IPI ordered to pay $29K in attorneys’ fees and costs within 30 days

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THE federal court granted the motion for attorneys’ fees and costs by the lawyers of the seven workers who sued Imperial Pacific International and its former contractor and subcontractor MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co. and Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI).

In her amended 15-page order issued on Wednesday, District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona ordered IPI to pay attorneys Aaron Halegua and Bruce Berline a total amount of $29,459 for attorney fees and costs within 30 days of the issuance of the order.

Halegua and Berline represent the plaintiffs: Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Liangcai Sun, Youli Wang, Qingchun Xu, and Duxin Yan.

They have alleged that they were victims of a forced labor and human trafficking scheme while employed by the construction contractors of IPI.

The defendants have denied the allegation.

On Dec. 12, 2019, Judge Manglona granted the plaintiffs’ counter motion to compel and order IPI to respond to discovery requests. She also granted the plaintiffs’ motion for reasonable expenses and attorneys’ fees.

Halegua, in his motion for attorneys’ fees and costs, stated that they were forced to spend considerable time researching and responding to discovery objections of IPI, participating in teleconferences, opposing the motion of IPI for a protective order, and preparing their own motion to compel.

Judge Manglona found Halegua’s $400 hourly rate reasonable, noting his 10 years of experience in labor and trafficking laws.

The judge said Halegua reasonably expended 64.68 hours in bringing the motion to compel, resulting in a fee award of $25,872.

Berline was awarded $1,782 at an hourly rate of $300 for 5.94 hours expended on the motion.

Halegua’s paralegal, Jacob Kessler, was awarded $1,648.75 for 13.19 billable hours at $125 per hour.

Judge Manglona also ordered IPI to pay the plaintiffs $156.25 in costs.

She earlier found IPI in contempt of court for violating two of her previous orders.

She gave IPI one month to produce documents requested by the plaintiffs. Otherwise, IPI will be required to pay $2,000 per day until it produces everything.

Judge Manglona directed IPI to tender all remaining items in the prior stipulated discovery schedule order by May 16, 2020.

Following the judge’s sanction order, IPI informed the court that it had terminated the services of two of its lawyers — Sean Frink and Catherine Cachero — and requested to have attorney Michael Dotts to substitute.

In response to the motion of IPI for substitution of counsel, Halegua said, “This is a bad-faith tactic designed to further delay the collection and production of discovery…”

On Wednesday, Judge Manglona granted the motions of IPI to withdraw counsel and to substitute counsel “with clear notice of current deadlines.”

Dotts, for his part, told the court that the intent of IPI was not to delay but to comply.

The judge set a status conference for Wednesday, May 27, 2020 at 8:30 a.m.

Attorney Robert Torres who represents MCC, and attorney Tiberius Mocanu, who represents Gold Mantis, appeared at the hearing on Wednesday via videoconference.

Halegua, Berline, Dotts, Frink, and Cachero likewise appeared via videoconference.






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