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Barbara Hubbard v. Plaza Bonita

November 29, 2011

BARBARA HUBBARD,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
PLAZA BONITA, LP, ET AL.,
DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Janis L. Sammartino United States District Judge

ORDER OVERRULING PLAINTIFF'S OBJECTIONS (ECF Nos. 218, 219)

Presently before the Court is Plaintiff's counsel's objections, (Obj., ECF No. 219), to Magistrate Judge William V. Gallo's order after order to show cause hearings, (Mag. Order, ECF No. 218). Also before the Court is Defendant Flava Enterprises' response to Plaintiff's counsel's objections. (Resp. to Obj., ECF No. 227) Having considered the parties' arguments and the law, the Court OVERRULES Plaintiff's counsel's objections.

BACKGROUND

Magistrate Judge Gallo's Order contains a thorough and accurate recitation of the facts underlying his decision to sanction and report Plaintiff's counsel to the State Bar of California. (Id. at 1--4) This Order incorporates by reference the facts as set forth in that Order.

In short, Magistrate Judge Gallo concluded that Plaintiff's counsel "unreasonably and vexatiously multiplied the proceedings in this case," "disrupt[ing] the proceedings in this litigation and delay[ing] its conclusion." (Id. at 24) These findings are based on Plaintiff's counsel's conduct in submitting to Defendants' counsel "a proposed settlement agreement that was represented to contain [the named plaintiff's, Barbara Hubbard,] genuine signature, when the signature was not, in fact, Barbara's signature." (Id. at 22) In fact, Barbara Hubbard was deceased at the time these proposed settlement agreements were submitted, and therefore could not have signed them herself.

LEGAL STANDARD

Because Magistrate Judge Gallo's Order issuing sanctions and reporting Plaintiff's counsel's conduct to the State Bar of California is a discretionary decision regarding a nondispositive pretrial matter, the Court must determine whether the order is "clearly erroneous or contrary to law," pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). See Hoar v. Sara Lee Corp., 900 F.2d 522, 525 (2d Cir. 1990); FDIC v. Fidelity & Deposit Co. of Md., 196 F.R.D. 375, 378 (S.D. Cal. 2000). "Clearly erroneous" review is "significantly deferential, requiring 'a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.'" Concrete Pipe & Prods. v. Constr. Laborers Pension Trust, 508 U.S. 602, 623 (1993). On the other hand, "contrary to law" review "permits independent review of purely legal determinations by the magistrate judge." Fidelity, 196 F.R.D. at 378 (citing, inter alia, Computer Econs., Inc. v. Gartner Grp., Inc., 50 F. Supp. 2d 980, 983 (S.D. Cal. 1999)).

ANALYSIS

Plaintiff's counsel objects to Magistrate Judge Gallo's Order on several bases:

(1) Plaintiff's counsel was not given "sufficient, advance notice of exactly what conduct was alleged to be sanctionable," (Obj. 3, ECF No. 219); (2) the imposition of sanctions was "based on a clearly erroneous assessment of the evidence," (id. at 5); (3) the imposition of sanctions was based on "erroneous views of California law," (id. at 11); and (4) Plaintiff's counsel was denied due process by Judge Gallo's "in camera review of opposing counsel's billing statements in order to determine a sanction amount," (id. at 13).

1. Notice of Sanctionable Conduct

In Magistrate Judge Gallo's Order to Show Cause, Plaintiff's counsel was directed to "show cause why sanctions should not be imposed on him for allegedly placing Plaintiff's signature on settlement documents prior to and after her death." (Order to Show Cause 1--2, ECF No.188). Specifically, Plaintiff's counsel was asked to address the following:

1. Why he should not be required to present to the Court documents and evidence that Plaintiff signed [the settlement agreement];

2. Why he should not be required to provide to the Court additional known and genuine signatures of Plaintiff;

3. Why he should not be required to identify appearances that Plaintiff personally made in this Court and any documents signed in connection with those appearances;

4. Why a hearing should not be held as to whether the signatures of Plaintiff in some or all of the settlement agreements in this matter have been falsified, and if so, what actions are appropriate to achieve ...


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