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Panwar v. Access Therapies, Inc

United States District Court, Southern District of Indiana, Indianapolis Division

January 29, 2014

RITURAJ SINGH PANWAR on behalf of himself and all others similarly situated, Plaintiff,
v.
ACCESS THERAPIES, INC, RN STAFF, INC. doing business as REHABILITY CARE, RAMON VILLEGAS, Defendants.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION ON MOTIONS FOR SANCTIONS, ATTORNEY’S FEES, AND TO STRIKE ATTORNEY’S FEES

Tim A. Baker United States Magistrate Judge

I. Introduction

The discovery dispute before the Court in this case is relatively straightforward. Plaintiff Rituraj Singh Panwar requested production of certain documents that were not produced despite repeated discovery requests, party conferral, and Court intervention. [Docket Nos. 60, 87, 113, 150.] Consequently, Plaintiff filed a motion for sanctions under Fed.R.Civ.P. 37. The Court held oral argument on this motion, then took it under advisement to give the parties another opportunity to resolve the discovery dispute or, if necessary, submit additional briefing. The parties did not resolve the dispute and Plaintiff filed supplemental briefing for his motion for sanctions and a motion for attorney’s fees. In turn, Defendants Access Therapies, Inc., RN Staff Inc., and Ramon Villegas filed a motion to strike the motion for attorney’s fees. [Docket No. 133.]

As discussed below, Defendants improperly failed to produce certain discovery and, as a result, Plaintiff is entitled to reasonable attorney’s fees and costs. The problem, however, is that Plaintiff’s request for relief is unreasonable. Plaintiff seeks a judgment against the Defendants, or alternatively, an adverse inference. As discussed below, the Magistrate Judge finds such extreme relief is unwarranted. Plaintiff also seeks fees and costs, which is appropriate. However, Plaintiff’s request for $163, 254.96 is not reasonable. In fact, such a staggering request could arguably be viewed as sanctionable. The Magistrate Judge recommends that Plaintiff’s motion for sanctions be granted [Docket Nos. 97, 114] and that Plaintiff be awarded reasonable fees and costs [Docket Nos. 122, 140] related to Defendants’ discovery missteps. Under the circumstances here, reasonable fees and costs are $28, 431.46. Finally, the Magistrate Judge recommends that Defendants’ motion to strike the motion for attorney’s fees be denied. [Docket No. 133.]

II. Background

Defendants recruit and hire individuals from India, the Philippines, and other foreign countries to work in the United States at healthcare companies. Part of the recruitment process is securing H-1B visas for foreign workers, which enables them to work in the United States. Pursuant to federal law, workers with H-1B visas must be paid a minimum “prevailing wage.” This lawsuit alleges that Defendants are engaged in a scheme to defraud these foreign workers of a minimum prevailing wage. Defendants deny this allegation.

On June 14, 2012, Plaintiff served Defendants with their first set of document requests. [Docket No. 98 at 2.] After not receiving a response, Plaintiff contacted Defendants on July 20, 2012, and the parties ultimately agreed to a thirty-day extension to produce the documents. On July 23, 2012, Defendants served responses to the document requests. With the exception of one request, Defendants agreed to produce all responsive documents. The parties later agreed to another thirty-day extension with the understanding that documents would be produced on a rolling basis. Despite these agreements, Defendants did not produce all responsive documents.

The parties continued to confer in September and October to no avail. The Court held a telephonic status conference on October 16, 2012, to address outstanding discovery. At the conclusion of the conference, the Court ordered Defendants to produce responsive documents by November 20, 2012. On November 20, 2012-the day responsive documents were due-Defendants sought to extend the deadline to November 27, 2012. The Court granted the request. On November 28, 2012, Defendants provided Plaintiff with access to a shared folder where only some of the responsive documents were uploaded.

The parties scheduled a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition for December 6, 2012, to address Defendants’ “efforts to preserve, collect, and produce documents.” [Docket No. 98 at 4.] The night before the deposition, Defendants informed Plaintiff that Defendants’ designee would not attend the deposition. The deposition was rescheduled and Plaintiff’s counsel incurred a $150 flight cancellation fee that Defendants’ counsel apparently agreed to pay but did not. Following the deposition, Plaintiff “had serious concerns about the Defendants’ limited search for and production of documents and continued violation of the Court’s October 16 and November 27 Orders” and sought relief from the Court. [Docket No. 98 at 6.] The Court ordered in part:

that Defendants attorneys shall actively coordinate, supervise, and, where possible, help conduct a search and collection of all documents responsive to Plaintiff’s Requests for Production of Documents from Defendants’ files (including the files of agents), computers, and servers, including all computers and servers used by Defendants’ Indianapolis-based employees, and shall promptly produce such documents to Plaintiff’s counsel.

[Docket No. 87 at 1.] Sometime after this order, Defendants disseminated an email, as part of its “Signature Campaign, ” to its employees requesting them to sign a document agreeing to:

release and forever discharge Access Therapies, Inc. and /or RN Staff, Inc. from any claim I may have related in any way to the payment of wages to me by Access Therapies, Inc. or RN Staff, Inc. from today and the prior period back to the start of my employment, including any claim related in any way to prevailing wages or nonproductive time for H-1B workers for the same period.

[Docket No. 112-1 at 23.]

The parties apparently continued to work together with little progress until April 2013 when Plaintiff told Defendants that he intended to seek sanctions. Defendants then began producing additional documents, including some 16, 000 pages. Despite Defendants’ latest production, Plaintiff still claims that “discovery remains woefully incomplete.” [Docket No. 98 at 6.]

A primary reason Defendants cite for their problems in timely and completely responding to Plaintiff’s discovery requests are health problems of Defendants’ principal, Harvinder Dhani. His health started deteriorating in February 2013. Initially, Dhani’s symptoms prevented him from working at full capacity. Over the subsequent months, Dhani was admitted to the hospital a number of times with little improvement. By August 2013, he had undergone complex spinal reconstruction and his condition would not allow him to return to work for six to nine months. [Docket Nos. 119 at 11; 119-3 at 1.] Nevertheless, Defendants maintain that they have complied with their discovery obligations, that the Court’s ruling on Defendants’ motion to dismiss largely moots discovery issues, and that Plaintiff’s claim for fees and costs is “outrageous.” [Docket No. 134 at 7.]

III. Discussion

A. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37 Sanctions

Plaintiff seeks sanctions against Defendants pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 37. Plaintiff does not seek sanctions against Defendants’ counsel “as he has made good-faith efforts to comply with requirements of discovery and the Orders.”[1] [Docket No. 98 at 1.] Rule 37(b)(2)(A) provides that if a party or party’s officer, director, or managing agent fails to obey an order to provide discovery, the court where the action is pending may issue further just orders. Such orders may include:

(i) directing that the matters embraced in the order or other designated facts be taken as established for purposes of the action, as the prevailing party claims;
(ii) prohibiting the disobedient party from supporting or opposing designated claims or defenses, or from introducing designated matters in evidence;
(iii) striking pleadings in whole or in part;
(iv) staying further proceedings until the order is obeyed;
(v) dismissing the action or proceeding in ...

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