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MHD-Rockland Inc. v. Aerospace Distributors Inc.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 20, 2015

MHD-Rockland Inc.
v.
Aerospace Distributors Inc

For MHD-Rockland Inc., Plaintiff: Daniel Joseph Mellin, LEAD ATTORNEY, Hillman Brown and Darrow PA, Annapolis, MD.

For Aerospace Distributors Inc., Aerospace Precision Inc., Defendants: Stephen B Stern, LEAD ATTORNEY, Andrew Mark Kerner, Hyatt and Weber PA, Annapolis, MD.

MEMORANDUM

Catherine C. Blake, United States District Judge.

This case concerns the alleged breach of a contract under which defendant Aerospace Distributors Inc. (" ADI" ) agreed to supply plaintiff MHD-Rockland Inc. (" Rockland" ) with four airplane wheel assemblies. Now before the court is ADI's motion to dismiss and for attorney's fees based on Rockland's last-minute cancellation of a planned settlement conference before a Magistrate Judge. The parties have fully briefed the issues, and no in-court hearing is necessary. See Local R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2014).[1] For the following reasons, the motion will be granted in part and denied in part.

BACKGROUND

Rockland sued ADI and Aerospace Precision Inc. (" API" ) in Maryland state court in July 2013, and the defendants removed the case to this court the following month. The court dismissed all claims against API, leaving only a contract claim against ADI for $20,350 in damages, and, in the alternative, a claim for rescission and restitution. In a telephone conference call on October 20, 2014, a bench trial was scheduled for April 27 through 29, 2015. Also in that call, counsel for both parties consented to have the case referred to a Magistrate Judge for a settlement conference, with the accommodation that party representatives be permitted to attend the conference by telephone. On October 21, 2014, the court issued an order referring the case to Magistrate Judge Coulson. On November 24, 2014, Judge Coulson issued an order scheduling the settlement conference for January 21, 2015. That order indicated that " FAILURE TO COMPLY WITHOUT JUSTIFICATION MAY RESULT IN THE IMPOSITION OF SANCTIONS[.]" (Order Scheduling Settlement Conference 3, ECF No. 45 (emphasis in original).) Both parties submitted ex parte statements to Judge Coulson, as required, and Judge Coulson " reviewed [them] in preparation for the conference." (Order Cancelling Settlement Conference, ECF No. 46.)

On January 19, 2015,[2] however, Rockland's general counsel--not its counsel of record--emailed Judge Coulson purporting to cancel the conference unilaterally based on Rockland's view that settlement would be more likely during the " week before trial" than during the conference, and that the conference would be prohibitively expensive given the low value of Rockland's claim. (Rockland Email 2, ECF No. 47.) Further, the general counsel informed Judge Coulson that Rockland had " revoked [the] mandate" of its attorney, and would " appoint a new attorney to act on its behalf shortly." ( Id.) Because Rockland could not proceed without counsel admitted to practice in the District of Maryland, Judge Coulson had no choice but to cancel the settlement conference on January 20, the day before it was scheduled to take place. Rockland's then-counsel moved to withdraw as attorney later that day. This court granted that motion the following day. On February 20, 2015, Rockland's current counsel filed his notice of appearance.

On March 6, 2015, ADI moved to dismiss and for attorney's fees based on Rockland's cancellation of the settlement conference and on Rockland's alleged delay in timely substituting counsel. Rockland responded.

ANALYSIS

ADI asks the court to dismiss Rockland's second amended complaint because Rockland failed to both (1) timely substitute counsel pursuant to Local Rule 101.2.b, and (2) comply with the court's order of a settlement conference. In the alternative, ADI seeks an order requiring Rockland to pay the costs and fees ADI incurred preparing for the settlement conference.

Dismissal under Local Rule 101.2.b

The relevant portion of Local Rule 101.2.b, which governs withdrawal of appearance of an attorney representing a party other than an individual, provides as follows:

In the event that within thirty (30) days of the filing of the motion to withdraw, new counsel has not entered an appearance, the Court may take such action, if any, that it deems appropriate, including granting the motion to withdraw and dismissing any affirmative claim for relief asserted by the party and/or directing the party to show cause why a default should not be entered on claims asserted against it.

Local R. 101.2.b (D. Md. 2014). ADI points out that Rockland's previous counsel filed his motion to withdraw on January 20, 2015, and Rockland's current counsel did not file his notice of appearance until February 20, 2015, when 31 days had passed. ADI thus asks the court to dismiss Rockland's " ...


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