United States District Court, D. Maine
ORDER OVERRULING OBJECTIONS TO ORDER ON MOTION FOR SANCTIONS
JOHN A. WOODCOCK, Jr., Chief District Judge.
The Court affirms the Magistrate Judge's award of the Defendants' attorney's fees and costs related to the Plaintiff's failure to properly and timely designate his expert witnesses.
On December 12, 2012, Stephen Goodrich filed suit against Michael L. Sheehan and Preti Flaherty Beliveau & Pachios Chartered, LLP (Preti), alleging that Attorney Sheehan and his law firm, Preti, were negligent in their legal representation when Mr. Goodrich used their legal services to convert his limited liability company, PowerPay, LLC, to a "C" corporation. Compl. (ECF No. 1).
On January 9, 2014, in response to a joint motion, Magistrate Judge Rich amended the scheduling order and, among other things, set March 31, 2014 as the deadline for the Plaintiff's expert designation. Order (ECF No. 57). On March 26, 2014, the Plaintiff moved to extend the time for his expert disclosures and, over objection, the Magistrate Judge granted a further motion to extend the expert disclosure deadline to May 9, 2014. Pl. Stephen Goodrich's Mot. to Enlarge the Time to Designate Expert Witnesses (ECF No. 65); Defs.' Objection to Pl. Stephen Goodrich's Mot. to Enlarge Time to Designate Expert Witness (ECF No. 66); Pl. Stephen Goodrich's Reply Mem. in Support of His Mot. to Enlarge the Time to Designate Expert Witness (ECF No. 67); Report of Hr'g and Order Re: Pl.'s Mot. to Enlarge Deadline (ECF No. 70).
On May 27, 2014, the Defendants moved for sanctions based on the asserted failure of the Plaintiff to make the required expert disclosures. Defs.' Mot. for Sanctions (ECF No. 81). Following the Defendants' motion, on May 30, 3014, the Plaintiff moved to amend the scheduling order to extend the deadline for filing supplemental expert disclosures until July 15, 2014. Pl. Stephen Goodrich's Mot. to Am. Scheduling Order (ECF No. 83). On June 3, 2014, the Defendants objected to the motion to amend scheduling order. Defs.' Objection to Pl.'s Mot. to Amend the Scheduling Order (ECF No. 84). On the same day, the Plaintiff objected to the Defendants' motion for sanctions and appended supplemental expert disclosures to his objection. Pl. Stephen Goodrich's Opp'n to Defs.' Mot. for Sanctions (ECF No. 85).
On June 6, 2014, the Magistrate Judge issued an order, resolving both motions. Report of Hr'g and Order Re: Mot. for Sanctions, Mot. to Am. Scheduling Order, Disc. Dispute (ECF No. 87) ( First Sanctions Order ). The Magistrate Judge in part granted the Defendants' motion for sanctions, specifically with respect to the Plaintiff's May 9, 2010 expert disclosures, but he reserved ruling with respect to the Plaintiff's June 3, 2014 supplemental expert disclosures. Id. at 3. Having reviewed the parties' briefs and having heard oral argument, the Magistrate Judge concluded that "the May 9 disclosures were inadequate despite several deadline extensions and that, rather than seeking a further deadline extension on or prior to May 9, the plaintiff had chosen to file inadequate disclosures, necessitating the defendants' filing of their motion for sanctions." Id. at 3. The Magistrate Judge did not impose the sanction of witness exclusion under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(c)(1), and instead granted the Defendants leave to seek from Plaintiff "by way of application to the court[, ] supported by billing records, their reasonable costs and attorney fees incurred in filing the motion for sanctions." Id.
In his June 6, 2014 Order, the Magistrate Judge noted that the June 3, 2014 supplemental disclosures contained more detail than the May 9, 2014 disclosures; yet, he observed that because the Defendants had recently produced a "volume of documents" to the Plaintiff, he was affording the Plaintiff "one final opportunity to supplement those disclosures." Id. The Magistrate Judge therefore reserved ruling on the June 3, 2014 supplemental disclosures and he set another deadline of June 19, 2014 to allow the Plaintiff to further supplement the disclosures "should he choose to do so." Id. He warned the Plaintiff that after June 19, 2014, he would rule on the adequacy of the expert disclosures and might be "constrained to consider striking those witnesses." Id. According to the Magistrate Judge's August 8, 2014 Order, the Plaintiff filed additional supplemental expert disclosures on June 19, 2014. Order on Defs.' Mot. for Sanctions at 2 (ECF No. 97) ( Second Sanctions Order ).
In his August 8, 2014 Order, the Magistrate Judge found that the Plaintiff's supplemental disclosures of June 19, 2014 "set forth specific opinions and detail the bases therefor" and that they satisfied "the disclosure requirements of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2)(B)." Id. at 2, 3. The Magistrate Judge denied the Defendants' motion for sanctions as regards the June 3, 2014 and June 19, 2014 supplemental disclosures. Id. at 4. However, the Magistrate Judge imposed a sanction against the Plaintiff because "[h]ad the plaintiff provided adequate expert designations by May 9, 2014, this entire motion practice would have been avoided." Id.
II. THE PARTIES' POSITIONS
A. The Plaintiff's Objection
On August 21, 2014, Mr. Goodrich objected to the attorney's fees award in the Magistrate Judge's August 8, 2014 Order. Pl. Stephen Goodrich's Objection to Order on Defs.' Mot. for Sanctions Awarding Defs.' Their Att'ys' Fees (ECF No. 101) ( Pl.'s Objection ). Mr. Goodrich complains that the order awarding "all fees" is "excessive and unfair" to the Plaintiff. Id. at 1. He lists three reasons: (1) the Defendants' "longdelayed release" of records caused the Plaintiff to be unable to comply with the expert disclosure requirements; (2) the Plaintiff identified his expert witnesses "as far as practicable under the circumstances" and sought extensions of the disclosure deadline; and, (3) the Plaintiff's June 3, 2014 and June 19, 2014 disclosures "satisfied Rule 26(b)(2)(B)." Id. at 1-2. Boiled down, Mr. Goodrich's argument is that he did all he could do to comply with the Court's scheduling orders only to be frustrated by the Defendants' discovery foot-dragging. Id. at 7. Mr. Goodrich proclaims that he acted with "the utmost good faith" and there is not "any conceivable" detriment to the Defendants' ability to prepare their own case. Id. He points out that the Defendants failed to comply with the letter of Rule 26(a)(2)(B) and have tried to leave themselves wiggle room in their own expert disclosures. Id. at 9.
B. The Defendants' Response
The Defendants are unmoved. Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s Objection to Order on Defs.' Mot. for Sanctions (ECF No. 105) ( Defs.' Resp. ). They first maintain that the Plaintiff is too late. Id. at 2-3. Although they concede that Mr. Goodrich's objection is "ostensibly to the August 8, 2014 Order, " they argue that it is really to the June 6, 2014 Order in which the Magistrate Judge ruled that the Defendants were entitled to their attorney's fees as a sanction for the Plaintiff's miscues. Id. ...