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Jalin Reality Capital Advisors, LLC v. Hartford Casualty Insurance Co.

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

May 16, 2018

JALIN REALTY CAPITAL ADVISORS, LLC, Plaintiff,
v.
HARTFORD CASUALTY INSURANCE COMPANY, as assignee of A BETTER WIRELESS, NISP, LLC, Defendant and Counter Claimant,
v.
RHYTHM STONE MEDIA GROUP LLC, d/b/a JALIN REALTY CAPITAL ADVISORS, Counter Defendant.

          Ted A. Smith, BERGER KAHN, for defendant/counter claimant.

          Andrew Ndubisi Ucheomumu, LAW OFFICES OF ANDREW NDUBISI UCHEOMUMU.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER ADOPTING REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          JOHN R. TUNHEIM CHIEF JUDGE

         Seven years ago, Plaintiff Jalin Realty Capital Advisors, LLC (“Jalin”), represented by counsel Andrew Ndubisi Ucheomumu, brought this trademark action against A Better Wireless (“ABW”), which - after the Court dismissed all of Jalin's claims with prejudice - assigned its counterclaims to Defendant Hartford Casualty Insurance Company (“Hartford”). Now before the Court are Hartford's motion for attorney fees and Ucheomumu's objections to the Magistrate Judge's Report and Recommendation (“R&R”) on that motion. Because those objections are as frivolous as was Jalin's underlying action, the Court will overrule them, adopt the R&R, and grant in part and deny in part Jalin's motion for attorney fees and related costs and expenses.

         BACKGROUND

         In 2011, Jalin sued ABW.[1] (Compl., Jan. 21, 2011, Docket No. 1.) In light of egregious discovery violations, ABW moved for sanctions against Jalin and Ucheomumu, a Maryland attorney who represented Jalin pro hac vice and certified its discovery responses. (Mot. for Sanctions, Dec. 6, 2011, Docket No. 52.) The Magistrate Judge granted that motion, barring Jalin from using any evidence other than what it had disclosed in its first set of discovery responses - and levying monetary sanctions against Ucheomumu personally because he alone had signed the discovery responses at issue and had failed to provide notice that he would not be appearing at the hearing on the motion. (Order on Sanctions at 11-13 & n.5, Feb. 22, 2012, Docket No. 60.)

         In 2013, the Court dismissed all of Jalin's claims against ABW with prejudice, describing them as “variously unsupported, insufficiently pled, and entirely without merit, ” and criticized the conduct of counsel during discovery, specifically noting that the Magistrate Judge's “strong sanction” was appropriate. (Order on Summ. J. at 2-3, 5, 31, Jan. 8, 2013, Docket No. 91.) Ucheomumu moved to withdraw, and the Magistrate Judge granted his motion but noted that withdrawal would not preclude a motion for attorney fees against him. (Order on Mot. to Withdraw at 10-12, 14, Apr. 16, 2013, Docket No. 114.) ABW brought such a motion, (Mot. for Att'y Fees, Dec. 20, 2013, Docket No. 134), which the Court stayed pending ABW's claim for reimbursement against its insurer, Hartford, (Order on Stay, Jan. 29, 2014, Docket No. 139). Settlement of the reimbursement claim led to Hartford's substitution as Defendant and lifting of the stay. (Order Adopting R&R, May 11, 2017, Docket No. 155.)

         The Court referred the motion for attorney fees to United States Magistrate Judge Leo I. Brisbois, who ordered briefing, held a hearing, and issued an R&R. (R&R at 1, 8-9, Feb. 9, 2018, Docket No. 186.) Hartford excluded local counsel from its request, and now seeks $170, 476.77 jointly and severally from Jalin pursuant to the Lanham Act and from Ucheomumu pursuant to the Court's inherent authority to issue sanctions. (Id. at 8-9, 23 n.11, 29 n.13.) Neither Jalin (now unrepresented) nor Ucheomumu filed a memorandum of opposition or attended the hearing. (Id. at 9.) Although Ucheomumu's law license is indefinitely suspended, he filed objections to the R&R. (Objs., Feb. 27, 2018, Docket No. 187.) Those objections are now before the Court.

         DISCUSSION

         I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

         Upon the filing of an R&R by a magistrate judge, “a party may serve and file specific written objections to the proposed findings and recommendations.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(2); accord D. Minn. LR 72.2(b)(1). “The objections should specify the portions of the magistrate judge's [R&R] to which objections are made and provide a basis for those objections.” Mayer v. Walvatne, No. 07-1958, 2008 WL 4527774, at *2 (D. Minn. Sept. 28, 2008). “The district judge must determine de novo any part of the magistrate judge's disposition that has been properly objected to.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(b)(3); accord D. Minn. LR 72.2(b)(3).

         II. WAIVER

         “When a magistrate judge is hearing a matter pursuant to his or her limited authority to make a recommended disposition, ‘a claimant must present all his claims squarely to the magistrate judge, that is, the first adversarial forum, to preserve them for review.'” Ridenour v. Boehringer Ingelheim Pharm., Inc., 679 F.3d 1062, 1067 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting Madol v. Dan Nelson Auto. Grp., 372 F.3d 997, 1000 (8th Cir. 2004)). Because Ucheomumu did not timely file briefing in opposition to Hartford's motion or appear at the motion hearing, his right to object to the Magistrate Judge's recommended disposition would ordinarily be waived. However, in part because of Ucheomumu's representation that he was unable to electronically file documents due to his suspended law license, the Court will exercise its discretion to consider his objections.

         III. ...


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