IPI wants plaintiffs to help pay discovery costs

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BECAUSE Imperial Pacific International has no income due to the Covid-19 crisis, the plaintiffs should shoulder some of the costs of Litigation Edge searches, attorney Michael Dotts said.

Dotts represents IPI in the lawsuit filed by seven workers who were employed by MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co. and Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI), the former contractor and subcontractor of the casino investor.

The workers said they were victims of labor violations and a human trafficking scheme.

In a motion for protective order and cost-shifting filed on Wednesday, Dotts said IPI is now completely dependent on financial assistance from its parent company to meet its expenses.

He is asking the court to shift or share the cost of downloading Litigation Edge data to the plaintiffs.

Dotts stated that IPI has paid $93,390 to Litigation Edge related to the case.  IPI, however, has been invoiced an additional $56,062.04.

“IPI lacks the funds to pay this invoice,” he added.

Dotts said IPI no longer has available funds to pay third-party vendors, including Litigation Edge, because it is prioritizing payroll and taxes.

He said IPI paid $93,000 to Litigation Edge so that all of electronically stored IPI data, and data from company issued cell phones, could be stored and made searchable.

“Litigation Edge will charge $200 per hour to search the data for the plaintiffs, and $0.03 per page for pdf documents. IPI cannot afford these costs,” Dotts added.

Dotts said on May 27, he called one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys, Aaron Halegua, to discuss a possible resolution.

“We did not come to an agreement. Plaintiffs have rejected IPI’s proposal to share costs of production of Litigation Edge data,” Dotts said.

He then advised the plaintiffs’ lawyer that IPI would file a motion for protective order.

District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona on Thursday held a status conference regarding the discovery requests.

On May 6, 2020, she granted the plaintiffs’ counter motion to compel and order IPI to respond to discovery requests. She also found IPI in contempt of court for violating two of her previous orders.

Judge Manglona gave IPI one month to produce documents requested by the plaintiffs; otherwise, it would be required to pay $2,000 per day until it produces everything.

Judge Manglona directed IPI to tender all remaining items in the prior stipulated discovery schedule order by May 16, 2020. 

In a status report to the court, attorney Halegua said IPI continues to violate previous discovery orders. “Neither the imposition of financial sanctions, a finding of contempt nor the threat of sanctions deterred IPI from violating the orders of this court,” he said, adding that the court should enter a default judgement against IPI.

But Dotts, in a 39-page response, stated that IPI has materially complied with all discovery requests except “for some cellphone download.”

Scheduling order

In related news, Judge Manglona granted the plaintiffs’ request to amend the scheduling order.

In her previous order, she set a March 6, 2020 deadline for joining other parties or amendment of pleadings.

Joining other parties means adding new identified defendants by the plaintiffs.

On April 16, 2020, the court extended the deadline for the joinder of parties and amendment of pleadings to May 23, 2020.

The order noted that the plaintiffs had made a motion to amend this deadline from May 23, 2020 to July 14, 2020 because IPI’s “failure to comply with the court’s order to produce significant outstanding discovery by April 30, 2020 and all discovery by May 16, 2020 has impeded plaintiffs’ ability to join parties and amend its claims.”

According to the court, MCC and Gold Mantis have consented to the proposed extension.

In her order, Judge Manglona said: “Plaintiffs’ motion and supporting documents establish that plaintiffs have been diligent in seeking discovery and, through no fault of their own, have been denied the information needed to join parties and amend their claims.”

She said there is no significant prejudice to IPI in granting the extension.

The new deadline for joining other parties or amending the pleadings is now July 14, 2020.

As the current deadline for fact discovery is July 6, 2020, the court will extend all other remaining deadlines in the scheduling order by two months.

Judge Manglona then ordered the parties to meet and confer in good faith within one week after the anticipated second amended complaint is filed and propose any additional changes to the scheduling order at that time.

Halegua’s co-counsel is Bruce Berline. They represent Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Liangcai Sun, Youli Wang, Qingchun Xu, and Duxin Yan.

The plaintiffs named IPI and its former contractor and subcontractor, MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co. and Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI), as defendants in the lawsuit.

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