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Rucker v. Air Ventures Hawaii, LLC

United States District Court, D. Hawaii

September 18, 2017

KATRINA RUCKER, Plaintiff,
v.
AIR VENTURES HAWAII, LLC, Defendant.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT'S MOTION FOR ATTORNEY'S FEES

          Kevin S.C. Chang, United States Magistrate Judge

         Before the Court is Defendant Air Ventures Hawaii, LLC's (“Defendant”) Motion for Attorney's Fees, filed July 27, 2017. Plaintiff Katrina Rucker (“Plaintiff”) did not file an opposition to Defendant's Motion. After careful consideration of Defendant's submissions and the applicable law, the Court HEREBY GRANTS the Motion for the reasons stated below.

         BACKGROUND

         Between April 14 and 18, 2017, Plaintiff mailed (via certified mail) subpoenas to Defendant, [1] commanding the production of documents by April 28, 2017. The subpoenas were addressed to Defendant's (1) General Manager Jill Briley; (2) liability insurance company adjuster Shari Thompson; and (3) pilots Eric Johnson, Brian Fitchett, Paul Fulghum, and Harry Dalsay. With respect to Messrs. Johnson, Fitchett, Fulghum, and Dalsay, the subpoenas requested “[a]ll school records (elementary to present), all psychological evaluations, church records, military records, a fifty year employment history list, and all safety training classes attended. Bank records January 2014 to present.” Doc. No. 91, Ex. A. The same information was requested of Ms. Briley, along with 39 additional categories of documents. Id.

         On June 28, 2017, this Court issued an Order Granting (1) Defendants' Motion to Quash Plaintiff's Subpoenas Dated April 14, 2017 and (2) Starr Adjustment Services, Inc.'s Motion to Quash Subpoena Dated April 18, 2017 (“Order”). Doc. No. 110. The Court quashed multiple subpoenas because Plaintiff failed to obtain the signature of the Clerk of Court; she failed to personally serve the subpoenas; and the subpoenas were unduly burdensome and failed to allow reasonable time to comply.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendant requests $1, 845.00 in attorneys' fees against Plaintiff due to her violation of Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“FRCP”) 26(g)(1)(B) and 45(d)(1). FRCP 45(d)(1) provides:

A party or attorney responsible for issuing and serving a subpoena must take reasonable steps to avoid imposing undue burden or expense on a person subject to the subpoena. The court for the district where compliance is required must enforce this duty and impose an appropriate sanction--which may include lost earnings and reasonable attorney's fees--on a party or attorney who fails to comply.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 45(d)(1). FRCP 45(d)(1) sanctions are discretionary, Legal Voice v. Stormans, Inc., 738 F.3d 1178, 1185 (9th Cir. 2013), and “courts have discretion over the type and degree of sanction imposed.” Mount Hope Church v. Bash Back!, 705 F.3d 418, 425 (9th Cir. 2012). One form of permissible sanction is payment of the opposing counsel's attorneys' fees. Id.

         A party is not exposed to sanctions merely because it has lost a motion to compel. Legal Voice, 738 F.3d at 1185 (citing Mount Hope Church, 705 F.3d at 425-27). “Similarly, while failure narrowly to tailor a subpoena may be a ground for sanctions, the district court need not impose sanctions every time it finds a subpoena overbroad; such overbreadth may sometimes result from normal advocacy, which we have said should not give rise to sanctions.” Id. (citing Mount Hope Church, 705 F.3d at 426). Sanctions may be imposed, however “when a party issues a subpoena in bad faith, for an improper purpose, or in a manner inconsistent with existing law.” Id. (citing Mount Hope Church, 705 F.3d at 425, 428; Mattel, Inc. v. Walking Mountain Prods., 353 F.3d 792, 814 (9th Cir. 2003)).

         FRCP 26(g)(1)(B) “requires parties seeking discovery to act (1) consistently with the rules of existing law or with good reason to change the law; (2) without bad faith; and (3) reasonably without imposing undue burden or expense considering the needs of the case.” Mount Hope Church, 705 F.3d at 425. A violation of any of these duties without substantial justification mandates the imposition of an appropriate sanction, such as reasonable expenses, including attorneys' fees, caused by the violation. Id.; Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(g)(3).[2] “Because Rule 45[(d)](1) gives ‘specific application' to Rule 26(g), it follows that a violation of any one of the Rule 26 duties will be relevant to assessing propriety of sanctions under Rule 45[(d)](1)'s ‘undue burden' language.” Mount Hope Church, 705 F.3d at 425.

         Here, an award of sanctions is appropriate because the subpoenas imposed an undue burden on Defendant, they were inconsistent with existing law, and they were for an improper purpose. As already noted, Plaintiff failed to obtain the signature of the Clerk of Court; she failed to personally serve the subpoenas; and the subpoenas were unduly burdensome and failed to allow reasonable time to comply. The failure to obtain the Clerk of Court's signature and to effect personal service is in contravention of FRCP 45's requirements.[3] Moreover, the four-day window to comply imposed an undue burden and was inconsistent with existing law. Finally, the overbreadth and irrelevance of the subpoenas demonstrated that they were issued for an improper purpose. As earlier noted, the subpoenas requested “[a]ll school records (elementary to present), all psychological evaluations, church records, military records, a fifty year employment history list, and all safety training classes attended. Bank records January 2014 to present.” Doc. No. 91, Ex. A. The requests far exceeded the bounds of normal advocacy. For these reasons, Defendant is entitled to sanctions in the form of attorneys' fees. Beaver Cty. Employees' Ret. Fund v. Tile Shop Holdings, Inc., No. 16-MC-80076-JSC, 2016 WL 7212308, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Dec. 13, 2016) (awarding sanctions pursuant to FRCP 45(d)(1)); Sec. & Exch. Comm'n v. Schooler, No. 316CV00517MMDWGC, 2016 WL 6821079, at *5 (D. Nev. Nov. 17, 2016) (awarding $10, 661.00 in sanctions pursuant to FRCP 45(d)(1)).

         A. Fee Award

         Hawaii courts calculate reasonable attorneys' fees based on a method that is virtually identical to the traditional “lodestar” calculation set forth in Hensley v. Eckerhart, 461 U.S. 424, 433 (1983). See DFS Group L.P. v. Paiea Props., 110 Hawai‘i 217, 222, 131 P.3d 500, 505 (2006). The court must determine a reasonable fee by multiplying the ...


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