A New York state judge has ruled that a former Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe associate may only seek nominal damages in his claim alleging the law firm broke a promise to promote him to partner, reports the New York Law Journal.
Patrick Hoeffner’s 2005 lawsuit against Orrick claimed that in 2002 the firm’s partners had promised to bring him into the partnership to forestall his leaving the firm and taking a client with him. The firm later allegedly reneged on the deal and fired him in 2004.
The former Manhattan-based intellectual property (IP) associate claimed $100m (£51m) in damages based on lost future earnings and other alleged economic losses as a result of his failure to become an Orrick partner.
Based on his understanding, Hoeffner claims he turned down an offer to join Chadbourne & Parke, as well as another offer from McDermott Will & Emery.
The highly unusual suit has attracted attention within the profession as large firms frequently hold out the carrot of partnership to associates, even as hundreds are passed over for promotion every year.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Bernard Fried said Hoeffner’s claimed damages were “speculative” because his only agreement was with three IP partners who did not have the power to make him a partner.
“Rather, his becoming a partner would have been contingent upon the occurrence of an additional event over which the partners did not exercise control, namely the executive committee’s approval and recommendation of Hoeffner to Orrick’s full partnership,” said Fried.
Ruling on summary judgment motions, the judge said the suit could proceed on fraud and breach of contract claims but only for nominal damages. He dismissed Hoeffner’s claims for promissory estoppel, unjust enrichment, breach of fiduciary duty and intentional infliction of emotional distress.