Al-Sabah v. Agbodjogbe et al
MEMORANDUM. Signed by Judge Ellen L. Hollander on 10/5/2017. (bas, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
ALIA SALEM AL-SABAH,
Civil Action No. ELH-17-730
JEAN AGBODJOGBE, et al.,
This Memorandum addresses a motion for extension of the deadlines contained in a
scheduling order, prompted by the entry of new counsel for defendants. Plaintiff‟s motion to
strike is also pending.
On March 17, 2017, plaintiff Alia Salem Al-Sabah filed suit (ECF 1) against multiple
defendants: Jean Agbodjogbe; Nandi Scott; N&A Kitchen LLC; N&A Kitchen II LLC; 5722
York Road LLC; 9 Jewels LLC; and ASA Foundation, Inc. Plaintiff alleges that defendants
defrauded her of millions of dollars that she provided to them for investment purposes. Id.
Through counsel, plaintiff agreed to several extensions of time for defendants to respond to the
suit. See, e.g., ECF 12; ECF 14; ECF 18. Defendants answered the suit on May 2, 2017. ECF
On May 25, 2017, the Court approved the Scheduling Order. See ECF 26. Notably, the
Scheduling Order states, ECF 26 at 1: “The schedule will not be changed except for good
cause.” (bold in original). Of relevance here, the Scheduling Order set a discovery deadline of
October 27, 2017, as to matters concerning fact discovery, and a deadline of February 23, 2018,
for completion of discovery relating to experts. Id. at 3.
New counsel entered their appearance for defendants on September 21, 2017. See ECF
66. Then, on September 25, 2017, defense counsel filed a “Motion To Modify Scheduling
Order.” ECF 67 (“Motion”).
In the Motion, defendants seek to extend by 120 days the
remaining deadlines set forth in the Scheduling Order. ECF 67, ¶ 2. In particular, they seek to
conclude fact discovery on February 23, 2018, claiming, inter alia, that counsel need time to
educate themselves about the case. Id., ¶ 3.
Plaintiff opposes the Motion (ECF 69, “Opposition”). In her Opposition, plaintiff asserts,
among other things, that the newly retained attorneys are the “fourth set of attorneys to
represent” defendant in this case . . . .” (emphasis in original). However, the record reflects that
defendants were previously represented by only one other law firm. See also ECF 70 at 4. In
other words, the new defense lawyers are only the second set of attorneys for the defendants. In
any event, plaintiff argues that the change in counsel does not constitute good cause for an
extension of the deadlines set forth in the Scheduling Order. Defendants have replied. ECF 70
(“Reply”). Thereafter, plaintiff moved to strike the Reply. ECF 71 (“Motion to Strike”).
No hearing is necessary to resolve the motions. Local Rule 105.6. For the reasons stated
below, I shall grant the Motion (ECF 67) in part and deny it in part. Additionally, I shall deny
plaintiff‟s Motion to Strike. ECF 71.
A. Motion To Modify Scheduling Order
Scheduling orders serve a vital purpose in helping a court manage its civil caseload.
Gestetner Corp. v. Case Equipment Co., 108 F.R.D. 138, 141 (D. Me. 1985); see also Naughton
v. Bankier, 14 Md. App. 641, 653, 691 A.2d 712, 718 (1997) (recognizing that a scheduling
order helps “to maximize judicial efficiency and minimize judicial inefficiency”). “In an era of
burgeoning case loads and [crowded] dockets, effective case management has become an
essential tool for handling civil litigation.” Tower Ventures, Inc. v. City of Westfield, 296 F.3d
43, 45 (1st Cir. 2002) (alteration added). To that end, a scheduling order is an important vehicle
in “„securing the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action.‟”
Transcend Services, Inc., 10 CV 362, 2013 WL 1632335, at *4 (M.D.N.C. Apr. 16, 2013)
Fed. R. Civ. P. 16 concerns scheduling and case management. The Rule “recognize[s] . . .
that the parties will occasionally be unable to meet . . . deadlines [in a scheduling order] because
scheduling order deadlines are established relatively early in the litigation.” O’Connell v. Hyatt
Hotels of Puerto Rico, 357 F.3d 152, 154 (1st Cir. 2004). Rule 16(b)(4) provides: “A schedule
may be modified only for good cause and with the judge‟s consent.”
