A recent Law 360 by Emily Sawicki, “Co. Held in Contempt For Failing To Pay $1M Atty Fee,” reports that a New Jersey federal judge has issued a contempt order against an India-based supplement company for failing to pay discovery misconduct fees and blocked its legal counsel from withdrawing, a year after the company was ordered to pay more than $1 million to opposing counsel following patent infringement claims dating back to 2015. U.S. District Judge Robert B. Kugler found Prakruti Products Pvt. Ltd. in civil contempt, citing the $994,803.29 in discovery misconduct fees Prakruti still owed to Sabinsa Corp.
Judge Kugler issued an order on April 12 giving Prakruti until April 18 to issue payment. As of oral argument on May 1, Prakruti had paid just $8,671 of what had been more than $1 million in outstanding fees toward Sabinsa, in order for the plaintiff to pay back $878,548.56 in ArentFox Schiff LLP law firm fees, $15,120 in "Indian-law counsel fees," $96,750.50 in Saiber LLC law firm fees and $13,035.23 in costs.
Judge Kugler ordered the clerk of the District of New Jersey's Camden Vicinage to enter default against Prakruti on Sabinsa's claim that Prakruti violated a 2015 settlement agreement between the two entities, and converted a summary judgment briefing, set to take place in May, into a briefing on Prakruti's default judgment.
In his order, Judge Kugler specified that, although Prakruti's attorneys, Gregory A. Krauss and James T. Wilson of Davidson Berquist Jackson & Gowdey LLP and Jason B. Lattimore of the Law Office of Jason B. Lattimore, would not be permitted to withdraw, "Prakruti's attorneys are not held jointly or severally liable with Prakruti for the remainder of the discovery misconduct fees."
The three had filed a motion to withdraw from their representation on April 14 and Lattimore provided reasoning in a letter dated April 25, saying, "a conflict of interest has arisen between Prakruti, on the one hand, and its current counsel, on the other," citing a pro se, ex parte letter entered into the docket by a Prakruti company director. "It appears that Prakruti intends to shift blame for its current predicament from itself to its counsel for their supposed failure to provide 'proper representation,'" Lattimore wrote of the company's letter.
The fee amount itself was a point of contention, after then-U.S. Magistrate Judge Karen M. Williams calculated an initial award of about $879,724 to the ArentFox Schiff lawyers in November 2021, recalculated to $878,548 by U.S. Magistrate Judge Sharon A. King, in April 2022. The award stems from an underlying patent infringement case brought by New Jersey-based Sabinsa, which claimed Prakruti was violating its patent by selling a turmeric supplement.
During a "contentious" discovery process, Judge Williams found that "Prakruti had withheld certain information from Sabinsa and also spoliated pertinent evidence," according to court documents. The judge sanctioned Prakruti with an adverse inference, finding that Sabinsa's legal efforts to prove Prakruti's misconduct warranted an award of attorney fees against Prakruti.