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Fastov v. Christie's International PLC

April 25, 2008

ROBERT S. FASTOV, PLAINTIFF,
v.
CHRISTIE'S INTERNATIONAL PLC; CHRISTIE, MANSON & WOODS, LTD., AND CHRISTIE'S, INC., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: William Stafford Senior United States District Judge Northern District OF Florida

ORDER AWARDING ATTORNEYS' FEES AND EXPENSES TO DEFENDANTS

Before the court is the magistrate judge's report and recommendation docketed January 24, 2008. Doc. 148. The magistrate judge recommends that the plaintiff, Robert S. Fastov ("Fastov"), be ordered to pay to the defendants attorneys' fees and expenses of $110,000. The parties have responded (docs. 149, 151-154) to the magistrate judge's report and recommendation, and Fastov has requested (doc. 155) a hearing.

In a previous order (doc. 136), this court granted the defendants' motion for attorneys' fees and expenses. The court explained the reasons for its order as follows:

[T]he claims in this case arose when Plaintiff, an art dealer, unsuccessfully attempted to sell a painting through Christie, Manson & Woods, Ltd. ("CMW"), a London-based art auctioneer. After learning that CMW declined to auction his painting, Plaintiff sent CMW a 79-page, single-spaced typewritten letter (with hundreds of pages of attachments), threatening legal action. In particular, Plaintiff explained that, unless CMW agreed to his settlement proposal ($168K), he was prepared to file a lawsuit for compensatory damages in excess of $265,000 and "punitive damages in an amount to be determined, but considerably in excess of $1,000,000." Biester Decl., Ex. 14 at 1. He also suggested that "the cash outlays that Christie's will, to a legal certainty, have to make (and will not recover, even if Christie's wins) to defend the litigation will be approximately $221.3K (very conservatively understated) or (more realistically) well in excess of $300K." Id. at 3 (emphasis in original). Characterizing his statements not as threats but as simple statements of business fact, Plaintiff gave CMW three weeks in which to respond to his letter. Plaintiff went on to state:

[I]f you decide for tactical purposes to delay your response beyond my three week deadline, Christie's costs of settlement will increase appreciably. If you decide to wait to see if I actually file the suit before approaching me to discuss settlement, you will find that the chances of achieving settlement are virtually nil, unless Christie's is prepared to reimburse me for all of my costs to date of settlement and pay all of my compensatory damages, which will be well in excess of $265K, and an extremely high percentage of the amount of punitive damages prayed for in the complaint, which shall be in the millions of dollars.

Id. at 5.

In concluding his lengthy letter, Plaintiff wrote:

Do not bet against my inclination, will, ability, experience, and tenacity to file and successfully maintain F v. C through to its successful conclusion. It will be the worst and most costly conclusion and bet of your life. The settlement proposals and the purposes of this letter are inherently pacific in nature. If you and Christie's force me to go to war, those who have litigated for, with, and against me will tell you that I am extremely tough, intelligent, and tenacious. I give no quarter and ask none, and above all, I will take any and all actions, both within and without the courtroom, that do not violate the legal rules of professional conduct, necessary to achieve Christie's unconditional surrender.

Id. at 79.

When his threats proved unavailing, Plaintiff filed a 225-page complaint against CMW and two related entities (collectively, "Defendants") in this Court. During the course of the litigation, the Court more than once admonished Plaintiff for abusing the litigation process. For example, the Court at one time entered an order stating:

In response to defendants' motion for summary judgment, plaintiff has attempted to file a 59-page opposition, a 90-page declaration in support of his opposition, a 461-page statement of disputed and undisputed facts, and three volumes of exhibits totaling approximately 1,500 pages. A first-year law student is taught that a filing in support of or in opposition to any motion should be tailored to achieve the paramount goal of assisting the Court in rendering its decision. Plaintiff's filing does the opposite. It is an abuse of the litigation process.

Doc. 89 at 1. After explaining that "Plaintiff's well-documented proclivity in this case to engage in obstructionist litigation tactics at the expense of the Court, opposing counsel, and even his own attorneys will be tolerated no longer," the Court warned Plaintiff that "from the date of this Order forward, Plaintiff will be personally fined and sanctioned every time the Court determines that he has abused the litigation process--regardless of whether he is represented by counsel or is proceeding pro se." Id. at 2-3. In a later order, the Court struck from the record a lengthy document filed by Plaintiff, explaining that "[s]uch a filing, particularly in light of previous warnings to plaintiff, is an abuse of the litigation process and a waste of the Court's time." Doc. 95 at 1. The parties were then informed that "the Court will postpone its consideration of sanctions against [Plaintiff] . . . until after defendants' motion for summary judgment has been resolved." Id. at 3. Still later, the Court granted Defendants' summary judgment motion, noting that Plaintiff's claims to damages defied all credulity, making sense "only when viewed in the context of his open threats to achieve 'Christie's unconditional surrender.' " Biester Decl., Ex. 14 at 79. In conclusion, the Court explained that--in its view--Plaintiff's "unsupported, unmeritorious claims . . . were initiated in bad faith with the intent to subject [Defendants] to 'the worst and most costly' litigation in [Defendants'] experience." Doc. 115 at 24.

Here, the record amply demonstrates that Plaintiff first initiated, then prosecuted this lawsuit in bad faith for the purpose of harassing Defendants. His egregious behavior, which unreasonably and vexatiously multiplied these proceedings, clearly warrants the imposition of sanctions under section 1927 as well as under the Court's inherent authority. As a sanction, Defendants have requested that Plaintiff be ordered to pay their reasonable attorney's fees "in an amount to be demonstrated by defendants and determined by the Court." Doc. 121 at 22. The Court finds such request appropriate.

After this court granted the defendants' motion for fees and expenses, the matter was referred to the magistrate judge for a report and recommendation as to the amount of fees and expenses to be awarded. After reviewing the submissions of the parties and hearing argument on December 18, 2007, the magistrate judge determined that the defendants incurred reasonable attorneys' fees and expenses totaling $630,043.32. He specifically found that such fees were based on (1) reasonable hourly rates for both attorneys and legal ...


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