Thus, Rule 16 focuses on good cause with respect to modification of a scheduling order.
In regard to good cause, the “[p]rimary consideration of the Rule 16(b) „good cause‟ standard is
the diligence of the movant. Lack of diligence and carelessness are „hallmarks of failure to meet
the good cause standard.‟” Rassoull v. Maximus, Inc., 209 F.R.D. 372, 374 (quoting West
Virginia Housing Dev. Fund v. Ocwen Techonlogy Xchange, Inc., 200 F.R.D. 564, 567 (S.D.W.
Va. 2001)); see Leary v. Daeschner, 349 F.3d 888, 906 (6th Cir. 2003).
Clearly, “„the focus of the inquiry is upon the moving party‟s reasons for seeking
modification. If that party is not diligent, the inquiries should end.‟” Marcum v. Zimmer, 163
F.R.D. 250, 254 (S.D.W. Va. 1995) (quoting Johnson v. Mammoth Recreations, Inc., 975 F.2d
604, 607-08 (9th Cir. 1992) (emphasis added in Marcum). Under Rule 16(b), the court also
considers whether the non-moving party would be prejudiced by any delay, the length of the
delay, and whether the movant acted in good faith. Tawwaab v. Virginia Linen Serv., Inc., 729
F. Supp. 2d 757, 758-59 (D. Md. 2010).
Plaintiff insists that the change in counsel is “an insufficient showing” of good cause.
ECF 69 at 5. Defendants counter that a change in counsel, under the circumstances attendant
here, amounts to good cause. ECF 70 at 5-6. They explain that the time remaining to complete
discovery is not sufficient to allow new counsel “to learn the facts, review documents, interview
witnesses, prepare for depositions, serve subpoenas, and more fully develop its own litigation
strategy including, but not limited to, interviewing and retaining experts.”
ECF 67, ¶ 3.
Defendants also explain that the “request [for extension] was made immediately after obtaining
new counsel.” ECF 70 at 5. In addition, defendants claim that, in the absence of a modification
of the Scheduling Order, they “will be required to conduct and defend depositions with minimal
time to prepare and without the judicial discovery they intend to seek.” ECF 67, ¶ 4. Further,
they point out that this is the first request to extend the deadlines set forth in the Scheduling
Order. ECF 67, ¶ 6; ECF 70 at 5. Moreover, defendants argue plaintiff will not be prejudiced
because discovery is still pending and they “seek only to extend deadlines that have not yet
passed.” ECF 70 at 4.
To be sure, scheduling orders are more than “the paper upon which they are printed.”
Naughton, 114 Md. App. at 651, 691 A.2d at 718; see also Faith v. Keefer, 127 Md. App. 706,
733, 736 A.2d 422, 436 (1999) (interpreting a comparable Maryland Rule of Civil Procedure).
The good cause requirement for modification of a scheduling order insures that a scheduling
order is not regarded as a “„frivolous piece of paper, idly entered, which can be cavalierly
disregarded by counsel without peril.‟” Potomac Electric Power Co. v. Electric Motor Supply,
Inc., 190 F.R.D. 372, 375-76 (quoting Gestetner Corp., 108 F.R.D. at 141); see also Johnson v.
Mammoth Recreations, Inc., 975 F.2d 604, 610 (9th Cir. 1992).
Of course, the “entry of new counsel, standing alone,” does not “justify a finding of good
cause.” Sall v. Bouonassissi, DKC-10-2245, 2011 WL 2791254, at *3 (D. Md. July 13, 2011).
Moreover, “simple carelessness, inadvertence, or attorney error does not amount to good cause
justifying a modification of the scheduling order.” Id. (citation omitted); see, e.g., O’Connell,
357 F.3d at 155; Graham v. Progressive Direct Ins. Co., 271 F.R.D. 112, 121 (W.D. Pa. 2010).
But, I discern “no hint of bad faith.”
Sall, 2011 WL 2791254 at *4.
