Reynolds v. American Airlines, Inc.

Filing 134

ORDER denying 71 : The motion by plaintiff's counsel to reduce the sanctions award is denied in its entirety. The firm of Krentsel & Guzman LLP is ORDERED to pay defendant's counsel, the firm of Rutherford & Christie LLP, the amount of $4,053.10 as sanctions under the Court's June 23, 2017 64 Sanctions Order. Payment shall be made in full no later than January 18, 2018. So Ordered by Magistrate Judge Cheryl L. Pollak on 1/9/2018. (Caggiano, Diana).

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UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF NEW YORK X JANET REYNOLDS, Plaintiff, MEMORANDUM AND ORDER -against- 14 CV 2429(CLP) AMERICAN AIRLINES,INC., Defendant. X POLLAK,United States Magistrate Judge: By Order dated June 29,2017, this Court granted defendant's motion for sanctions due to plaintiff's counsel's "egregious violations ofthis Court's Orders and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure" and required her counsel, the firm of Krentsel & Guzman LLP,to reimburse defendant for its fees and costs incurred in relation to the depositions of plaintifPs liability expert. Captain Douglas M. Moss. (Sanctions Order at 9, June 29, 2017,ECF No.64). Specifically, plaintiffs counsel failed to provide defendant's counsel with Captain Moss's significantly revised and expanded expert report in advance of Captain Moss's deposition. Indeed, plaintiffs counsel failed to provide defendant with a copy ofthe new report until several days after the deposition. (See id at 1-2). Defendant first learned about the new report when Captain Moss himself brought it to counsel's attention, causing the termination ofthe deposition and the need for defendant to reschedule and prepare anew for the Captain's deposition. (See idj Now before the Court is plaintiffs counsel's motion to reduce the amount offees owed as sanctions. For the reasons explained below, the motion is denied, and the firm of Krentsel & Guzman LLP is Ordered to pay defendant's counsel $4,053.10 as reimbursement for attorneys' fees under the Court's June 23,2017 sanctions Order. Payment shall be made no later than 1 January 18, 2018. DISCUSSION A. The Parties' Arguments Plaintiff argues that the $4,053.10 sought by defendant is "unduly excessive" and not in conformance with the June 29,2017 Order. (PL's Mot. at 1, Sept. 27, 2017, ECF No. 71). First, plaintiff argues that defendant is not entitled to fees for attendance at the first deposition on May 15, 2017, but, under the terms of the earlier Order, need only be reimbursed for time spent preparing for that deposition. (Id) Even if defendant were entitled to reimbursement for time spent attending that first deposition, plaintiff argues that the deposition lasted only 33 minutes. (See id. at 2), Second, plaintiff contends that it was unreasonable for defense counsel to spend 3.5 hours preparing for the expert deposition when the expert report was only three pages long, and plaintiff suggests that 1.5 hours would be a more reasonable figure. (Id) Third, plaintiff submits that a 20 minute phone call regarding defendant's motion to strike (which prompted the Court to sanction plaintiffs counsel) does not fall within the ambit ofthe Court's Order. (See id at 2). Fourth, plaintiff argues that defense counsel's bill for two hours to attend the May 31, 2017 conference should be reduced because the conference lasted less than thirty minutes. (Id) Fifth, plaintiff contends that the second deposition of Captain Moss lasted only 75 minutes, and defendant's request to be reimbursed for 2.5 hours is therefore unreasonable. (See id) Finally, plaintiff argues that defense counsel could not reasonably have spent 5.5 hours to prepare for that 75-minute second deposition of Captain Moss. Instead, plaintiffs counsel suggests that defendant should be reimbursed only for three hours of preparation. (Id) In response, defendant explains that the amounts requested in connection with the Court's sanctions Order are accurate, reflect time counsel actually billed to the client, and were necessarily incurred in connection with the matters embraced by the Court's sanctions Order. (See Def.'s Opp'n at 1-2, Oct. 3, 2017,EOF No. 72). Attendance at depositions and conferences, defendant explains, necessarily involves travel time that, under the letter and spirit ofthe Court's sanctions Order, defendant should not have to pay. (See id.) Defendant also argues that the time spent preparing for the two depositions of plaintiffs liability