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Juan Medina and Ramona Medina v. Pile Trucking Inc.

October 3, 2012

JUAN MEDINA AND RAMONA MEDINA, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
PILE TRUCKING INC., EARL PILE TRUCKING, ALVIN FLYNN, AND DOES 1 THROUGH 50 INCLUSIVE, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Jay C. Gandhi United States Magistrate Judge

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

(1) IMPOSING SANCTIONS AGAINST DEFENDANTS AND DEFENDANTS' COUNSEL; AND

(2) GRANTING LEAVE TO PLAINTIFFS TO FILE AN APPLICATION FOR FEES AND COSTS

Before the Court is an Order to Show Cause ("OSC") why sanctions should not be imposed against defendants Alvin Flynn and Pile Trucking, Inc. ("Defendants") and Defendants' predecessor counsel Barry Synder, Sean Burnett, and Gregory Smith ("Defendants' counsel") for failure to comply with a court order. [Dkt. No. 82.] On July 10, 2012, Defendants and their counsel responded to the OSC.*fn1 [Dkt. No. 85.] After studying Defendants and their counsel's response, along with the entire record here, and after due reflection, the Court finds that sanctions are appropriate for the reasons stated below.

I.

PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

The instant OSC chiefly evolves from (1) a May 25, 2012 Order of this Court;

(2) Defendants and their counsel's objection to that Order; and (3) the Court's ruling on that objection. For the requisite context, all three are discussed in order.

First, on May 25, 2012, the Court issued an Order sanctioning Defendants and Defendants' counsel. By way of background, the Court ordered Defendants and Defendants' lead counsel to be present for a (further) settlement conference on May 10, 2012. [Dkt. No. 26.] The Court instructed that attendance was mandatory and that failure to comply would result in sanctions. None of the Defendants appeared for that settlement conference. Defendants' lead counsel also failed to appear. Defendants' counsel acknowledged their violation of the Court's Order, including the failure of Defendants to appear as ordered. [Dkt. No. 67.]

The Court sanctioned each Defendant and each of Defendants' counsel and granted leave to Plaintiffs to seek their recoupment of the fees and costs incurred for attending the settlement conference at issue. [Dkt. No. 41.] The Court's bases for its sanctions are described in detail in that Order, and the parties are referred to that Order for a complete history.

Second, on June 8, 2012, Defendants and Defendants' counsel filed an objection to this Court's May 25th Order. [Dkt. No. 58.] Defendants and their counsel contended that, procedurally, sanctions were "outside the magistrate's authority" and, substantively, "there was, in any event, no sanctionable conduct." [Id.]

With respect to "no sanctionable conduct," Defendants and their counsel advanced three arguments: (1) "it is custom and practice in personal injury cases that the presence of a defendant's insurance carrier satisfies a requirement for the attendance of 'parties'"; (2) lead trial counsel, Snyder, advised the Court he would be out of the country, and arranged for his partner and associate working the case to be present; and (3) this Court's Order "suggest[ed]" that the sanctions award was, "in part," triggered by Defendants' earlier counsel. [Id.]

Third, on June 20, 2012, the Court, Hon. George H. King presiding, ruled on the objection. Chief Judge King found that this Court had authority to issue the sanctions. [Dkt. No. 77 at 2.]

Chief Judge King also ruled that -- while Defendants and their counsel did not claim an inadequate opportunity to be heard before this Court and was "generally [] of the view that [they] were given the opportunity to be heard" -- a specific chance to be heard before any sanctions were imposed would provide this Court with a more robust record. [Id. at 3.] Chief Judge King vacated the sanctions, and remanded for further proceedings consistent with his order. [Id.]

Chief Judge King further noted that his order did not preclude this Court from issuing any such further orders regarding sanctions as it deems appropriate after considering whatever showing and arguments Defendants and their counsel may make. [Id.]

On July 10, 2012, Defendants and Defendants' counsel filed their response to the OSC, along with brief declarations from Snyder, Burnett, Smith, and Katherine Van Ryn. [Dkt. No. 85.] Van Ryn is a "litigation specialist" with Harco National Insurance Company, "insurer for defendant Pile Trucking, Inc., and the other defendants." [Id., Van Ryn Decl. at ¶ 1.] There were no declarations by any of the Defendants.

II.

DISCUSSION

Defendants and their counsel assert sanctions are unwarranted for four reasons:

1. "It is custom and practice in personal injury cases that the presence of a defendant's insurance carrier satisfies a requirement for the attendance of "parties" at a settlement conference" [Dkt. No. 85 at 4];

2. "Neither [Burnett nor Smith were] ordered to attend the conference or had any other obligation to be present," and it "continues to be unclear" why the Court proposes to sanction them [id. at 5];

3. "Snyder advised the Court he would be out of the country on the scheduled date," and, not hearing from the Court earlier, "it is imminently reasonable to assume . . . that his personal absence was approved by the Court," particularly where he arranged for his partner and associate to be present [id. at 5-6]; and

4. "There appears to be no legitimate purpose for the [May 25th] Order," and "it could be argued that the Order for Sanctions has its root" in this Court's "original ...


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