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Almanza v. Barr

United States District Court, E.D. Tennessee, Knoxville

May 9, 2019

MICHELLE ALMANZA, Plaintiff,
v.
WILLIAM BARR, Attorney General, United States Department of Justice, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

         This case is before the undersigned pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636, the Rules of this Court, and Standing Order 13-02.

         Now before the Court is Plaintiff's Motion to Lift Stay and Re-open Discovery [Doc. 122] and Defendant's Motion for Leave to File Supplement to Defendant's Objection to Plaintiff's Motion to Lift Stay and Re-Open Discovery with the Declaration of William Turner (“Motion to Supplement”) [Doc. 125]. The parties appeared before the Court on October 31, 2018, for a motion hearing. Attorneys Jennifer Morton and Maha Ayesh appeared on behalf of Plaintiff. Attorneys Christopher Yates and Brandi Stewart appeared on behalf of Defendant.

         As an initial matter, Plaintiff did not object to Defendant's Motion to Supplement, and therefore, the Motion [Doc. 125] is GRANTED, and the Court has considered the Declaration of William Turner in its analysis below. Accordingly, for the reasons more fully explained below, the Court finds Plaintiff's Motion to Lift Stay and Re-Open Discovery [Doc. 122] not well taken, and it is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         By way of background, the parties proceeded to try this matter before a jury from June 19, 2018, to June 27, 2018, wherein the jury returned a verdict in Plaintiff's favor. Thereafter, the parties requested that the Court stay the matter so that they could engage in mediation in order to resolve the remaining claims. The District Judge stayed the case until October 1, 2018, so that the parties could engage in mediation. The parties were able to resolve the remaining matters, except Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees and costs. The District Judge referred the issue of attorney's fees and costs to the undersigned and continued the stay in this case until the Court ruled on Plaintiff's forthcoming motion for attorney's fees and costs.

         Prior to the filing and subsequent briefing of Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees and costs, Plaintiff filed the instant Motion, which the Court addressed at the motion hearing on October 31, 2018. At the motion hearing, the Court also provided a briefing schedule for Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees and costs.[1] The parties have now completed briefing on Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees and costs, and such briefing has aided the Court in its decision below.

         The Court will now turn to the parties' position with respect to the instant Motion.

         II. POSITIONS OF THE PARTIES

         Plaintiff requests [Doc. 122] that she be permitted to serve discovery upon Defendant limited to information relevant to the reasonableness of her claim for attorney's fees and costs. Plaintiff states that the Court previously stayed the case to allow the parties an opportunity to participate in mediation in an attempt to resolve several outstanding claims pending in this Court and in other venues. Plaintiff states that the parties reached an agreement as to the remaining claims, except Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees and costs. Plaintiff explains that the parties could not reach an agreement with respect to attorney's fees because Defendant disputed the overall time expended, claiming it was excessive and not proportional to the verdict. Plaintiff asserts that in disputing the overall time that her counsel spent on the case, Defendant has not provided her with information about the amount of time his own attorneys and staff expended for their work in connection with this case. Plaintiff states that the Court has discretion to allow discovery into a non-prevailing party's attorney's time and fees to determine whether the prevailing party's fee request is reasonable.

         Defendant filed a Response [Doc. 124], objecting to Plaintiff's request. Defendant asserts that the employees with the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) are not required to report the amount of time that they spend working on an individual task. Further, Defendant states that Plaintiff's Motion is premature because whether his attorneys' billing records are relevant depends on the nature of the objections, and the parties have not briefed Plaintiff's request for attorney's fees and costs. Defendant submits that Plaintiff's discovery requests seek information that is irrelevant and not proportional to the needs of this case. Finally, Defendant supplemented his Response with an Declaration of William D. Turner [Doc. 125-1], the Assistant Director of the Data Integrity and Analysis Staff for the DOJ.

         Plaintiff filed a Reply [Doc. 125], asserting that Defendant's time records are relevant. Plaintiff states that Defendant does not dispute that his attorneys and legal staff kept records, but instead, Defendant states that they are not required to specify the tasks that they performed and may have reported time spent by case type rather than by the specific case name. Further, Plaintiff asserts that her request for discovery at this time was made to avoid unnecessary delay in reaching a final resolution of this case. Plaintiff states that the only way Defendant's time records would be irrelevant is if Defendant does not object to the amount of time Plaintiff's counsel spent on the litigation. Finally, Plaintiff claims that Defendant's time and expense records related to her whistleblower retaliation claim are relevant and proportional.

         III. ANALYSIS

         The Court has considered the parties' positions, and for the reasons more fully explained below, the Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion [Doc. 122].

         As mentioned above, the Court addressed the parties on October 31, 2018, with respect to the instant matter. During the hearing, Plaintiff argued that her discovery requests were limited to three interrogatories and three requests for document production. Defendant maintained that the Motion is premature because during the mediation, they were able to review her fees but not in sufficient detail to make specific objections. Defendant insisted that the relevancy of his attorneys' billing records depends on the nature of his objections and that he has not been able to fully assess the reasonableness of the billing records. Further, Defendant explained that DOJ attorneys do not have accurate billing records. Defendant stated that DOJ attorneys are able to document time spent on a case, but because the DOJ is more concerned with the area of law where the time is spent, DOJ attorneys may not document time in connection with a specific case. Further, Defendant explained ...


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