You sold produce to a buyer who went belly up after receiving your veggies but before giving you any greenbacks for your cabbage. A bank snatched the cabbage from its debtor-customer, failing to return it to you and failing to pay you for it. You find yourself with a nice “PACA claim” (Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act) – a special federal law to protect producers of short shelf-life product. You hire nationally renowned PACA professionals to sue the bank.
You win! But then you lose big time. The trial judge, Sr. U.S. District Court Judge Paul A. Magnuson (D. Minn.) found the lawyering of Wescott Agri-Products, the winning party, to have been “less than exemplary,” “excessively zealous,” and “evasive” in the discovery phase of the litigation and Judge Magnuson denied the request for attorneys’ fees (which exceeded the amount at stake in the lawsuit). The Court rejected the claim for attorneys’ fees under the PACA, rejected a request to reconsider its rejection, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 8th Circuit affirmed Judge Magnuson’s ruling last week.
Continuing with the posts agricultural theme, a lawyer cautioned me recently, “Pigs get fat, hogs get slaughtered.” Since I am suburban, born and bred, cradle to grave, I have no idea what that is supposed to mean. I thought pigs were hogs, hogs were pigs, both get fat, both get slaughtered, both are adorable and delicious.
But the point of the idiom and this cautionary tale for civil litigators is that courts very often are very reluctant to award attorneys’ fees and, in particular, if the lawyers seeking them are not seen as pristine, pure, and righteous, if they are seen as greedy, aggressive, and over-reaching, they will end up with scraps not much else.