U.S. District Court for the NMI Chief Judge Ramona V. Manglona ordered Imperial Pacific International (CNMI) LLC on Tuesday to pay a total of $29,459 in attorneys’ fees and costs incurred by the seven former workers who are suing IPI and its contractor and subcontractor.
Manglona ordered IPI to pay the former workers $25,872 for hours expended by their New York-based counsel Aaron Halegua, and $1,782 for hours expended by their local counsel, Bruce Berline.
The judge also ordered IPI to pay the former workers $1,648 for hours expended by the former workers’ paralegal, Jacob Kessler, and $156 in costs.
The seven workers from China, who worked on IPI’s casino construction project in Garapan, have asked the court to award them $31,801 in attorneys’ fees and $156 in costs in connection with their countermotion to compel.
They said that their proposed hourly rates of $300 for Berline and $417 for Halegua are all reasonable.
Berline claimed he spent 4.44 hours, for a total amount of $1,332. Halegua claimed he spent 68.3 hours, for a total amount of $28,481.
The seven, through Halegua and Berline, are suing IPI and its contractor and subcontractor over accidents at the worksite.
IPI, through counsel Kelley M. Butcher, said the plaintiffs’ request for over $30,000 in fees is “simply unreasonable and unsustainable.”
With respect to Halegua, Manglona said this case is complex and that his expertise is beyond what a local attorney could provide. Using a national market rate for similarly experienced and skilled attorneys, Manglona said she finds that a $400 hourly rate is a reasonable fee.
On the number of hours, the judge said Halegua requested reimbursement for 68.3 hours, a 10% reduction from the 75.88 hours he spent attempting to obtain discovery from IPI, responding to IPI’s objection and discovery motions, filing the motion to compel, and preparing the fee motion. Halegua also requested an additional 19.45 hours for time spent on the reply brief. His total hours expended are 95.33.
In reviewing the hours Halegua submitted, Manglona found that some hours must be excluded but that he reasonably expended 64.68 hours in bringing this motion to compel, resulting in a fee award of $25,872.
For Berline, the judge said there is evidence that $300 is a reasonable hourly rate for an attorney of the same skill, reputation and experience in the CNMI. Manglona finds that an hourly rate of $300 for Berline is appropriate. Berline billed 6.44 hours in relation to this motion. The judge said she will discount the 0.5 hours spent on the unfiled motion to shorten time. She said that, at an hourly rate of $300, Berline’s hours results in a fee award of $1,782.
For Kessler, plaintiffs request a $166 hourly rate for 16.4 hours performed as Halegua’s paralegal. Considering the range of fees throughout the country, Manglona pegged Kessler’s hourly rate at $125 as reasonable. Manglona found 13.19 billable hours. At $125 per hour, the judge determined that fees awarded to plaintiffs for Kessler should total $1,648.
At a hearing last Dec. 12, Manglona granted the former workers’ countermotion to compel IPI to respond to their discovery requests. The judge also granted the workers’ motion to sanction IPI and ordered the company to pay attorneys’ fees to the plaintiffs/workers for bringing the motion to compel.
The plaintiffs—Tianming Wang, Dong Han, Yongjun Meng, Liangcai Sun, Youli Wang, Quingchun Xu, and Xiyang Du—are suing IPI, MCC International Saipan Ltd. Co. and MCC’s subcontractor, Gold Mantis Construction Decoration (CNMI) LLC, over the alleged injuries they suffered during accidents at the worksite of IPI’s resort/casino project in Garapan.
The plaintiffs are suing defendants for alleged forced labor in violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Re-authorization Act, forced labor in violation of the CNMI Anti-Trafficking Act, negligence, and liability for employees of subcontractor.
The workers alleged, among other things, that they were forced to work long hours for below minimum wage under extremely dangerous conditions at the casino-resort worksite.