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Ultegra LLC v. Mystic Fire Dist

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 10, 2018

ULTEGRA LLC et al, Plaintiff,
v.
MYSTIC FIRE DIST et al, Defendant.

          RULING ON MOTION FOR RECONSIDERATION AND OR RELIEF FROM SANCTIONS AND MOTION FOR SANCTIONS

          Michael P. Shea, U.S.D.J.

         I. Introduction

         This case originally concerned an action by the plaintiffs-Ultegra LLC, [1] Gretchen Chipperini, and her mother, Inge Chipperini-against the defendants-Mystic Fire District, the Town of Groton, the Town of Stonington, and various firefighters for the Mystic Fire District- for damages stemming from a volunteer firefighter for the Mystic Fire District burning down the plaintiffs' property in Mystic, Connecticut. A jury found in favor of the defendants on all of the plaintiffs' claims, (ECF No. 198), and the Second Circuit affirmed the judgment. (ECF No. 232). At issue here is Gretchen Chipperini's motion for reconsideration and or relief from sanctions and costs (ECF No. 251) imposed upon her by the Court in an order issued on March 1, 2017. (See ECF No. 233). Also at issue is the defendants' motion for sanctions (ECF No. 234) against Ms. Chipperini for her failure to pay the costs imposed upon her in a timely manner. (See ECF No. 234). For the reasons stated within, Ms. Chipperini's motion for reconsideration and or relief from sanctions is hereby DENIED. She is hereby ordered to make payment of the costs allotted to her by the Court's March 1, 2017 order according to the payment plan set out in the Court's March 7, 2014 order (ECF No. 201 (requiring Ms. Chipperini “to pay Defendants $1, 000 per month” until she had paid in full the amount due to defendants). Her first payment of $1, 000 to the defendants shall be due within thirty days of the issuance of this order. Future installments of the same amount will be due every thirty days thereafter until the sum owed to the defendants is paid in full. Because of the passage of a great deal of time since the Court's original orders were entered and because of the time value of money, the Court is unlikely to extend this deadline. The defendants' motion for sanctions is hereby DENIED WITHOUT PREJUDICE. The defendants may file a motion for contempt should Ms. Chipperini fail to meet the deadline set out in this order.

         II. Background

         Ms. Chipperini incurred the first of the costs she now contests in May of 2014 due to her repeated requests to delay the trial in this case on the basis of her allegedly ill health. While she was requesting continuances based on her purported inability to attend the trial, she was also regularly attending several meetings of the Groton Town Council at which she was able to make extensive public comments on various matters. (See ECF No. 154). Although I made no findings that anyone had intentionally misled the Court, I determined that the information and representations provided to the Court about Ms. Chipperini's ability to attend the trial were false. (See ECF No. 167). As a result of these false impressions, the trial date had been substantially delayed. (Id.). In light of this, I ordered the plaintiffs to pay the fees and costs incurred by the defendants in filing their motion bringing these false impressions to the attention of the Court. (Id.; see also ECF No. 153). The total amount of the defendants' costs was $3, 450.00. (See ECF No. 169; ECF No. 170). After this ruling, Ms. Chipperini filed a series of motions attempting to set up a payment plan for paying this amount-I ultimately approved a plan in October of 2014 whereby Ms. Chipperini would pay the defendants $1000 per month until the full amount of sanctions levied against her was satisfied. (ECF No. 201). She did not, however, pay any amount to the defendants.

         After the jury verdict in their favor, the defendants filed a motion for a bill of costs, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 54(d) (“Unless a federal statute, these rules, or a court order provides otherwise, costs-other than attorney's fees-should be allowed to the prevailing party.”), requesting costs in the amount of $6, 166.64. (ECF No. 200). Since the appeals period had not yet expired, I denied the motion without prejudice as premature. (See ECF No. 215); D. Conn. L. Civ. R. 54(a)1 (“Any party who seeks costs in the District Court shall, within fourteen (14) days after the District Court judgment becomes final due to the expiration of the appeal period (as defined by Fed. R. App. P. 4) or the issuance of a mandate by a federal appellate Court, file with the Clerk and serve on all other parties a verified bill of costs pursuant to 28 U.S.C. §§ 1821, 1920, 1923 and 1924, setting forth each item of costs that is claimed.”). The plaintiffs eventually filed an appeal, which included a challenge to the Court's imposition of the sanction on Ms. Chipperini mentioned above. (See ECF No. 232 at 5). The Second Circuit affirmed the judgment in its entirety, including the sanction. (See Id. at 2).

