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Beaulieu v. Stockwell

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 21, 2019

Allen Beaulieu, individually and d/b/a Allen Beaulieu Photography, Plaintiff,
v.
Clint Stockwell, an individual; Studio 1124, LLC, a Minnesota limited liability company; Thomas Martin Crouse, an individual; Charles Willard “Chuck” Sanvik, an individual, and Does 3 through 7, Defendants.

          Russell M. Spence, Jr., Esq., Parker Daniels Kibort LLC, counsel for Plaintiff.

          Michael L. Puklich, Esq., Neaton & Puklich, P.L.L.P., counsel for Defendants Clint Stockwell and Studio 1124, LLC.

          Edward F. Fox, Esq., Lauren Shoeberl, Esq., & Lewis A. Remele, Jr., Esq., Bassford Remele, counsel for Defendant Charles Willard Sanvik.

          Eva Wood, Esq., Outfront MN, counsel for Defendant Thomas Martin Crouse.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DONOVAN W. FRANK UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Charles Willard “Chuck” Sanvik's (“Sanvik”) Motion for Attorney Fees pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure Rule 26, the Court's inherent authority to award fees, and 28 U.S.C. § 1927. (Doc. No. 243.) Sanvik moves for an award against Plaintiff Allen Beaulieu, individually and d/b/a Allen Beaulieu Photography (“Beaulieu”), Beaulieu's attorney, Russell Mick Spence, Jr. (“Spence”), Spence's former law firm, Hellmuth & Johnson, PLLC (“Hellmuth & Johnson”), and Spence's current law firm, Parker Daniels Kibort LLC (“PDK”) (collectively, (“Respondents”). Spence filed a memorandum in opposition to Sanvik's motion behalf of himself, Beaulieu, and PDK. (Doc. No. 268 (“Spence Opp.”).) Hellmuth & Johnson also filed a memorandum in opposition. (Doc. No. 282 (“Hellmuth & Johnson Opp.”).) For the reasons set forth below, the Court respectfully denies Sanvik's motion.

         BACKGROUND

         The factual background for the above-entitled matter is clearly set forth in the Court's December 7, 2018 Memorandum Opinion and Order and is incorporated by reference here. (See Doc. No. 220 (“Sanvik Order”).) The Court notes particular facts relevant to this Order below.

         Beaulieu filed an initial complaint on October 21, 2016 against Defendants Clint Stockwell (“Stockwell”), Studio 1124, LLC, and Does 1 through 7 for a variety of claims including copyright infringement and conversion. (Doc. No. 1 at 1, 115-21.) On October 10, 2017, Beaulieu filed an amended complaint, adding Sanvik as a defendant.[1](Doc. No. 47 (“Am. Compl.”) at 1.) Beaulieu brought claims against Sanvik for conversion, tortious interference with prospective economic advantage, and injunctive relief. (Am. Comp. ¶ 92-94, 98-102, 114-118.) Sanvik filed a motion to dismiss on November 6, 2017. (Doc. No. 54.) On February 14, 2018, the Court dismissed Beaulieu's claim for tortious interference with a prospective economic advantage, but allowed his claims for conversion and injunctive relief to proceed. (Doc. No. 69 at 4- 7.)

         During discovery, each party filed a motion to compel, respectively alleging that the other failed to produce all relevant documents and material. (Doc. Nos. 85, 121.) Initially, Beaulieu alleged that Sanvik failed to comply with an August 2017 subpoena requiring him to produce documents and responsive information stored online or on his social media accounts.[2] (Doc. No. 88.) On April 17, 2018, Magistrate Judge Hildy Bowbeer denied the motion without prejudice, so long as Sanvik's counsel confirmed that Sanvik conducted a reasonably diligent search for documents and information at issue. (See Doc. No. 100.)

         Just over two months after the close of discovery, Sanvik alleged that recent events alerted him to relevant documents and materials that existed, yet had not been produced by Beaulieu.[3] (Doc. No. 123 at 4-5.) He filed a motion to compel a forensic analysis of Beaulieu's personal electronic devices, email, and social media accounts, and to produce all relevant and responsive documents resulting from that examination. (Doc. No. 121 at 1.) He also requested that Beaulieu supplement his discovery responses and production with respect to any pending efforts to commercialize any Prince photographs or to publish any Prince books, to appear for a supplemental deposition to address any information provided with the referenced forensic examination, and for the costs and attorney fees incurred in connection with his motion. (Id. at 1-2.) He alleged Rule 26 violations and questioned the sufficiency of the pre-suit investigation. (Doc. No. 123 at 5.) Spence argued on behalf of Beaulieu that many of the documents had already been produced, and that other documents simply were not relevant. He argued further that Beaulieu was entitled to costs and fees because Sanvik's motion was untimely and brought for the improper purpose of harassment. (Doc. No. 128 at 1-2.)

         On July 20, 2018, Judge Bowbeer granted Sanvik's motion only insofar as his request for a supplemental deposition. (Discovery Order at 2.) While she denied Sanvik's request for a forensic analysis, she found that Spence's failure to search the online email account was “a major oversight, ” and led her to question the diligence of his search for responsive relevant documents. (Hrn'g Transcript at 64.) To this end, she ordered Spence, or a trusted employee, to meet with Beaulieu in person to review all of Sanvik's discovery requests, to discuss with him the locations where relevant and responsive documents are likely to be found, and to search those locations or verify that the searches previously conducted were adequate, and to submit a sworn declaration after doing so. (See Discovery Order at 1-2.) She also found that the materials related to the book contract were highly relevant and ordered production of all communications related to Beaulieu's efforts and involvement with the commercialization of his photos. (Id. at 2.) Finally, Judge Bowbeer declined to award costs or fees to either party. (Id.) Neither party filed an objection to her order.

         Beaulieu's late production resulted in 1, 850 additional pages of documents, 1, 163 of which were produced on August 3, 2018 pursuant to Judge Bowbeer's Discovery Order.[4] Beaulieu subsequently produced an additional 63 pages on August 31, 2018, and another 134 pages on September 27, 2018. (Beeman Decl. ¶¶ 16-17.) The late production included documents cited in the Court's subsequent summary judgment order. (See, e.g., Sanvik Order at 4.)

         On September 7, 2018, Defendants Stockwell and Sanvik filed separate motions for summary judgment. (Doc. Nos. 147, 164.) On December 7, 2018, the Court granted both motions and dismissed with prejudice all of Beaulieu's claims against Stockwell and Sanvik.[5] (Sanvik Order; Doc. Nos. 221.) Thereafter, Sanvik filed this motion for an award of attorney fees.

         Sanvik alleges that Beaulieu's attorney, Spence, abused the judicial process through various acts of misconduct including discovery violations, an improper pre-suit investigation, distortions of the record and misrepresentations to the Court, and refusal to dismiss the case after exculpatory discovery. (Doc No. 254 (“Sanvik Memo.”) at 20-27.) Spence and his respective firms argue that Sanvik's motion is not grounded in fact or law and ask the Court to consider awarding them reasonable attorney's fees and costs in responding to the motion. (See Spence Opp. at 26-26; Hellmuth & Johnson Opp. at 6-9.) Spence and his respective firms maintain that Spence did nothing close to reaching the high bar justifying ...


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