expert was eminently reasonable. (See id.l B. Analysis Plaintiffs motion is utterly devoid of merit. ^Fed.R. Civ. P. 11: see also Revnolds v. American Airlines, Inc., No. 14 CV 2429,2017 WL 5613115, at *11 (E.D.N.Y. Nov. 21,2017) (observing that "[i]t strains all credulity that plaintiffs counsel, after reading the Court's Orders [and] participating in the conference with the Court,... could in good faith seek to construe the Court's Orders in this way"),EOF No. 113. That is particularly true in light ofthe Court's explicit finding in the sanctions Order that the sanctions resulted from "plaintiffs counsel's own egregious violations ofthis Court's Orders and the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure." (Sanctions Order, June 29, 2017,ECF No. 64). The Court has carefully reviewed the billing entries submitted by defendant's counsel and finds the time spent and amounts charged to be exceedingly reasonable. The defendant correctly included its attorney's travel time in the amounts for which it seeks reimbursement under the Court's Order. Although it is true that in other contexts courts award attorneys' fees for travel time at half ofthe ordinary hourly rate, such strictures do not apply here, where the award of attorneys' fees is made as a sanction for counsel's litigation conduct and thus serves both to penalize plaintiffs counsel for "egregious conduct" and to ensure that the defendant is not required to pay for plaintiffs counsel's bad behavior. Halving the hourly rate would also be particularly inappropriate here given the already-reasonable rate charged for counsel's time. (See Breakdown of Attorneys' Fees, Sept. 27,2017, Ex. 1 to Pl.'s Mot., ECF No. 71 (reflecting an hourly rate of$225)). Plaintiff also has no basis upon which to quarrel with the amount oftime defendant's attorney spent preparing for the two depositions of plaintiffs liability expert. Defendant's counsel spent 3.5 hours preparing for the first deposition and 5.5 hours preparing for the second deposition. Attorneys are expected to be fully prepared for each proceeding they attend if they are to protect their clients' interests, and defendant's counsel did no more than discharge his duty in preparing for the depositions. Particularly in light of plaintiffs counsel's malfeasance with respect to the first deposition of Captain Moss, it would have been reasonable for defendant's counsel to have spent significantly more time preparing for the rescheduled deposition. Counsel's preparation yielded results, for it laid the foundation for defendant's successful motion in limine to preclude Captain Moss from testifying as a liability expert. ^2017 WL 5613115, at *6-10. Finally, plaintiff correctly observes that the Court's sanctions Order, as phrased, requires plaintiffs counsel to reimburse defendant only for its counsel's time spent "in preparing for the [first] deposition," but not for attending the first deposition. (Sanctions Order at 9; Pl.'s Mot. at 1-2). The defendant is correct, however, that the Court clearly intended by the sanctions Order to ensure that "American Airlines should not have to bear any cost associated with [the first] deposition, which was a complete waste of time." (Def.'s Opp'n at 1). The Court therefore revises the sanctions Order to make explicit its intent that plaintiffs counsel must pay for the time spent by defendant's counsel both preparing for and attending the first deposition of Captain Moss. Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(b)(providing that interlocutory orders "may be revised at any time before the entry of a judgment adjudicating ail the claims and all the parties' rights and responsibilities"). CONCLUSION As explained above,the Court denies plaintiffs counsel's motion to reduce the sanctions award in its entirety. Plaintiffs counsel, the firm of Krentsel & Guzman LLP—but not the plaintiff individually—is Ordered to deliver a check in the amount of Four Thousand Fifty-Three Dollars and Ten Cents($4,053.10), which represents the amount of sanctions due under the Court's June 29, 2017 sanctions Order, to defendant's counsel, Rutherford & Christie LLP, no later than Januarv 18. 2018 at 5:00 p.m. The Clerk is directed to send copies of this Order to the parties either electronically through the Electronic Case Filing(ECF)system or by mail. SO ORDERED. Dated: Brooklyn, New York January 9, 2018 /s/ Cheryl Pollak Cheryl Ij: Pollak Unite^tates Magistrate Judge Eastelrfi District of New York

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