Slim v. Abuzaid
Memorandum Opinion and Order denying 27 Motion for Summary Judgment; denying 35 Motion for Summary Judgment, as it determines that a genuine dispute of material fact exists regarding the relief requested by Plaintiff in this action. Plaintiff's request for relief in the form of a declaratory judgment will be tried to the court. (Ordered by Judge Sam A Lindsay on 8/28/2017) (epm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
NORTHERN DISTRICT OF TEXAS
JULES P. SLIM,
JOSEPH ABUZAID and
Civil Action No. 3:16-CV-1769-L
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
Before the court is the Motion of Joseph Abuzaid for Summary Judgment (Doc. 27), filed
May 22, 2017; and Plaintiff Jules Slim’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 35), filed June 16,
2017. After considering the motions, briefs, objections, admissible summary judgment evidence,
and applicable law, the court denies the Motion of Joseph Abuzaid for Summary Judgment (Doc.
27); and denies Plaintiff Jules Slim’s Motion for Summary Judgment (Doc. 35), as it determines that
a genuine dispute of material fact exists regarding Plaintiff’s entitlement to the declartory relief
requested in this action.
Factual and Procedural Background
Plaintiff Jules Slim (“Slim” or “Plaintiff”) originally brought this action by intervening in a
state court action filed by Defendant Joseph Abuzaid (“Abuzaid” or “Defendant”) against Muamar
Anani (“Anani”) in the 95th Judicial District Court, Dallas County, Texas. Slim was Abuzaid’s
former counsel in the state court action before moving to withdraw as counsel on December 8, 2014.
Slim intervened in the state court action to enforce his right to payment under a contingency fee
agreement (“Agreement”) executed between him and Abuzaid in March 2014.
Memorandum Opinion and Order - Page 1
Slim asserts that Abuzaid formally and constructively terminated his employment as counsel
in the state court action. Slim, therefore, contends that he is entitled to recover his contingency fee
pursuant to the Agreement because he did not voluntarily withdraw as Abuzaid’s counsel in the state
court action. Abuzaid denies firing Slim.
Slim asserts that, instead of seeking to enforce his right to a 25% lien interest under the
Agreement against any other attorney’s fee award, he seeks a declaration of his rights as a judgment
creditor with respect to his contractual lien interest to secure his interest in any money transmitted
to Abuzaid in satisfaction of the state court judgment. In this regard, Slim requests that:
he be granted judgment creditor status in the abovereferenced cause, and that he
may order execution, writs, and all other remedies available for collection of same,
for up to and including 25% of Abuzaid’s recovery, not including attorneys’ fees of
other attorneys, plus Mr. Slim’s own attorneys’ fees incurred in prosecution of this
intervention, any postjudgment matters, appeal to the Dallas Court of Appeals, or
petition for review to the Texas Supreme Court, plus costs. Plaintiff Slim further
prays that this Court declare his contractual and equitable lien in full force and effect
against both defendants such as to protect his interests.
Pl.’s Am. Compl. 5.* Slim clarifies that he “does not seek attorneys’ fees against Anani provided
Anani does not contest the factual allegations or position asserted [in the Amended Complaint].”
Id. Slim does, however, seek to recover attorney’s fees against Abuzaid “in prosecution of this
declaratory judgment [action] in enforcement of lien interest.” Id. at 4.
On March 30, 2016, a jury entered a verdict in Abuzaid’s favor against Anani in the state
court action. Slim’s action in intervention against Abuzaid was severed from the state court action
so that the judgment entered in that case could become final. On June 24, 2016, Slim removed the
severed action to federal court based on diversity jurisdiction. Slim added Anani as a “Nominal
This portion of Plaintiff’s Amended Complaint appears to have been taken from a prior state court pleading.
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Defendant” in this case on April 13, 2017, out of concern that Abuzaid was attempting to reach a
settlement with Anani to forego all attorney’s fees and any lien interests by attorneys with respect
to the amounts owed under the state judgment. As noted below, Abuzaid and Slim both moved for
summary judgment with respect to the relief requested by Plaintiff.
Summary Judgment Motions
Summary Judgment Standard
Summary judgment shall be granted when the record shows that there is no genuine dispute
as to any material fact and that the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law. Fed. R.
Civ. P. 56(a); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323-25 (1986); Ragas v. Tennessee Gas
Pipeline Co., 136 F.3d 455, 458 (5th Cir. 1998). A dispute regarding a material fact is “genuine”
if the evidence is such that a reasonable jury could return a verdict in favor of the nonmoving party.
Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986). When ruling on a motion for summary
judgment, the court is required to view all facts and inferences in the light most favorable to the
nonmoving party and resolve all disputed facts in favor of the nonmoving party. Boudreaux v. Swift
Transp. Co., Inc., 402 F.3d 536, 540 (5th Cir. 2005). Further, a court “may not make credibility
determinations or weigh the evidence” in ruling on a motion for summary judgment. Reeves v.
