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Uche v. Montgomery Hospice, Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland, Southern Division

October 21, 2014

MAUREEN UCHE, Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY HOSPICE, INC., et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

CHARLES B. DAY, Magistrate Judge.

Before this Court is Defendants' Motion for Attorneys' Fees Incurred in Responding to Plaintiff's Frivolous Motion for Protective Order (the "Motion") (ECF No. 83). 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 in the amounts described below.

I. Background

On March 24, 2013, Maureen Uche ("Plaintiff") filed a complaint against Montgomery Hospice, Inc., and Robert Washington (collectively "Defendants") for failure to fairly compensate Plaintiff for her work at Montgomery Hospice. ECF No. 1. On October 10, 2014, this Court granted Defendants' motion to dismiss. ECF No. 98. Prior to the dismissal of this case, on February 4, 2014, Defendants attempted to depose Plaintiff, but the deposition was frustrated by Plaintiff's refusal to answer Defendants' questions. On March 3, 2014, Defendants filed a motion to compel deposition answers, for sanctions or dismissal, and for attorneys' fees incurred due to Plaintiffs' frustration of the discovery process. ECF No. 53. Plaintiff responded by bringing a motion for protective order on March 14, 2014. ECF No. 58. This Court denied the motion for protective order on June 26, 2014, ruling that Plaintiff had "set forth no basis in fact or law for the relief sought." ECF No. 67. Plaintiff subsequently failed to attend a hearing regarding Defendants' motion to compel, for sanctions, and for fees (ECF No. 53), and the Court granted the motion for fees on July 1, 2014. ECF No. 70. At that hearing, the Court also ordered Defendants to file a separate motion within 30 days requesting a specific amount of attorneys' fees. Id. Defendants filed the Motion on July 28, 2014-within the 30 day window. The Motion requests $2, 574.00 in attorneys' fees.

II. Discussion

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure:

[i]f [a] motion [for protective order] is denied, the court... must, after giving an opportunity to be heard, require the movant... to pay the party or deponent who opposed the motion its reasonable expenses incurred in opposing the motion, including attorney's fees. But the court must not order this payment if the motion was substantially justified or other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(5)(B). The Court denied Plaintiff's motion for protective order. Thus, so long as Plaintiff's motion was not "substantially justified" or other circumstances do not make an award of expenses against Plaintiff unjust, Defendants are entitled to reasonable attorneys' fees. The Court will thus review whether these exceptions under the Federal Rules listed above apply.

a. Plaintiff's motion for protective order was not "substantially justified."

Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, "[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense" and "[r]elevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Defendants asked reasonable questions at the deposition, such as whether a particular exhibit was Plaintiff's resume, whether Plaintiff believed, as she once alleged in a prior document, that she had worked over 4, 000 hours of overtime, and whether she had worked any other jobs before or after working at Montgomery Hospice. This Court finds that these questions were reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence and were not abusive. Plaintiff's motion for protective order against answering these and other reasonable questions was thus not "substantially justified."

b. Other circumstances do not make an award of expenses unjust.

Plaintiff argues that Defendants' Motion is incomplete because it does not cite legal authority. However, Defendants' Motion cites the Federal Rules, which are binding both on this Court and on Plaintiff. Plaintiff argues further that the Motion is incomplete because it does not cite to case law and is not in conformity with the requirements of Rule 8 of the Federal Rules. Rule 8 details the requirements for proper pleadings, not motions. Fed.R.Civ.P. 8. Rule 7 describes the requirements for a proper motion, which are that the motion "state with particularity the grounds for seeking the order" and "state the relief sought." Fed.R.Civ.P. 7(b)(1). Defendants' Motion states plainly that they contend they are entitled to relief under Federal Rule 37 because the Court has denied Plaintiff's motion for protective order and that they request attorneys' fees as relief. The Motion is in conformity with Rule 7.

Plaintiff argues further that an award of attorneys' fees would be unjust because Defendants have not proven that Plaintiff has the financial ability to pay the amount Defendants have claimed. This is not required. While "the trial court has broad discretion to reduce the fee award in light of mitigating factors, such as... the relative economic status of the litigants" ( Arnold v. Burger King Corp., 719 F.2d 63, 68 (4th Cir. 1983)), neither the trial court nor the moving party is required to do so.

Plaintiff relatedly argues that Defendants' Motion is deficient because they have not "set[] forth the reasonableness" of their requested fees. Plaintiff cites Ketchum v. Moses (24 Cal.4th 1122 (2001)) as sole support for this contention. Ketchum is a California Supreme Court case and is thus not binding on this Court. Ketchum discusses the appropriateness of an award of attorneys' fees under a California statute that provides attorneys' fees to prevailing parties in cases involving strategic ...


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