7 workers want IPI to pay attorney’s fees and costs

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THE seven workers who sued Imperial Pacific International and its construction contractors want the federal court to issue an order awarding them attorney’s fees and costs.

The plaintiffs are 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 contractor and subcontractor of IPI.

Represented by New York-based lawyer Aaron Halegua and local attorney Bruce Berline, they want the court to award them a total of $31,801 in attorney’s fees and $156 in court costs.

In their motion for attorney’s fees and costs, the plaintiffs’ lawyers 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.

They said their request for an award, which reflects 72.74 hours of attorney time and 11.98 hours of paralegal time, is reasonable.

Not included in the computation were the legal research performed by a third lawyer; time spent on the motion to stay; and Halegua’s travel time to Saipan for oral argument, the lawyers said.

Halegua’s hours had been reduced by 10 percent, they added. Halegua’s normal billing rate is $450 an hour at his New York City law firm and far higher rates have been awarded to comparable attorneys, they said. This further underscores the reasonableness of the rate he is asking for, the lawyer added.

Berline said he had worked 4.44 hours, for a total amount of $1,332, while Halegua said he had worked 68.3 hours, for a total amount of $28,481.

The two lawyers said their proposed hourly rates of $300 for Berline and $417 for Halegua are reasonable.

On Dec. 12, District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona denied the second motion of IPI for stay or suspend proceedings of the lawsuit.

She also denied the motion of IPI for a protective order that seeks to prevent all discovery in the workers’ lawsuit pending the resolution of the IPI motion to stay or suspend the proceedings in the case.

In addition, she granted the workers’ counter motion to compel IPI to respond to their discovery requests, and ordered IPI to respond to all discovery requests.

In their 47-page first amended complaint, the workers sued IPI and its former contractor and subcontractor MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co. and Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) for forced labor, negligence, and liability for employees of subcontractor.

The workers’ amended lawsuit also brings claims under the Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of 2000 as well as claims under CNMI law for the injuries they allegedly suffered.

IPI, represented by attorney Kelley Butcher, has asked the court for more time to respond to the workers’ request for legal fees and costs.

Judge Manglona granted Butcher’s request.

The jury trial for the civil lawsuit has been scheduled for Feb. 2, 2021 at 10 a.m.

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