This is a case where the court decided to transfer venue to another district pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a). Kansas plaintiffs retained Missouri lawyers to file a fraud lawsuit against another party. The Delaware Court dismissed that case. The Kansas Plaintiffs then brought a legal malpractice action against their former attorneys in Delaware. They argued that since the Delaware District Court heard the first case, it should hear the malpractice case. The court held that venue should be transferred to the District of Missouri where the lawyer maintained offices. The court noted that none of the parties were from Delaware, but the lawyers were located in Missouri. The law of legal negligence was the same no matter what jurisdiction was selected. The witnesses were located in Missouri, not Delaware, Finally, the court could not compel witnesses from Kansas or Missouri to testify in Delware. Result case transferred to the Western District of Missouri.
Month: May 2018
The Plaintiffs sued FINRA after their arbitration case was dismissed. They had been brokers and had been fired by their employer. They then filed claims with FINRA contesting the terminations. Shortly before the hearing, they withdrew their claims. They then sued in federal court alleging that FINRA failed to provide them with an arbitration forum and failed to properly train arbitrators.
The Complaint was dismissed by the district court on grounds of arbitral immunity. On appeal, the case was dismissed because there is no federal jurisdiction. To establish diversity jurisdiction, plaintiffs needed to show that they were citizens from different states than the defendant and that there was in excess of $75,000 in dispute. The Seventh Circuit ruled that they did not satisfy the diversity requirement and the case was dismissed for lack of jurisdiction. The amount in controversy in the litigation was limited to $1800, the filing fee paid to FINRA to start the arbitration. The court ruled that the legal fees incurred by plaintiffs (which exceeded the diversity amount) could not be recovered in the lawsuit and therefore could not be used to meet the amount in controversy. Judge Ripple dissented. He would have allowed FINRA” to keep the lawsuit in federal court.
Rule 37 allows a district court to sanction a litigant who withholds evidence. Usually, that consists of a failure to produce documents or a failure to answer interrogatories. Sometimes, the failure involves a litigant’s refusal to cooperate with depositions. Even more rare is the litigant who does not disclose the existence of a witness until discovery has closed and the Defendant has moved for summary judgment.
This case, Lamb v. Montgomery Township, is a civil rights case where the plaintiff alleged that the Township violated her rights under Title VIII and 42 USC Section 2000e.
For reasons that are not fully apparent from the opinion, Lamb did not disclose an expert on time. Instead, she waited until she filed her response to the Township’s summary judgment motion to attach an affidavit of an expert witness. The District Court struck the affidavit and granted summary judgment and the Court of Appeals affirmed that decision.
The reasoning is provided here:
The District Court did not abuse its discretion in striking the Brogna Declaration. The the record demonstrates that Lamb’s litigation conduct deprived the Defendants of the opportunity to depose Brogna. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(a)(2) requires the disclosure of experts and their reports “at the times and in the sequence that the court orders.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2)(D). Under Rule 37, district courts are authorized to exclude evidence if a party violates the requirements of Rule 26(a). Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(c)(1). A party can overcome Rule 37 sanctions by demonstrating that a Rule 26 violation was “substantially justified or . . . harmless.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(c)(1). We have cautioned that district courts should only exclude critical evidence such as expert testimony upon “a showing of willful deception or flagrant disregard of a court order by the proponent of the evidence.” In re Paoli R.R. Yard PCB Litig., 35 F.3d 717, 791-92 (3d Cir. 1994) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).
The District Court concluded that Lamb’s conduct was neither substantially justified nor harmless. First, her tactics deprived the Defendants of a meaningful opportunity to depose Brogna by classifying Brogna as an expert witness to avoid a fact deposition, and then by failing to produce her expert report (i.e. the Brogna Declaration) until well after the deadline for expert depositions. Second, the justification offered for that failure — that Lamb had not received relevant discovery in time for Brogna to provide a timely expert report — was unconvincing. Lamb had received the necessary discovery nearly two months prior to submitting her summary judgment opposition. The District Court determined that Lamb’s decision to blindside the Defendants at summary judgment, instead of providing a timely report or requesting an extension of expert discovery deadlines, was a flagrant disregard of the rules. There was no abuse of discretion in the consequent granting of the Defendants’ motion to strike.
The case is Phillips v. FirstBank Puerto Rico, 13-105. The plaintiff alleged that her signature was forged on a mortgage note in 2003 and that the forgery was concealed from her. She also alleged that the mortgage was refinanced in 2009. She claimed that she learned of the forged 2003 signature only in 2009.
The court concluded that the statute of limitations had run on the claims. Worse still, the plaintiff testified at her deposition that her signature was genuine. The court awarded Section 1927 sanctions to the Defendant in the amount of $10,000. The explanation:
Throughout this litigation, Plaintiff’s Counsel has sidestepped dispositive issues and backtracked on verifiable factual matters in an effort to prolong the Court’s review of time-barred claims. In the original Complaint, Annette alleged that her signature was forged on the mortgage refinancing documents. (Compl. ¶¶ 9-10 (“[Annette] had no knowledge of the refinancing although her name and signature appeared on the application documents. . . . [T]he name and signature were not hers and must have been forged.”).) Despite her own and Counsel’s earlier protestations (see, e.g., Compl. ¶¶ 7-12; Tr. 31:5-6, ECF Nos. 70, 102-1 (“May 2, 2017 Tr.”) (“[T]he mortgage 2003, that is the document that is fraudulent.”)), in her deposition, Annette clarified that her authentic signature did appear on the documents. (Annette R.J. Phillips Dep. 62:22-66:8.)
Based on Annette’s own sworn admissions, it has become clear to the Court that Annette’s signatures were authentic and, thus, the basis for the Complaint, and the arguments presented to the Court on May 2, 2017 in an attempt to overcome judgment on the pleadings, were untruthful. The efforts of Plaintiff and Plaintiff’s Counsel to conceal critical facts from the Court sufficiently establish bad faith. Notably, the 2003 refinancing documents which the Court reviewed and relied on at summary judgment, though presented for the Court’s review by Defendants (seeDef.’s Exs. H-K, ECF Nos. 73-8-73-11), appeared in Plaintiffs’ initial Rule 26 disclosures filed in July 2014 (see, e.g., ECF No. 31 at 2-3). As far as the Court can discern, for years Plaintiff has possessed documents which she knew reflected her authentic signature and confirmed her presence at the 2003 mortgage closing. Yet Plaintiff’s Counsel represented to the Court that the signatures were forged (May 2, 2017 Tr. 31:5-6); or that Annette was ill and medicated and could not remember appearing at the closing or signing the documents; or that Annette was duped into signing these documents; or that “her mother used a pretext to get her to the bank and she ended up signing a refinancing of the mortgage” (Pl.’s Opp’n to Def.’s Mot. Fees and Costs at 1). This revolving-door defense and after-the-fact reframing of Plaintiff’s Complaint is a disingenuous and vexatious cover for the fact that Plaintiff’s original contentions were false and made in bad faith.
This is an ugly tale of a lawyer who should have known better and told the truth immediately when he learned that the 2003 signature was genuine. The lawyer was only found out when the client refused to support the false allegations in the complaint. The link is to an article about a lawyer who fixed a mistake as quickly as he could.
Ed Clinton, Jr.