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$5,000-a-day sanction ‘draconian,’ says IPI lawyer

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THE $5,000-a-day sanction sought by seven workers against Imperial Pacific International is draconian, IPI attorney Sean Frink told the federal court.


He said the plaintiffs’ request that the court order IPI “to stick to an absolute discovery production schedule going forward or face $5,000 a day in fines and additional sanctions, up to and including entering default, doesn’t make sense under the circumstances.”
Frink said none of IPI’s delayed production of requested documents or materials were due to willfulness, bad faith, or its fault. “This is an extremely complicated and unique discovery matter,” he added.
The plaintiffs are Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Liangcai Sun, Youli Wang, Qingchun Xu, and Duxin Yan. They have alleged that they were victims of a forced labor and human trafficking scheme while employed by IPl’s contractor and subcontractor MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co. and Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI).
The workers, through attorneys Aaron Halegua and Bruce Berline, have asked the federal court to issue an order directing IPI to produce the records the plaintiffs requested.
In their recent motion, the seven workers asked the court to sanction IPI for failing to produce discovery they are asking which the court has previously ordered.
Halegua said IPI has violated the stipulation ordered by the court requiring IPI to produce all discovery materials by Feb. 24, 2020.
In the opposition motion he filed, Frink said IPI has proceeded diligently and in good faith, assigning 11 employees and a contractor in order to comply with its discovery obligations in this case, and has made significant progress.
Frink said IPI, “for the first time in its existence, faces a very complicated and unique e-discovery universe.”
He said the FBI raids and related issues, “the extremely complicated issues involved with IPI’s [electronically stored information] storage and access issues, the Chinese language overlay to the entire operation, prior lack of counsel experience with e-discovery, prior IPI counsel Kelley Butcher’s unexpected family demands, and high IPI personnel turnover, have made the production a uniquely complicated one.”
Frink said despite these issues, IPI “has made strides in meeting its discovery obligations, admittedly at times past the court-ordered deadlines.”
He added, “No one can seriously dispute that the discovery path is fraught with uncertainty because of the Covid-19 pandemic cloud. If it comes down to having to choose between IPI personnel and contractor (including counsel) personal health or safety versus meeting [the] plaintiffs’ mandated discovery deadlines, the choice will be an obvious one.”
Hence, he said, the plaintiffs’ request that the court impose a prospective $5,000 a day fine under such a circumstance is “draconian.”
Frink said the “economic and related very real human repercussions from a complete shutdown of the CNMI’s only significant industry, tourism, are only now starting to reverberate through the Commonwealth and its people and businesses and cannot yet be reasonably predicted.”
IPI has denied all the allegations of the seven workers and stated that the plaintiffs voluntarily and knowingly and illegally entered the CNMI to work.
The jury trial is scheduled for Feb. 2, 2021 at 10 a.m.
District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona will hear the motion for sanctions on April 16, 2020 at 8:30 a.m. As the federal courthouse is temporarily closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak, the hearing will be held via videoconference. “For the benefit of the public and the media, the court will provide audio access to the hearing via a teleconference,” the federal court stated.

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