 (1992) (per curiam). Indeed, absent a "substantial indication" of likely success on the merits, "there would be no justification for the court's ...


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