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Byrd v. District of Columbia

June 30, 2003

ARITHA F. BYRD, PLAINTIFF
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, DEFENDANT.



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

Document No. 9

MEMORANDUM OPINION

VACATING THE COURT'S PRIOR RULING AND DENYING COUNSEL'SMOTION TO WITHDRAW WITHOUT PREJUDICE

I. INTRODUCTION

This employment-discrimination matter comes before the court upon the court's reconsideration of its May 22, 2003 ruling, which granted the plaintiff's counsel's motion to withdraw from the case. The court based its ruling primarily on the plaintiff's failure to oppose her counsel's motion before the applicable filing deadline. After its ruling, the court was notified that the plaintiff had written to her counsel to oppose his motion but had failed to file that letter of opposition with the court. As a result, the court now reconsiders its ruling sua sponte in light of the plaintiff's opposition. Because the relevant factors weigh against withdrawal and the plaintiff's counsel fails to present good cause for withdrawal, the court vacates its prior ruling and denies counsel's motion to withdraw from the case without prejudice. Thus, the plaintiff's counsel must continue his representation of the plaintiff notwithstanding good cause for terminating that representation down the road.

II. BACKGROUND

On September 24, 2002, the plaintiff filed a complaint against her employer ("the defendant") alleging violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act, demanding a jury trial, and seeking damages. Compl. at 3-4. Specifically, the plaintiff alleges that the defendant discriminated against her because of her back ailments and that the defendant ultimately discharged her based on that condition and in retaliation for her complaints concerning the alleged discrimination. Id. at 2-3. After securing leave from the court, the defendant late-filed its answer on December 2, 2002.

At the initial status hearing held on April 10, 2003, the court set several deadlines, including the discovery cut-off date of August 11, 2003, and referred the matter to a magistrate judge for settlement discussions commencing on July 16, 2003. Order dated Apr. 10, 2003; Minute Entry dated Apr. 10, 2003. Almost one month later, on May 14, 2003, the plaintiff's counsel filed his motion to withdraw from the case.*fn1 Having received no opposition from the plaintiff within the five-day deadline set by Local Civil Rule 83.6(c), the court granted counsel's motion to withdraw on May 22, 2003.*fn2 LCvR 83.6(c); Order dated May 22, 2003. In the interim, however, the plaintiff mailed her opposition dated May 16, 2003 to her counsel but did not file it with the court. Opp'n at 2. Upon being notified of the plaintiff's opposition, the court obtained a copy of the plaintiff's opposition and directed the Clerk of the court to file it as part of the record.*fn3 Now that the court has received the plaintiff's opposition, it reconsiders its ruling of May 22, 2003 and resolves counsel's motion to withdraw on its merits, rather than on procedural grounds.

III. ANALYSIS

A. Legal Standard for a Motion to Withdraw

As a fundamental premise, counsel is under an obligation to see the work through to completion when he agrees to undertake the representation of his client. Streetman v. Lynaugh, 674 F. Supp. 229, 234 (E.D. Tex. 1987) (citations omitted). The decision to grant or deny counsel's motion to withdraw is committed to the discretion of the district court. Whiting v. Lacara, 187 F.3d 317, 320 (2nd Cir. 1999) (citing Fleming v. Harris, 39 F.3d 905, 908 (8th Cir. 1994) and Washington v. Sherwin Real Estate, Inc. 694 F.2d 1081, 1087 (7th Cir. 1982)). When ruling on a motion to withdraw, courts may consider the disruptive impact that the withdrawal will have on the prosecution of the case. Whiting, 187 F.3d at 320; Brown v. Nat'l Survival Games, 1994 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 16572, at *9-10 (N.D.N.Y. Nov. 18, 1994) (citing Goldsmith v. Pyramid Communications, Inc. 362 F. Supp. 694, 696 (S.D.N.Y. 1973)).

Additionally, Local Civil Rule 83.6(d) guides the court's ruling on an attorney's motion to withdraw. LCvR 83.6(d). The rule provides that "[t]he court may deny an attorney's motion for leave to withdraw if the withdrawal would unduly delay trial of the case, or be unfairly prejudicial to any party, or otherwise not be in the interests of justice." Id. In reaching its ruling, the court also may consider factors such as the length of time the case and dispositive motions have been pending, the time it would take for the unrepresented party to search for and secure new legal representation, and the degree of financial burden that counsel would suffer if the court required him to remain in the case. Barton v. District of Columbia, 209 F.R.D. 274, 277-78 (D.D.C. 2002).

B. The Court Denies Counsel's Motion to Withdraw

The plaintiff opposes her counsel's motion to withdraw without going into much detail as to the grounds for her opposition other than stating that counsel has not provided any reasons for his requested withdrawal. Opp'n at 1. Counsel ultimately provides the reasons for his withdrawal in his reply, namely that the plaintiff has not paid his fees, that his withdrawal will not prejudice the plaintiff, that the parties have not scheduled any depositions, and that the court has not set a ...


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