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Barton v. District of Columbia

August 19, 2002

C. PEYTON BARTON, JR. ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina, United States District Judge.

Document Nos.: 73, 74, 75, 79, 80

MEMORANDUM OPINION DENYING IN PART AND GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFFS' COUNSEL'S MOTION FOR LEAVE TO WITHDRAW AND TO STAY THE PROCEEDINGS; DENYING PLAINTIFF BARTON'S MOTION TO STAY THE PROCEEDINGS

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on plaintiffs' counsel's motion for leave to withdraw and to stay the proceedings and on plaintiff C. Peyton Barton's motion to stay the proceedings. C. Michael Tarone and John F. Karl, Jr. move to withdraw as the plaintiffs' attorneys pursuant to Local Civil Rule 83.6(c) and for a stay of the proceedings pending the outcome of this motion plus an additional 14 days. The attorneys claim that their clients, Mr. Barton and Maine Avenue Seafood, Inc. ("the plaintiffs"), have filed for bankruptcy and cannot pay their legal fees. Mr. Barton also states that he cannot effectively assist his counsel because of a serious medical condition and filed his own motion for a stay. For the reasons that follow, the court allows plaintiffs' counsel to withdraw but not before filing an opposition to the defendants' motion to dismiss. The court also determines that a stay of the proceedings is not necessary and would unfairly prejudice the defendants. Accordingly, the court denies in part and grants in part plaintiffs' counsel's motion for leave to withdraw and to stay the proceedings, and denies Mr. Barton's motion to stay the proceedings.

II. BACKGROUND *fn1

A commercial tenant, Mr. Barton runs a seafood concession, Maine Avenue Seafood, Inc., out of the Fish Market Building at the Wharf, located at 1100 Maine Avenue, S.W., on the Southwest D.C. waterfront. First Am. Compl. ("Compl.") at 3-4. The United States government owns the Wharf and the District manages the area. Id. In 1996, Mr. Barton purchased the assets of Morgan Seafood, a bankrupt concessionaire, resulting in the assignment to him of two lease agreements for a land-based location at the Wharf. Mot. for Prelim. Inj. at 4. Mr. Barton states that the District recognized the assignments. Id. The assignments Mr. Barton received were part of a joint lease with other Wharf vendors. Wharf Defs.' Opp'n to Mot. for Prelim. Inj. at 5. Since the joint lease expired in 1996, all of the concessionaires - including the plaintiffs - have operated in their same locations under month-to-month leases. Id.

The record in this case exposes a long history of hostility between the parties. In essence, the plaintiffs claim the District "met . . . with all vendors except Barton" in 1998, excluding them from the negotiations process and creating two classes of vendors at the Wharf: Barton, who is not being awarded a contract, and the four other vendors, who are being awarded contracts. Id. at 6. The District defendants contend that "the City did try to negotiate a new lease with Mr. Barton, but he simply refused." District Defs.' Opp'n to Mot for Prelim. Inj. at 6.

This case's tricky procedural history began on February 1, 2000, when Mr. Barton and his company, Maine Avenue Seafood, Inc., filed their complaint in this action. Mot. for Prelim. Inj. at 3. The plaintiffs filed an amended complaint on December 22, 2000. The Wharf defendants filed a motion to dismiss on January 17, 2001 and the District defendants filed a motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on February 14, 2001. The court struck the latter filing because it violated Local Civil Rule 56.1 since it did not contain an adequate statement of material facts not in dispute. Order dated August 14, 2001 (citing LCvR 56.1). The District defendants filed a renewed motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, for summary judgment on September 19, 2001. The plaintiffs did not file an opposition, but instead filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on November 9, 2001.

On November 26, 2001, the plaintiffs settled with the Wharf defendants. Stipulation dated Nov. 26, 2001. That same day, the plaintiffs filed a motion to stay the proceedings pending the bankruptcy court's decision. Suggestion of Bankruptcy dated Nov. 9, 2001; Pls.' Mot. for a Stay of Proceedings to Obtain the Bankruptcy Court's Authorization to Proceed as Special Counsel of Pls.'/Debtor Special Counsel.

The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Columbia dismissed Maine Seafood, Inc.'s Chapter 11 bankruptcy petition on December 28, 2001, and dismissed Mr. Barton's petition on January 29, 2002. District Defs.' Praecipe Regarding Dismissal of Pls.' Two Bankruptcy Actions at 1. On March 1, 2002, Mr. Tarone and Mr. Karl of the law firm McDonald & Karl filed a motion for leave to withdraw as counsel to the plaintiffs because the "plaintiffs are not meeting their obligations to their counsel." Pls.' Counsel's Mot. for Leave to Withdraw and to Stay Proceedings ("Counsel's Mot.") at 2. The attorneys also maintain that a stay of the proceedings is necessary "to permit Mr. Barton sufficient time to obtain counsel, or if he chooses, to represent himself pro se." Id. Moreover, they submit that the plaintiffs need additional time to locate a civil rights attorney because of the "complex legal issues" involved in this case. Id. The attorneys noted that "Plaintiffs do not consent to this Motion" for leave to withdraw. Id. at 1. On March 29, 2002, Mr. Barton himself filed a motion seeking a medical stay until about September 2002, stating that he is unable to "effectively assist his counsel or meet his obligations with his attorneys" because of chronic congestive heart failure, atrial fibrillation, and morbid obesity. Barton's Mot. for a Medical Stay at 1; Supplemental Mem. in Supp. of Counsel's Mot. ("Supplemental Mem.") at 1-2.

The District defendants ("the defendants") oppose plaintiffs' counsel's motion, arguing that counsel did not comply with Local Civil Rule 83.6(c)'s notification requirements. Defs.' Opp'n to Counsel's Mot. at 2 (citing LCvR 83.6(c)). The defendants also argue that such a motion unfairly prejudices them and would cause undue delay. Id. at 3-6. Defs.' Opp'n at 2. The court now turns to the attorneys' motion.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Counsel for the Plaintiffs May Withdraw After They File an Opposition to the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss

Plaintiffs' counsel move for leave to withdraw as counsel pursuant to Local Civil Rule ("Rule") 83.6(c), which states that "if the party is not represented by another attorney, an attorney may withdraw an appearance for a party only by order of the court . . . ." LCvR 83.6(c). Mr. Tarone and Mr. Karl claim that the plaintiffs filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and thus cannot meet their financial obligations to their counsel. Counsel's Mot. at 2. The plaintiffs do not consent to their attorneys' withdrawal. Id. at 1. In addition, the defendants oppose plaintiffs' counsel's motion, contending that the plaintiffs' counsel did not give adequate no tice of withdrawal to their clients as required by Rule 83.6(c). Defs.' Opp'n at 2. In addition, the defendants note that Rule 83.6(d) permits the ...


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