Nor is the delay
“prohibitively long.” Id. Indeed, the case was initiated in March 2017; it has not been pending
for an inordinate period of time. Moreover, such extensions are quite common, and this is the
first such request in a case that has been pending since March. Further, it is difficult to identify
any actual prejudice to plaintiff from a reasonable extension.
Nevertheless, I see no basis for a four-month extension. That length of time is, in my
view, unreasonable. Accordingly, I shall extend all deadlines in this case by 75 days.
B. Motion to Strike
Plaintiff has moved to strike the Reply. See ECF 71. In her view, the Reply “seeks
improperly to introduce new arguments and issues not raised in [the defense] motion.” Id. at 1.
According to plaintiff, the injection of new issues constitutes “an improper attempt to sandbag
plaintiff with arguments omitted from Defendants‟ [M]otion.” Id. at 2.
As I see it, defendants‟ arguments in the Reply are largely responsive plaintiff‟s
Opposition. Although in some instances defendants amplify their original contentions, there is
no basis to strike the Reply.
Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(f) governs motions to strike. Rule 12(f) provides, in part: “The court
may strike from a pleading an insufficient defense or any redundant, immaterial, impertinent, or
scandalous matter.” See, .e.g., Haley Paint Co. v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., 279 F.R.D.
331, 335 (D. Md. 2012). In determining whether to grant a motion to strike, the court “enjoys
wide discretion . . . in order to minimize delay, prejudice and confusion by narrowing the issues
for discovery and trial.” Id. at 336.
“Rule 12(f) motions are generally viewed with disfavor because striking a portion of a
pleading is a drastic remedy and because it is often sought by the movant simply as a dilatory
tactic.” Waste Mgmt. Holdings, Inc. v. Gilmore, 252 F.3d 316, 347 (4th Cir. 2001) (internal
quotation marks omitted); see also Renaissance Greeting Cards, Inc. v. Dollar Tree Stores, 227
Fed. App‟x 239, 247 (4th Cir. 2007). Therefore, “[w]hen reviewing a motion to strike, „the court
must view the pleading under attack in a light most favorable to the pleader.‟” Piontek v. Serv.
Ctrs. Corp., PJM 10-1202, 2010 WL 4449419, at *8-9 (D. Md. Nov. 5, 2010) (citation omitted).
Rule 12(f) motions ordinarily “will be denied unless the matter under challenge has „no
possible relation to the controversy and may prejudice the other party.‟” U.S. ex rel. Ackley v.
Int’l Bus. Machines Corp., 110 F. Supp. 2d 395, 406 (D. Md. 2000) (quoting Steuart Inv. Co. v.
Bauer Dredging Constr. Co., 323 F. Supp. 907, 909 (D. Md. 1971)); accord Williams v. Kettler
Mgmt. Inc., CCB-12-1226, 2014 WL 509474 (D. Md. Feb. 5, 2014); E.E.O.C. v. Spoa, LLC,
CCB-13-1615, 2014 WL 47337 (D. Md. Jan. 3, 2014). In contrast, “„the disfavored character of
Rule 12(f) is relaxed in the context of scandalous allegations, i.e., those that improperly cast a
derogatory light on someone.‟” Asher & Simons, P.A. v. J2 Global Canada, Inc., 965 F. Supp.
2d 701, 702 (D. Md. 2013) (citation omitted), partial reconsideration on other grounds, 977 F.
Supp. 2d 544 (D. Md. 2013). But, a motion to strike a defense “should not be granted when the
sufficiency of the defense depends upon disputed issues of fact or unclear questions of law.”
NCUA v. First Union Capital Mtks. Corp., 189 F.R.D. 158, 163 (D. Md. 1999); see Federal Ins.
Co. v. Edenbaum, JKS-12-410, 2012 WL 2803739, at *2 (D. Md. July 9, 2012).
For the reasons stated, I shall grant the Motion in part and deny it in part. And, I shall
deny plaintiff‟s Motion to Strike.
The Court reminds both sides of Local Rule 606, titled “Civility.” It recognizes that
counsel are required “to conduct themselves in a professional and courteous manner in
connection with all matters pending before the Court.”
An Order follows.
Date: October 5, 2017
Ellen L. Hollander
United States District Judge
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