Trials & Litigation

Lawyers sanctioned $500 for 'grossly negligent' court filings and 'heaping mess' of binders

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A federal judge in California has sanctioned lawyers for a construction company $500 for "grossly negligent” and disorganized court filings in a lawsuit against their insurer.

U.S. District Judge Jesus Bernal of the Central District of California imposed the fine in an Aug. 21 order. In a declaration filed Aug. 25, a Klinedinst partner informed the court that he had he sent a personal check.

The partner is one of two lawyers representing plaintiff Robert DeVille and his company, Premier Construction and Remodel Inc. in a lawsuit against the company’s insurer for an alleged failure to defend a lawsuit.

Bernal had ordered the lawyers to show cause why they shouldn’t be sanctioned in a July 8 order.

“Plaintiffs’ counsel apologizes for one or two errors identified by the court,” Bernal wrote. “Mostly, though, plaintiffs’ counsel quibbles. The [order to show cause response] loses sight of the big picture: The filings were so irregular, cumulative and disorganized that the court could not follow plaintiffs’ arguments.”

Bernal raised several alleged issues in the order to show cause and sanctions order, including:

• Several documents lacked pin cites to supporting evidence, or the pin cite didn’t support the proposition. In his sanctions opinion, Bernal said the pin cite problems were “especially galling given the cumulative and poorly differentiated filings.”

• The plaintiffs’ “disorganized” filings made it difficult to locate referenced exhibits or declarations. In one example, the plaintiffs appeared to submit the same or a similar declaration 28 times, each time with a different set of exhibits attached.

In another example, the plaintiffs submitted about eight binders to the judges’ chambers. “Each binder has several tabs, but the tab numbers do not match exhibits,” Bernal wrote in the show cause order. “Plaintiffs dump this heaping mess outside of chambers and leave the court to muddle through their briefs’ dreamlike associations, which also fail to reference the relevant charts or the record.”

• Plaintiffs filed “additional sundry documents” after the deadline under a court rule extending deadlines when a hearing date is continued. The documents, however, “were not clearly opposing or reply papers that fall within this rule,” Bernal wrote in the sanctions order.

“Plaintiffs’ counsel’s interpretation of Local Rule 7-11 would turn each continuance into an opportunity for the parties to submit—willy-nilly and according to no known timetable—random exhibits, objections, factual and legal contentions, and duplicative oppositions and replies, long after the motion has been fully briefed,” Bernal said.

• The plaintiffs lawyers submitted 535 additional undisputed facts for the defendant’s response, “which the court found to be another grotesque and unnecessary multiplication of work,” Bernal wrote. “Plaintiffs’ counsel now provides the gossamer excuse that the additional facts were meant to ‘demonstrate defendant’s numerous acts of ongoing misconduct over the course of years in order to further demonstrate the value of their case.’ ”

Bernal also denied the plaintiffs motion to reconsider his decision to partly grant summary judgment to the insurance company, calling the motion “an attempt at summary judgment do-over.”

The Klinedinst partner, Benjamin Wohlfeil, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Hat tip to Law360, which covered the sanction.

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