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Papanicolas v. Project Execution and Control Consulting, LLC

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

October 10, 2014

MICHELLE PAPANICOLAS, Plaintiff,
v.
PROJECT EXECUTION AND CONTROL CONSULTING, LLC, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CHARLES B. DAY, Magistrate Judge.

Before this Court is Plaintiff's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Costs as Sanctions Related to Plaintiff's Motion for Sanctions Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(d) ("Motion for Attorneys' Fees) or in the alternative Motion to Compel and Sanctions pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a) ("Motion to Compel"). (ECF No. 95). The Court has reviewed the Motions, related memoranda, and applicable law. No hearing is deemed necessary. See Local Rule 105.6 (D. Md.). For the reasons presented below, the Court GRANTS the Motion for Attorneys' Fees in the amounts described below and finds the Motion to Compel MOOT.

I. Background

On May 28, 2012, Michelle Papanicolas (Sipe) ("Plaintiff") filed the Complaint against Project Execution and Control Consulting, L.L.C. (d/b/a PEAC Consulting, L.L.C.) ("PEAC") and Barington Cromuel (collectively "Defendants") for sexual harassment. On October 15, 2013, Plaintiff propounded interrogatories and requests for production of documents to Defendants, but received no reply. Plaintiff's counsel subsequently made good faith attempts to resolve the discovery dispute between September and December, 2013, but received no reply to telephone calls, emails, and letters. On January 6, 2014, Plaintiff brought a motion for sanctions or in the alternative to compel discovery. ECF No. 72. On March 24, 2014, before the hearing on this motion, the Court entered a default judgment against Defendant PEAC. ECF No. 78. On June 10, 2014, at the hearing on the motion for sanctions or to compel discovery, defendant Barington Cromuel explained that he did not reply to the discovery requests or otherwise communicate with Plaintiff because he did not understand the discovery requests. At the hearing this Court granted Plaintiff's motion to compel and motion for reasonable attorneys' fees as sanctions and ordered Plaintiff to file a new motion for a specific amount of attorneys' fees by June 24, 2014. ECF No. 91. Plaintiff filed this Motion for Attorneys' Fees on June 23, 2014, and claims she is owed $8, 290.00 in attorneys' fees and $52.76 in costs jointly and severally by Defendants.

II. Discussion

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:

[i]f [a party's] motion is granted... the court must, after giving an opportunity to be heard, require the party or deponent whose conduct necessitated the motion... to pay the movant's reasonable expenses incurred in making the motion, including attorney's fees. But the court must not order this payment if: (i) the movant filed the motion before attempting in good faith to obtain the disclosure or discovery without court action; (ii) the opposing party's nondisclosure, response, or objection was substantially justified; or (iii) other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(5)(A). This Court granted Plaintiff's motion to compel discovery on June 10, 2014 (ECF No. 91). The Court will thus review whether any of the three exceptions listed above apply to either defendant PEAC or Barington Cromuel.

a. Claims Against PEAC

PEAC has not replied to any discovery requests or related motions. As a result, this Court entered a default judgment against PEAC on March 24, 2014. ECF No. 78. Turning to the three exceptions set forth in Rule 37(a)(5), first, the Court finds that Plaintiff filed her motion after attempting in good faith to obtain discovery. After Plaintiff propounded discovery requests at PEAC's listed address and received no reply, Plaintiff attempted to contact PEAC via a good faith letter to obtain the discovery. ECF No. 72, Ex. G. The Court does not find that PEAC's failure to provide discovery was "substantially justified." PEAC has offered no justification for its non-responsiveness to the discovery requests or to Plaintiff's attempts to resolve the discovery dispute. Finally, the Court does not find any other circumstances that make an award of expenses unjust. Plaintiff propounded reasonable interrogatories, asking such factual questions as whether Mr. Cromuel is the Chief Executive Officer of PEAC and whether Plaintiff was given a bonus in 2009. ECF No. 72, Ex. A-B. Plaintiff also made reasonable discovery requests, including asking for PEAC's bylaws. ECF No. 72, Ex. C. Despite the reasonableness of these discovery requests, PEAC did not reply. This forced Plaintiff to spend time attempting to resolve this discovery dispute and filing the motion to compel. An award of reasonable attorneys' fees and costs is thus justified against PEAC.

b. Claims Against Barington Cromuel

1. Plaintiff made a good faith attempt to obtain discovery before filing the motion.

Before filing the motion, Plaintiff sent a number of letters to Mr. Cromuel attempting to encourage him to engage in the discovery process. On November 21, 2013, Plaintiff sent Mr. Cromuel a letter via U.S. Certified Mail informing Mr. Cromuel that he had exceeded his thirty day window to reply to Plaintiff's discovery requests, providing Mr. Cromuel with contact information he could use to reach Plaintiff's counsel, and inviting him to call with any questions. ECF No. 72, Ex. H. In addition, on or around December 9, 2013, Plaintiff's counsel contacted Mr. Cromuel's former attorney asking for a telephone number at which to reach Mr. ...


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