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Center for Individual Rights v. Chevaldina

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

November 29, 2017




         This matter is before the Court on Irina Chevaldina's (“Defendant” or “Chevaldina”) motion to compel against the Center for Individual Rights (“Plaintiff”). [D.E. 73]. Plaintiff responded to Chevaldina's motion on November 10, 2017 [D.E. 80] to which Chevaldina replied on November 20, 2017. [D.E. 86]. Therefore, Chevaldina's motion is ripe for disposition. After careful consideration of the motion, response, reply, relevant authority, and for the reasons discussed below, Chevaldina's motion is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         This is an action for breach of contract. The complaint - filed on March 11, 2016 [D.E. 1] - alleges that Plaintiff successfully represented Defendant pro bono in an appeal before the 11th Circuit in Katz v. Google, Appeal No. 14-14525, in which the Eleventh Circuit affirmed summary judgment in favor of Defendant in a copy infringement action.[1] See Katz v. Google, Inc., 802 F.3d 1178 (11th Cir. 2015), aff'g, Katz v. Chevaldina, 12-cv-22211, 2014 WL 5385690 (S.D. Fla. Sept. 5, 2014). Plaintiff alleges that Defendant had few financial obligations under the retainer agreement in that case and that Plaintiff paid the out of pocket expenses of the suit. Plaintiff contends that it only asked Defendant for (1) reasonable attorney fees and expenses as permitted under law, and (2) that Defendant provide Plaintiff with any fees or expenses that were attributable to Plaintiff's expenditures and/or the work of its attorneys. If Defendant decided to settle the case, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant was also obligated to provide Plaintiff with a reasonable amount in attorney's fees and expenses.

         In December 2015 - while being represented by another attorney - Defendant settled all the remaining claims in the Katz case. In the settlement, Plaintiff claims that Defendant obtained only $10, 000 in attorney fees for the work of Plaintiff's attorneys as well as both taxable and non-taxable costs. Shortly thereafter, Plaintiff sought to challenge the fee award in the Eleventh Circuit, but Defendant allegedly instructed Plaintiff to withdraw its motion and Plaintiff reluctantly complied. Therefore, Plaintiff suggests that Defendant did not obtain a reasonable amount in attorney fees for the work of Plaintiff's attorneys and that Defendant breached the retainer agreement. In exchange for the low sum of $10, 000 in attorney fees, Plaintiff alleges that Defendant agreed with Katz to drop a substantial claim against Defendant in excess of $100, 000. Because Plaintiff alleges that it has been deprived of a reasonable attorney fee award, Plaintiff seeks judgment against Defendant in an amount of no less than $105, 000 - including reasonable costs and expenses in accordance with 28 U.S.C. § 1920.

         II. ANALYSIS

         Chevaldina's motion seeks to compel Plaintiff to produce documents in response to discovery request 4 and sanctions for mispresenting that no other documents exist. On August 10, 2017, Chevaldina emailed Plaintiff her first request for production of documents. In request 4, Chevaldina seeks “[a]ny and all records, ESI pertaining to the financial donations and financial contributions received by CIR between February 1, 2015 and the present date relating to the Agreement.” [D.E. 73]. Plaintiff responded to Chevaldina's request with approximately four objections:

Plaintiff objects to this request on the grounds of vagueness. As it is phrased, it is unclear whether ‘ESI' is the only type of ‘records' being sought by this request. Plaintiff also objects to Request No. 4 on the ground that the phrase ‘relating to the Agreement' is vague in this context. The Agreement was a contractual arrangement for the provision of legal services, and contained various obligations on both parties to it. It is unclear how ‘financial donations and financial contributions received by CIR' could ‘relate' to the document creating those legal obligations.
Plaintiff also objects on the ground that this request seeks documents that are not relevant to any claim or defense in this action. Plaintiff's records regarding ‘financial donations and financial contributions' relating to the Agreement, if any existed, would have nothing to do with whether defendant breached the Agreement by failing to provide for a reasonable sum for attorneys' fees in the Katz appeal, as alleged in the complaint, what damages CIR may have incurred as a consequence of any breach, whether CIR violated the DPPA, or any damages that defendant may have incurred as a consequence.
Plaintiff further objects to the extent that the request calls for documents disclosing the names of CIR's donors, which is confidential information protected by the First Amendment right of association. Without waiving these objects, Plaintiff states that it has no additional responsive documents.

[D.E. 73].

         On September 25, 2017, Chevaldina claims that - contrary to Plaintiff's response that it had no additional documents relating to request 4 - Plaintiff produced a communication with a donor in response to request 1. This document allegedly demonstrates that Plaintiff received money from various sources to cover all of the expenses in Chevaldina's case at the Eleventh Circuit, negating any claim that Plaintiff is entitled to attorneys' fees in this case. Chevaldina claims that she notified Plaintiff that its response to request 4 was a misrepresentation, but Plaintiff allegedly refused to produce any additional documents. As such, Chevaldina suggests that Plaintiff has intentionally withheld items in response to request 4, and that Plaintiff must be required to produce additional documents relating to the following areas of inquiry:

[B]ank statements, statements of accounts, bank records, deposit slips, accounting ledgers, statements, reports, billings, invoices, worksheets, balance sheets, wires, transmissions, cancelled checks, electronically stored information (ESI) and any other documents pertaining to the financial donations and financial contributions CIR received' as requested.

[D.E. 73]. Accordingly, Chevaldina concludes that Plaintiff has willfully concealed relevant evidence in this case and that Plaintiff's actions have ...

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