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Walton v. First Merchants Bank

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

April 12, 2019

Debora Walton, Plaintiff,
v.
First Merchants Bank, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Hon. Jane Magnus-Stinson, Chief Judge.

         Pro se Plaintiff Debora Walton held several loans and bank accounts at Defendant First Merchants Bank (“FMB”) and, after FMB charged certain fees and ultimately closed Ms. Walton's accounts, she initiated this litigation. On February 5, 2019, the Magistrate Judge granted FMB's Motion for Attorney Fees, [Filing No. 140], and ordered Ms. Walton to pay FMB $13, 108 in attorneys' fees to FMB. [Filing No. 199 at 1-6.] Ms. Walton did not challenge the Magistrate Judge's ruling in any way, but at the same time has failed to pay the amount due to FMB. FMB has now filed a Motion for Order to Show Cause Why Plaintiff Should Not Be Held In Contempt for Failure to Comply With Order to Pay Attorney Fees, [Filing No. 205], which is ripe for the Court's decision.

         I.

         Background

         A. The Magistrate Judge's August 6, 2018 Order

         On August 3, 2018, the Magistrate Judge held a hearing in which he addressed and ruled on nine pending motions and awarded FMB attorneys' fees in connection with responding to an unsuccessful Motion to Compel filed by Ms. Walton and filing a successful Motion for Protective Order Regarding Inadvertently Produced Privileged Materials. [Filing No. 125 at 1-2.] In an August 6, 2018 Order, the Magistrate Judge ordered FMB to file a Notice outlining attorney time, fees, and other expenses incurred in connection with the two motions by August 17, 2018. Subsequently, FMB filed its Motion for Fees Pursuant to August 6, 2018 Order on Discovery Conference (the “Fee Motion”), outlining the fees it incurred in connection with the two motions. [Filing No. 140.]

         B. Ms. Walton's Filings Challenging the Magistrate Judge's August 6, 2018 Order

         In the meantime, Ms. Walton filed two pleadings related to the Magistrate Judge's August 6, 2018 Order: (1) her Verified Motion Under Fed T.R. 60(B)1 and 60(B)3 for Relief From Order Entered on August 3 (sic), 2018 (the “Motion for Relief”), [Filing No. 131]; and (2) her Appeal Objecting to the Magistrates (sic) Order Entered August 6, 2018 (the “Appeal”), [Filing No. 144].

         1. Motion for Relief

         In her Motion for Relief, Ms. Walton argued that the Magistrate Judge improperly denied her Motion to Compel, improperly awarded FMB attorneys' fees and costs in connection with her Motion to Compel, and improperly granted a Motion to Compel Deposition of Plaintiff and for the Production of Documents filed by FMB. [Filing No. 131.] On November 13, 2018, the Court denied Ms. Walton's Motion for Relief as it related to the Magistrate Judge's denial of her Motion to Compel and the grant of FMB's Motion to Compel, but granted in part Ms. Walton's Motion for Relief as it related to the Magistrate Judge's award of attorneys' fees and costs to FMB. [Filing No. 182.] Specifically, the Court found that the Magistrate Judge should have considered and explained whether Ms. Walton's Motion to Compel was substantially justified or whether other circumstances made an award of expenses unjust, as set forth in Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(5)(B). [Filing No. 182 at 6.] The Court instructed that, in ruling on the Fee Motion, the Magistrate Judge “shall specifically consider whether attorneys' fees and costs are appropriate in light of the complete language of Rule 37(a)(5)(B).” [Filing No. 182 at 6.]

         2. Appeal

         In her Appeal, Ms. Walton objected to the Magistrate Judge's: (1) grant of FMB's Motion to Compel; (2) grant of attorneys' fees and costs in connection with FMB's response to her Motion to Compel; and (3) grant of attorneys' fees and costs in connection with Ms. Walton's failure to return an inadvertently-produced document and FMB's filing of a Motion for Protective Order. [Filing No. 144.] Consistent with its ruling on Ms. Walton's Motion for Relief, the Court overruled in part Ms. Walton's first two objections because the Magistrate Judge's grant of FMB's Motion to Compel was not clearly erroneous or contrary to law, but sustained in part her objection to the Magistrate Judge's award of attorneys' fees and costs to FMB for the same reasons it granted in part her Motion for Relief on that issue. [Filing No. 182 at 8.] As to Ms. Walton's third objection, the Court sustained Ms. Walton's objection to the extent that it found that the Magistrate Judge's award of attorneys' fees incurred by FMB in filing its Motion for Protective Order and based solely on Ms. Walton's conduct was contrary to law because the ruling did not consider the full text of Rule 37(a)(5)(A). [Filing No. 182 at 9.] The Court instructed the Magistrate Judge to consider whether attorneys' fees and costs were appropriate in light of the complete language of Rule 37(a)(5)(A). [Filing No. 182 at 9.]

         C. The Magistrate Judge's February 5, 2019 Order

         Consistent with the Court's ruling on the motion for relief and the appeal of the Magistrate Judge's orders, the Magistrate Judge reexamined FMB's motions. He noted that Ms. Walton did not file a response to the Fee Motion that FMB filed after the August 6, 2018 Order, and the Magistrate Judge granted the motion on February 5, 2019. In his February 5, 2019 Order, the Magistrate Judge noted that Ms. Walton “had ample opportunity to respond to the fee requests, including in the briefing of the underlying motions, at the August 3, 2018, hearing where the underlying motions were argued and ruled upon, and in responding to the instant motion for attorneys' fees, ” but “[d]espite having the burden of persuasion, [Ms. Walton] failed to respond.” [Filing No. 199 at 2-3.] The Magistrate Judge considered the full text of Rule 37(a), discussed in detail whether the award of fees was appropriate under the rule, and found that “there is sufficient evidence that none of the exceptions to fee awards are appropriate.” [Filing No. 199 at 3-6.] The Magistrate Judge ordered Ms. Walton to pay FMB $13, 108 in attorneys' fees and cautioned her that “continuing disregard of a Court order can lead to further sanctions, ” but did not set forth a deadline for her to pay that ...


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