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Igbanugo Partners Int'l Law Firm, PLLC v. Sabhari

Court of Appeals of Minnesota

September 3, 2013

Igbanugo Partners Int'l Law Firm, PLLC, Appellant,
v.
Ali Sabhari, et al., Respondents

UNPUBLISHED OPINION

Hennepin County District Court File No. 27-CV-11-20048

Herbert A. Igbanugo, Igbanugo Partners Int'l Law Firm, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for appellant)

Kirk M. Anderson, Anderson Law Firm, PLLC, Minneapolis, Minnesota (for respondent)

Considered and decided by Stauber, Presiding Judge; Hudson, Judge; and Schellhas, Judge.

SCHELLHAS, Judge

Appellant argues that the district court erred by granting summary judgment to respondents and awarding them $15, 539.56. We affirm.

FACTS

The history between appellant Igbanugo Partners Int'l Law Firm PLLC (the law firm) and respondents Ali Sabhari and Susan Sabhari is complex and spans more than ten years of legal representation. Ali Sabhari immigrated to the United States from Kuwait in the early 1990s; soon married Susan Sabhari in the United States; and engaged attorney Herbert Igbanugo, then of Blackwell Igbanugo, P.A. (BIPA), to provide immigration-related legal services. This case arises out of contracts between the law firm and the Sabharis, who allege that the law firm breached the contracts. Sabharis and BIPA executed the contract that is pertinent to this appeal in December 2005. Under that contract, BIPA agreed to assist Sabharis with a complaint for declaratory relief in federal district court. In 2006, Herbert Igbanugo left BIPA and founded the law firm. Sabharis transferred their legal work to the law firm. On April 5, 2007, Sabharis executed a contract that provided that the law firm would assist Sabharis in responding to the government's appeal to the federal appeals court.

The law firm was partially successful in its representation of the Sabharis in connection with their immigration litigation and sought a fee award from the government under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA), obtaining a fee award in 2010 in the amount of $52, 500. But the law firm did not inform Sabharis that it was seeking an EAJA fee award and did not provide Sabharis with documents related to these efforts. Only in late December 2010, after the law firm invoiced Sabharis for $52, 500 in legal fees, crediting them $9, 200.06 and seeking payment of $49, 315.36, did Sabharis discover that the law firm had received the EAJA award of $52, 500. When Sabharis did not pay the invoice, the law firm sued them, alleging that Sabharis owed them attorney fees and costs under contracts executed with the law firm on December 30, 2005; January 4, 2006; September 25, 2006; November 1, 2006; and April 5, 2007. The complaint alleged that Sabharis owed the law firm $49, 315.36. In October 2011, the law firm moved for default judgment. At the default hearing, the law firm conceded that Sabharis owed the firm $38, 799.94, not $49, 315.36. The district court denied the motion for default judgment.

On May 16, 2012, Sabharis served the law firm with notice of their intent to move the district court for summary judgment at a hearing on June 13. On June 5, one day after the deadline for responsive submissions, the law firm mailed a memorandum in opposition to Sabharis' summary-judgment motion to Sabharis' counsel, and the law firm filed the memorandum on June 6.[1] At the summary-judgment hearing, the district court noted the law firm's failure to submit an affidavit, and counsel for the law firm acknowledged that "[i]t may have been an oversight on [his] part." On June 25, the law firm filed a "Motion for Leave to File Affidavits and Supplemental Evidence" (motion for leave) to which it attached Herbert Igbanugo's affidavit, attesting to numerous facts and verifying the authenticity of the exhibits attached to the law firm's memorandum in opposition to summary judgment, and attaching nine additional exhibits, not previously submitted to the court. The law firm also filed an affidavit from one of its attorneys, Raymond A. Gwenigale, stating that the district court, through its law clerk, had orally granted him a one-day extension of the filing deadline in regard to the law firm's memorandum in opposition to summary judgment and that counsel had e-mailed the law firm's memorandum of law in opposition to summary judgment to Sabharis on June 5. Sabharis objected to the law firm's motion for leave.

The district court denied the law firm's motion for leave; granted summary judgment to Sabharis; awarded Sabharis $1, 839.50 in attorney fees for the expense of responding to the law firm's motion for leave; and entered judgment in favor of Sabharis in the amount of $15, 539.56. The court calculated the judgment amount by subtracting from the EAJA award recovered by the law firm the amount that the law firm acknowledged at the summary-judgment hearing that the Sabharis owed and then adding the award of attorney fees: $52, 500-$38, 799.94$1, 839.50=$15, 539.56. In its order, the court stated that it considered the law firm's memorandum in opposition to summary judgment despite its tardiness because it did not "obviously prejudice[]" Sabharis. But the court "refuse[d] to consider [the law firm's] untimely post-hearing affidavits and evidence, " because the law firm

failed to provide a good-faith basis for its failure to adhere to the requirements of Minnesota Rule of Civil Procedure 56.05 and Rules of General Practice 115.03 and 115.06, which require that evidence submitted in opposition to a motion for summary judgment be attached to an affidavit for consideration by the Court.

The district court nevertheless noted that it "fully reviewed all of the untimely documents" and that "even if it were to consider this evidence, it would reach the same conclusion that, under the unambiguous language of the applicable agreements governing the ...


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