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Schlafly v. Forum

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

February 5, 2018

ANDREW L. SCHLAFLY, Plaintiff,
v.
EAGLE FORUM, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM & ORDER

          JOHN A. ROSS UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Before the Court is Defendant Eagle Forum's motion for attorney's fees (Docs. 45 and 46). Plaintiff Andrew Schlafly (“Schlafly”) opposes the motion (Docs. 49, 53, and 61). The matter is fully briefed and ready for disposition. For the reasons set forth below, Eagle Forum's motion will be granted in part.

         BACKGROUND

         Schlafly filed this action on January 19, 2017, seeking, among other things, a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction centering on a board meeting scheduled to be held on January 28, 2017 (“January meeting”). Schlafly contends that he was improperly removed at the January meeting and asserts that, as a result, he was irreparably harmed. Although Schlafly initially sought a temporary restraining order from this Court enjoining the individual Defendants from holding the January meeting, Schlafly agreed to cancel the hearing because an identical motion had been filed and was set for a hearing before the Madison County Court in Illinois, which was handling related litigation between the parties.[1]

         On September 7, 2017, the Court ruled on a number of pending motions, including Defendant Eagle Forum's motion to dismiss or, in the alternative, transfer. (See Doc. 31). Four days later, Schlafly filed a second motion for emergency temporary restraining order, seeking a Court order preventing the Eagle Forum Board from proceeding with a meeting scheduled to take place on September 15, 2017. (Doc. 33). Due to the imminent nature of the meeting sought to be enjoined, the Court set the matter for a hearing on September 14, 2017. (Doc. 34).

         Schlafly appeared at the hearing in person and was accompanied by his brother, John Schlafly, who, it was represented to the Court, was acting as a paralegal. (Tr. 1). Defendant Eagle Forum appeared through counsel. After oral argument, the Court denied Schlafly's second motion for temporary restraining order. The Court found that Schlafly was unlikely to succeed on the merits; that Plaintiff would not suffer irreparable harm if the September 15 meeting were to proceed because the harm occurred at a previous January meeting; that the balance of harms favored Defendant Eagle Forum; and that the element of public interest did not favor either party. (Tr. 32-34).

         The Court took judicial notice of the history of litigation between the individuals and entities related to or affiliated with Phyllis Schlafly.[2] (Tr. 15-16). Upon review of the pattern of litigation, the Court was concerned about Schlafly's previous conduct filing identical motions for temporary restraining order in St. Louis County Circuit Court and Madison County court.[3] (Tr. 21). The Court opined it could come to no conclusion other than that the instant motion for temporary restraining order was designed to harass Defendant Eagle Forum and contribute to an effort to tie up its present directors in various lawsuits.[4] (Tr. 35). As a result, the Court granted Defendant Eagle Forum's request for attorney's fees and costs and directed it to submit its fees and costs for review by the Court. (Tr. 35-36). The Court also permitted Schlafly to submit any objections. (Tr. 36).

         On September 25, 2017, Defendant Eagle Forum filed its motion for attorney's fees and accompanying motion to file its billing statement as an ex parte attachment, which it contends contains privileged attorney-client information and litigation strategies protected under the work product doctrine. (Doc. 50). Schlafly filed objections to both motions.

         On November 30, 2017, the Court denied without prejudice Defendant Eagle Forum's motion to file its billing statement as an ex parte attachment and directed it to either file an unredacted copy of its billing statement, or a redacted billing statement attached to a motion and memorandum in support. (Doc. 59). Defendant Eagle Forum timely complied and submitted an unredacted billing statement. (Doc. 60). Plaintiff then filed his renewed opposition to the motion for attorney's fees. (Doc. 61). He argued that the request for attorney's fees was deficient because it was submitted without an affidavit in support; there was no evidence concerning the reasonableness of billing rates; and that the billing entries had a number of errors, contradictions, and duplications. Eagle Forum filed a reply in opposition. (Doc. 62).

         DISCUSSION

         Courts have a number of implied powers necessary to manage their own affairs and achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases. Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43 (1991). These inherent powers include the imposition of sanctions when a party has acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, or for oppressive reasons. Alyeska Pipeline Serv. Co. v. Wilderness Soc'y, 421 U.S. 240, 258-59 (1975); see also Young v. U.S. ex rel. Vuitton et Fils S.A., 481 U.S. 787, 796 (1987) (“The ability to punish disobedience to judicial orders is regarded as essential to ensuring that the Judiciary has a means to vindicate its own authority without complete dependence on other Branches.”). Like all applications of inherent power, the authority to sanction bad-faith litigation practices can be exercised only when necessary to preserve the authority of the court. Chambers, 501 U.S. at 64.

         One permissible sanction is an assessment of attorney's fees whereby the court instructs a party that has acted in bad faith to reimburse legal fees and costs incurred by the other side. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. v. Haeger, 137 S.Ct. 1178, 1186 (2017). The Supreme Court has made clear that a fee award may go no further than to redress the wronged party “for losses sustained”; it may not impose an additional amount as punishment for the sanctioned party's misbehavior. Id. In other words, the Court can shift only those attorney's fees incurred because of the misconduct at issue. Id.

         Here, the Court identified specific instances of Schlafly's misconduct, the most recent of which was filing a second motion for temporary restraining order in what appeared to the Court to be a blatant effort to tie up the resources of Defendant Eagle Forum. Schlafly's assertion that he was not a named party to the Madison County lawsuit and, as a result, could not be responsible for the identical motion filed in that case is unpersuasive, particularly in light of the fact that his brother, who attended the hearing, is a key defendant in that litigation.

         Furthermore, it was clear to the Court that in his second motion for temporary restraining order, Schlafly was merely trying to relitigate issues set forth in his first motion for temporary restraining order. This is evidenced by Schlafly's repeated references to events that took place at the January meeting and his ...


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