         After the judgment was issued, the defendants renewed their motion for costs and added a request for a court order requiring Ms. Chipperini to pay the $3, 450.00 in sanctions. (ECF No. 231). I granted the defendants' motion on March 1, 2017, and provided Ms. Chipperini with fourteen days to pay off the costs and sanctions in full. (ECF No. 233). I noted that Ms. Chipperini's “failure to pay such costs within the time provided” could result in the imposition of further sanctions. (Id.). Despite this order, Ms. Chipperini did not pay a penny to the defendants. After two months, the defendants filed a motion for sanctions against Ms. Chipperini for her failure to obey the Court's order. (See ECF No. 234). Ms. Chipperini then requested a hearing on the motion for sanctions, (see ECF No. 237), which the Court granted. (ECF No. 239). Ms. Chipperini was required to and did file under seal on the docket her tax returns for the last three years. (See ECF No. 247, ECF No. 252). A few days before the hearing, which eventually became a telephonic status conference, Ms. Chipperini filed a motion for reconsideration and or relief from sanctions and costs imposed by the Court's March 1 order. (ECF No. 251). After the telephonic status conference, the Court ordered that Ms. Chipperini file various financial information under seal in a notarized affidavit, which she did. (See ECF No. 255; ECF No. 258).

         III. Discussion

         a. Motion for Reconsideration and or Relief From Sanctions and Costs

         For the sake of clarity, Ms. Chipperini's motion will be divided into two distinct issues- her motion for reconsideration of the Court's order requiring her to pay the defendants' costs and her prior sanctions and her motion for relief from costs and sanctions.

         1. Motion for Reconsideration

         I begin with Ms. Chipperini's motion for reconsideration, which appears to target both the sanctions imposed upon her in May of 2014 and several other costs incurred by the defendants during the trial. “A motion for reconsideration should be granted only where the moving party can point to controlling decisions or data that the court overlooked, or where necessary to correct a clear error or prevent manifest injustice. . . .” Dorchester Fin. Holdings Corp. v. Banco BRJ, S.A., No. 11-CV-1529 (KMW), 2016 WL 2944685, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. May 19, 2016) (internal quotation marks and citations omitted). The evidence in support of such a motion must be substantial or, “in other words . . . reasonably expected to alter the conclusion reached by the court.” Shrader v. CSX Transp., Inc., 70 F.3d 255, 257 (2d Cir. 1995). A motion for reconsideration is not, however, a mere “opportunity for making new arguments that could have previously been advanced.” Liberty Media Corp. v. Vivendi Universal, S.A., 861 F.Supp.2d 262, 265 (S.D.N.Y. 2012) (quoting Associated Press v. U.S. Dep't of Defense, 395 F.Supp.2d 17, 19 (S.D.N.Y. 2005)) (internal quotation marks omitted). Finally, a motion for reconsideration must “be filed and served within seven (7) days of the filing of the decision or order from which such relief is sought. . . .” See D. Conn. L. Civ. R. 7(c)(1).

         As an initial matter, Ms. Chipperini appears to harbor some confusion as to the source of the costs levied upon her. She states that, as she “understand[s] it, ” she is “being punished in . . possibly four areas as follows”: (1) for hiring Norman Benedict as an appraiser;[2] (2) for going to a Groton Town Council meeting when she was very ill; (3) for “subpoenaing the firemen to Court”; and (4) for not appearing at a hearing in response to the defendants' second motion for sanctions. (See ECF No. 251 at 1). Only one of these reasons is close to being correct-Ms. Chipperini was sanctioned for delaying the trial repeatedly on the pretense that she was too ill to attend proceedings despite her ability to attend discretionary functions in apparent good spirit. She was not assessed any costs due to the other mentioned items. Also, Ms. Chipperini's assertion that the Court wants her to “pay [the] firemen for their time in Court, ” (see ECF No. 251 at 9), also has no basis in reality. The costs identified by the defendants in their motion related in part to the cost of the transcripts of the depositions of the various firefighter defendants, along with the appearance fee of the various reporters that took them-they do not include any sort of payment to the firefighters for their testimony. (See ECF No. 231-1 at 23-24).

         With respect to Ms. Chipperini's arguments against the Court's March 1st order, her motion for reconsideration is untimely. The Court issued its order requiring Ms. Chipperini to pay the costs and sanctions levied against her on March 1, 2017. (ECF No. 233). Ms. Chipperini filed her motion on June 22, 2017, over three months later. (ECF No. 251). This missed deadline “provides sufficient grounds for denying the motion.” Palmer v. Sena, 474 F.Supp.2d 353, 355 (D. Conn. 2007). Nonetheless, given Ms. Chipperini's ...


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