Update (2/25/2013): Defendant Hallett Dock’s prospects seemed a little dicey after its threshold pretrial motions, discussed below, and it’s now been whacked with a $4,680,000 jury verdict. Congratulations to the Plaintiff’s trial team from Robins Kaplan Miller & Ciresi: Brent Reichert, Dick Allyn, Dave Bland and their deep bench of support. (But, of course, it is hard to gauge the true margin of victory without knowing what American Steamship asked the jury to award it and what Hallett Docks and co-defendants had been prepared to pay American Steamship in settlement. Also, there’s that pesky and persistent problem of actually getting money rather than a verdict and judgment which, by itself, is simply non-monetary vindication.)
I don’t think these lawyers are getting along very well. Neither does Chief U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. Davis (D. Minn.). In ruling on their motions in limine (that is, threshold motions on the proverbial eve of trial, scheduled to being on February 5), Judge Davis sternly rebuked defense counsel for an improper Rule 11 motion for sanctions and did not seem particularly pleased with Plaintiff’s counsel either.
The Court … denies Hallett’s wholly inappropriate request for Rule 11 sanctions based on the alleged frivolousness of Plaintiffs’ motion. Hallett’s motion does not comply with the basic requirements of Rule 11. It was not filed as a separate motion, and there was no safe harbor during which Plaintiffs could have withdrawn the disputed motion in limine before Hallett filed the Rule 11 motion….Such blatantly improper motions will not be tolerated in the future and will likely result in swift sanctions from this Court.
The Court further denies Plaintiffs’ attempt to escalate the firefight by requesting an award of their own attorneys’ fees expended in responding to the improper Rule 11 motion. The parties appear to agree that [a particular witness] should not testify on the disputed subjects. Counsel could have avoided this escalating motion practice by professionally communicating directly with one another. Counsel are directed to do so in the future.
One might consider this double-edge swipe “a pox on both their houses” but the scorecard of motions in limine suggests a nice tailwind for American Steamship heading into trial.
Plaintiff’s Motions in Limine: 9 Granted in whole or in part; 2 denied.
Defendant’s Motions in Limine: 0 Granted in whole or in part; 4 denied.
We would have to know more about the substance of the case to know whether Plaintiff was fly-specking non-controversial evidentiary rulings and Defendant was hoping for a knock-out punch. Nevertheless, it might be harder to feel the burning fire that comes with a competitive edge after such an unimpressive preliminary skirmish.