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Midwest Feeders, Inc. v. Bank of Franklin

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Western Division

March 22, 2017

MIDWEST FEEDERS, INC. PLAINTIFF
v.
THE BANK OF FRANKLIN DEFENDANT

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          DAVID BRAMLETTE UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This cause is before the Court on defendant Bank of Franklin's Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Related Nontaxable Expenses (docket entry 396). Having carefully considered the motion, responses, and applicable law, and being otherwise fully informed in the premises, the Court finds as follows:

         I. Background

         Midwest Feeders, Inc. (“Midwest”) filed this action against the Bank of Franklin on September 5, 2014, alleging a number of claims against the bank in connection with a fictitious payee scheme orchestrated against Midwest by Robert Rawls, a Bank of Franklin customer.[1] Early in the litigation, the Bank of Franklin filed a motion to dismiss, which the Court granted in part on July, 7, 2015. See Doc. 33. Pursuant to its July Order, the Court dismissed Midwest's conversion claims under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 12(b)(6). Midwest's remaining claims survived the motion to dismiss, and the parties proceeded to discovery.

         Midwest and Bank of Franklin each produced a copious amount of paperwork during the discovery phase, which led to approximately 31 depositions and 108 exhibits being placed before the Court. See Doc. 408, p. 4. After carefully considering all of the exhibits and legal arguments presented on Bank of Franklin's Motion for Summary Judgment, the Court entered an Order dismissing Midwest's remaining claims on January 18, 2017. See Doc. 396. The Bank of Franklin filed its Bill of Costs and Motion for Attorneys' Fees and Related Nontaxable Expenses on January 30, 2017, and Midwest Feeders filed its Notice of Appeal and response to the defendant's motion shortly thereafter.

         II. Discussion

         Relying upon correspondence exchanged between the parties during the course of litigation, the Bank of Franklin urges the Court to award the defendant attorneys' fees and nontaxable expenses pursuant to the Mississippi Litigation Accountability Act (“MLAA”), 28 U.S.C. § 1927, and the Court's inherent authority. The Court shall address each potential basis for recovery in turn.

         A. Mississippi Litigation Accountability Act

         A party may recover reasonable attorneys' fees and costs under the MLAA if the action was brought “without substantial justification, ” for the purpose of delay or harassment, or if an attorney or party “unnecessarily expanded the proceedings by other improper conduct.” Miss. Code Ann. § 11-55-5(1). The statute defines “without substantial justification” as “frivolous, groundless in fact or law, or vexatious.” § 11-55-3(a). “A claim is frivolous when, objectively speaking, the pleader or movant has no hope of success.” Expro Americas, LLC v. Walters, 179 So.3d 1010, 1021 (Miss. 2015) (internal citations omitted); see Estate of Pannagl v. Lambert, 166 So.3d 39, 41 (Miss. Ct. App. 2014) (“Whether a party has ‘hope of success' is an objective standard to be analyzed from the vantage point of a reasonable plaintiff at the time the complaint was filed.”). “Though a case may be weak or ‘light-headed, ' that is not sufficient to label it frivolous.” Scruggs v. Saterfiel, 693 So.2d 924, 927 (Miss. 1997). When considering whether to grant an award under the MLAA, the Court is guided by a number of factors, including those enumerated within the statute:

(a) The extent to which any effort was made to determine the validity of any action, claim or defense before it was asserted, and the time remaining within which the claim or defense could be filed;
(b) The extent to which any effort was made after the commencement of an action to reduce the number of claims being asserted or to dismiss claims that have been found not yet to be valid;
(c) The availability of facts to assist in determining the validity of the action, claim or defense;
(d) Whether or not the action was prosecuted or defended, in whole or in part, in bad faith or for improper purpose;
(e) Whether or not issues of fact, determinative of the validity of a party's claim or defense, were ...

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