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Johnson v. Paragon Systems, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

October 17, 2018

DENNIS JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
v.
PARAGON SYSTEMS, INC, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          Emmet G. Sullivan United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Paragon Systems, Inc.'s (“Paragon”) motion for attorney's fees. Upon consideration of the parties' memoranda, the applicable law, and the entire record, the Court GRANTS in PART and DENIES in PART Paragon's motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A brief history of this litigation makes clear that Mr. Johnson's lawsuit against Paragon was meritless, and that his counsel's conduct wasted Paragon's time and resources as well as those of this Court.

         Mr. Johnson, represented by Kevin J. McCants, initiated this action against Paragon in October 2015. See Compl., ECF No. 1. On February 1, 2016, Paragon filed a partial motion to dismiss. ECF No. 6. When no opposition to that motion was filed, the Court issued an Order directing Mr. Johnson to respond to Paragon's motion by no later than March 31, 2016. See Minute Order of Mar. 17, 2016. Mr. Johnson failed to comply with that deadline but did file a two-page opposition on April 1, 2016. See Pl.'s Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 7. The Court subsequently granted Paragon's motion, dismissing Mr. Johnson's claim for intentional infliction of emotional distress after concluding that Mr. Johnson had failed to sufficiently allege that his injury resulted from “extreme and outrageous conduct.” See Johnson v. Paragon Sys., Inc., 195 F.Supp.3d 96 (D.D.C. 2016).

         After conducting discovery, Paragon moved for summary judgment on its remaining claims on the ground that Mr. Johnson had “mistakenly and improperly included Paragon as a party-defendant in this litigation.” See Def.'s Mem. in Supp. of Mot. for Summ. J., ECF No. 18-1 at 7. When no opposition to that motion was filed, the Court directed Mr. Johnson to file his opposition by no later than March 23, 2017. See Minute Order of Mar. 9, 2017. Despite the Court's Order, Mr. Johnson never filed an opposition.

         The Court entered judgement in Paragon's favor on the merits on September 27, 2017. See Johnson v. Paragon Sys., Inc., 272 F.Supp.3d 1 (D.D.C. 2017). In so doing, the Court noted that, on the record before the Court, it appeared that the lawsuit against Paragon was “ill-conceived and a waste of this Court's time and resources.” Id. at 5. Accordingly, the Court ordered Mr. Johnson and his counsel, Mr. McCants, to show cause why

sanctions, including significant monetary sanctions, should not be imposed against them both pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(b) and why Mr. McCants should not be referred to the Committee on Grievances of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia for any investigation or proceedings that the Committee may deem appropriate. Id.

         The next day, Mr. McCants, on behalf of himself and his client, filed a cursory five-sentence response to that Order. See Pl.'s Resp. to Order of the Court, ECF No. 26. Mr. McCants stated that Paragon was “sued in good-faith” and that he “didn't know” that Paragon was not involved in the underlying incident leading to Mr. Johnson's alleged injuries “until the depositions.” Id. at 1. Mr. Johnson further stated that “[w]hen it became clear that Paragon was not the liable party, ” Mr. McCants thought Mr. Johnson “was being responsible” by informing Paragon's attorney that he “would not oppose [Paragon's] motion for summary judgment.” Id.

         The remaining defendants[1] timely filed their motions to dismiss, ECF Nos. 22 and 23, and, again, Mr. Johnson failed to file an opposition to these motions until the Court ordered him to do so, see Minute Order of Oct. 6, 2017. Although Mr. Johnson complied with the Court's Order, his response was cursory at best. See, e.g., Pl.'s Opp. to Mot. to Dismiss, ECF No. 29 (a three-page memorandum with a six-sentence “argument” section). Thereafter, the Court dismissed the remaining defendants on March 29, 2018. See Order, ECF No. 35.

         Shortly after dismissing the remaining defendants in this litigation, see Johnson v. Paragon Sys., Inc., No. 15-1851, 2018 WL 1542134 (Mar. 29, 2018), the Court directed Paragon to file its motion for attorney's fees, see Minute Order of April 3, 2018. Mr. Johnson was directed to file his response to Paragon's motion by no later than April 27, 2018; in keeping with his pattern of dilatory conduct in this case, Mr. Johnson's counsel failed to file a timely opposition. Four days after the deadline for an opposition had passed, Mr. Johnson requested additional time to respond to Paragon's fee petition, see Emergency Mot. for Extension of Time, ECF No. 38, which the Court reluctantly granted, see Minute Order of May 2, 2018. Mr. Johnson filed his response on May 4, 2018, see Pl.'s Opp. to Fee Shifting, ECF No. 39, asserting that a fee award is not warranted or, in the alternative, that fees should be limited to expenses incurred after the date of Mr. Johnson's deposition. See id.

         II. ANALYSIS

         The Court agrees that Paragon is entitled to attorney's fees, however Paragon's requested fee must be reduced to only expenses incurred following Mr. Johnson's deposition. “Federal courts possess certain ‘inherent powers,' not conferred by rule or statute, ‘to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases.'” Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haeger, 137 S.Ct. 1178, 1186 (2017) (quoting Link v. Wabash R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-631 (1962)). Those powers include “the ability to fashion an appropriate sanction for conduct which abuses the judicial process.” Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 44-45 (1991). Accordingly, a court may issue “contempt citations, fines, awards of attorneys' fees, and such other orders and sanctions” when necessary to reimburse a party for frivolous litigation conducted against it. Parsi v. Daioleslam, 778 F.3d 116, 130 (D.C. Cir. 2015) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted).[2] Generally, “a finding of bad faith is required for an award of attorney's fees under the court's inherent power.” Id. at 131.

         In Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haeger, the Supreme Court held that a fees award issued pursuant to a court's inherent authority to sanction a litigant for bad-faith conduct must be “limited to the fees the innocent party incurred solely because of the misconduct.” 137 S.Ct. at 1184. In other words, there must be a “causal link” between “the litigant's misbehavior and legal fees paid by the opposing party.” Id. at 1186. Accordingly, before awarding fees, a court must ‚Äúdetermine whether a given legal fee - ...


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