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Fieldturf USA, Inc. v. Turf Technologies

May 6, 2008

FIELDTURF USA, INC., A FLORIDA CORPORATION; FIELDTURF TARKETT, INC., A CANADIAN COMPANY, PLAINTIFF,
v.
TURF TECHNOLOGIES, INC., A CALIFORNIA CORPORATION, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara L. Major United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER IMPOSING SANCTIONS

On February 27, 2008, this Court convened a Mandatory Settlement Conference ("MSC"). In the order setting the MSC, the Court stated that "[i]n addition to counsel who will try the case, a party or party representative with full settlement authority must be present for the conference." Doc. No. 12 (emphasis in original) (footnote omitted). Plaintiffs, their counsel, and Defendant's attorney complied with the Court's order and appeared at the conference prepared to discuss settlement. Defendant Turf Technologies, however, failed to have a representative attend the conference.

As a result of Defendant's failure, the Court issued an order to show cause why Defendant should not be sanctioned for disobeying this Court's order. Doc. No. 20. The Court specifically required David Willis, an officer of Turf Technologies, to appear at a hearing on March 20, 2008, and to submit a declaration regarding the imposition of sanctions. Id. Mr. Willis both failed to appear at this hearing and to submit the required declaration.

The Court also invited Plaintiffs to submit a declaration of costs incurred as a result of Defendant's failure to attend the MSC. Id. Plaintiffs did so, stating that they had incurred $19,540.21 in attorneys' fees, costs related to preparing for and attending the MSC, and lost wages. Doc. No. 25.

LEGAL STANDARD AND SANCTIONS AWARDED

Courts "unquestionably" possess the inherent power to assess sanctions for the "willful disobedience of a court order." Alyeska Pipeline Service Co. v. Wilderness Society , 421 U.S. 240, 258-59 (1975); Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 45 (1991). Further, this District's Local Rules of Practice dictate that a party's "failure to comply with ... any order of the court may be ground for imposition by the court of ... monetary sanctions or attorney's fees and costs." CivLR 83.1.

An award of sanctions must be "reasonable," and when it "is based upon attorney's fees and related expenses, an essential part of determining the reasonableness of the award is determining the reasonableness of the claimed fees." Matter of Yagman, 796 F.2d 1165, 1184-85 (9th Cir. 1986). Sanctions are not determined by the "actual expenses and fees but those the court determines to be reasonable." Id. at 1185. The award must be "quantifiable with some precision and properly itemized in terms of the perceived misconduct and the sanctioning authority." Id. at 1185.

Because Defendant and Mr. Willis failed to comply with this Court's orders, the Court finds it appropriate to sanction them. Plaintiffs request reimbursement, in the form of sanctions, for the costs they incurred in preparing for the settlement conference, traveling to and attending the settlement conference, including lost wages for the days associated with those activities, and preparing the pleadings supporting their sanction request. The Court finds the $19,540.21 sanction requested by Plaintiffs is unreasonable and declines to award the entire amount.

1. Preparing for the Settlement Conference

The attorneys for Plaintiffs state they spent 12.75 hours working on this case in the days leading up to the settlement conference and that the resulting attorneys' fees total $4,575.00. Doc. Nos. 25 at 3, 25-1 at 2, 25-1 at 1. However, the attorneys do not provide any information or explanation regarding the specific work they performed.*fn1 Doc. No. 25-2 at 1.

The Court declines to include the requested attorneys' fees in the sanctions award. The Court's order setting the settlement conference required both parties to prepare for the conference by submitting settlement statements and discussing settlement options and strategies (Doc. No. 12) and the Court presumes this is the work the attorneys performed and for which they seek reimbursement. This preparation was required by the Court regardless of whether Defendant appeared at the conference. Moreover, the preparation work will support any future settlement discussions. Lockary, 974 F.2d at 1178 (court should only award fees that the moving party would not have otherwise expended). Accordingly, the Court does not include the requested $4,575.00 in the final sanction amount.

2. Traveling to and Attending the Settlement Conference

Plaintiffs also request $12,071.33 for the costs incurred by the attorney and client representative in traveling to and attending the settlement conference. Doc. Nos. 25-1 and 25-2. Plaintiffs request $6,400 in attorneys' fees for the sixteen hours Mr. Factor spent on the case on February 27 and 28 (Doc. No. 25-2 at 1), $371.00 in round-trip airfare to San Diego, $202.70 for three days of meals, $939.01 for unspecified hotel expenses, $122.00 in cab fare to and from the airport, and $60.00 apparently for three days of airport parking (id. at 2). For the corporate representative, Troy Squires, Plaintiffs request $612.77 Canadian for airfare*fn2, $50.00 in cab fares, $474.35 for one night's hotel expenses, $2,252.04 for three days' salary, and $581.34 for "Miscellaneous San Diego Expenses." Id. at 3. Mr. Squires provides receipts and documents supporting his expenses. Id. at 4- 15. The miscellaneous expenses include food and $449.86 spent to purchase a new jacket and tie because his luggage was lost. Id. at Defense counsel contacted Plaintiffs' counsel prior to the MSC and advised Plaintiffs' counsel that it was unlikely that Defendant's representative would appear at the MSC. As a result, Plaintiffs knew or should have known that the conference likely would be short, and both the attorney and representative could have made arrangements to conduct other work during the time not spent in the settlement conference. Accordingly, the Court finds the requested sixteen hours of attorney's fees and three days of salary unreasonable. Because the settlement conference lasted approximately thirty minutes, the Court finds that one hour of attorney's fees is reasonable and therefore includes $400.00 in the sanction award.

The Court determines that reasonable expenses incurred to travel to the settlement conference should be included in the sanctions amount, however, the Court finds that several of the requested expenses are not reasonable. Yagman, 796 F.2d at 1185 (sanctions not determined by "actual expenses and fees but those the court determines to be reasonable"). Initially, the Court finds that the flight costs, one night's hotel, and two days of meals for both individuals are reasonable and appropriate expenses. The settlement conference finished by approximately 2:00 p.m. on February 27, 2008, and Plaintiffs have not provided any support for a second night and ...


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