Sanderson Plumbing Prods., Inc., 530 U.S. 133, 150 (2000); Anderson, 477 U.S. at 254-55.
Once the moving party has made an initial showing that there is no evidence to support the
nonmoving party’s case, the party opposing the motion must come forward with competent summary
judgment evidence of the existence of a genuine dispute of material fact. Matsushita Elec. Indus.
Co. v. Zenith Radio, 475 U.S. 574, 586 (1986). On the other hand, “if the movant bears the burden
of proof on an issue, either because he is the plaintiff or as a defendant he is asserting an affirmative
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defense, he must establish beyond peradventure all of the essential elements of the claim or defense
to warrant judgment in his favor.” Fontenot v. Upjohn Co., 780 F.2d 1190, 1194 (5th Cir. 1986)
(emphasis in original). “[When] the record taken as a whole could not lead a rational trier of fact
to find for the nonmoving party, there is no ‘genuine [dispute] for trial.’” Matsushita, 475 U.S. at
587. (citation omitted). Mere conclusory allegations are not competent summary judgment
evidence, and thus are insufficient to defeat a motion for summary judgment. Eason v. Thaler, 73
F.3d 1322, 1325 (5th Cir. 1996).
Unsubstantiated assertions, improbable inferences, and
unsupported speculation are not competent summary judgment evidence. See Forsyth v. Barr, 19
F.3d 1527, 1533 (5th Cir. 1994).
The party opposing summary judgment is required to identify specific evidence in the record
and to articulate the precise manner in which that evidence supports his or her claim. Ragas, 136
F.3d at 458. Rule 56 does not impose a duty on the court to “sift through the record in search of
evidence” to support the nonmovant’s opposition to the motion for summary judgment. Id.; see also
Skotak v. Tenneco Resins, Inc., 953 F.2d 909, 915-16 & n.7 (5th Cir. 1992). “Only disputes over
facts that might affect the outcome of the suit under the governing laws will properly preclude the
entry of summary judgment.” Anderson, 477 U.S. at 248. Disputed fact issues that are “irrelevant
and unnecessary” will not be considered by a court in ruling on a summary judgment motion. Id.
If the nonmoving party fails to make a showing sufficient to establish the existence of an element
essential to its case and on which it will bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment must
be granted. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 322-23. “Whe[n], as here, parties have filed cross-motions for
summary judgment, each motion must be considered separately because each movant bears the
burden of showing that no genuine issue of material fact exists and that it is entitled to a judgment
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as a matter of law.” Shaw Constructors v. ICF Kaiser Engr’s, Inc., 395 F.3d 533, 538-39 (5th Cir.
Abuzaid moves for summary judgment on Slim’s request for relief, contending that, pursuant
to the terms of the Agreement, Slim waived his contingent fee claim when he withdrew as his
counsel in the state court action. Slim moves for summary judgment, contending that “he is entitled
to an enforceable 25% lien interest in any recovery Abuzaid may have from any judgment debtor in
the State Court Case.” Pl.’s S.J. Mot. 4. Slim continues to maintain that he is entitled to recover
under the Agreement, notwithstanding his motion to withdraw as counsel in the state court action,
because his withdrawal was necessitated by Abuzaid’s firing him or constructively discharging him
as counsel. Slim contends that Abuzaid is judicially estopped from denying the fee owed to him or
the value of the services provided, and Abuzaid would be unjustly enriched if allowed to collect from
Anani the fee awarded in the state court action for Slim’s services without compensating him.
After carefully considering the parties’ motions, briefs, admissible summary judgment
evidence, objections, and applicable law, the court determines that summary judgment is not
appropriate, as a genuine dispute of material fact exists regarding Plaintiff’s entitlement to the
declaratory relief requested in this action, and resolution of the matters raised by the parties are better
suited for trial. Accordingly, the court will deny both parties’ summary judgment motions.
For the reasons stated, the court concludes that a genuine dispute of material fact exists
regarding the relief requested by Plaintiff in this action, which was the subject of Slim’s and
Abuzaid’s summary judgment motions. The court, therefore, denies the Motion of Joseph Abuzaid
for Summary Judgment (Doc. 27); and denies Plaintiff Jules Slim’s Motion for Summary Judgment
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(Doc. 35), as it determines that a genuine dispute of material fact exists regarding the relief requested
by Plaintiff in this action. Accordingly, Plaintiff’s request for relief in the form of a declaratory
judgment will be tried to the court.
It is so ordered this 28th day of August, 2017.
Sam A. Lindsay
United States District Judge
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