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Bruce Lee Enterprises, LLC v. Avela, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. New York

March 19, 2014

A.V.E.L.A., INC., and LEO VALENCIA, an individual, URBAN OUTFITTERS, INC., and TARGET CORPORATION, Defendants.


MARVIN E. ASPEN, District Judge.

Erach F. Screwvala, counsel for all four Defendants in this matter, has moved to withdraw from this case and requests that we stay the filing of the pre-trial order and trial date. Based on our reasons set forth below, we deny the motion.

A. Procedural History

The trial in this case is scheduled to begin on April 11, 2014. Last December 20, 2013, Defendants A.V.E.L.A., Inc. ("AVELA") and Valencia informed Screwvala that they wished to substitute counsel.[1] (Screwvala Decl., Dkt. No. 279, ¶ 3, Ex. A.) We were not made aware of this fact until Screwvala filed his motion for withdrawal on March 17, 2014. Screwvala's reason for the delay in filing the motion just a few weeks before trial is that he wished "to allow for an orderly resolution of the case" in light of the fact that California attorney David Schulz, who does not have an active New York license, was engaged by AVELA and Valencia to pursue a possible settlement. ( Id. ¶ 6.) Because "it does not appear as though a settlement is forthcoming, " Screwvala explains, "it is now necessary to effectuate my removal for this action and to provide time for the defendants to seek new counsel." ( Id. ¶ 7.)

This is not the first instance in which counsel has moved to withdraw as an attorney of record for Defendants. On January 21, 2014, Melissa W. Woo filed her motion to withdraw shortly after she provided notice, on January 8, 2014, of her resignation as in-house staff attorney to V. International. (Woo Mem., Dkt. No. 273.) At the time of filing, Woo was not the only attorney for Defendants; AVELA had already identified and engaged lead trial counsel to try the case on behalf of Defendants. (Woo Decl., Dkt. No. 274, ¶ 6.) On January 27, 2014, we granted Woo's motion for withdrawal. (Order, Dkt. No. 275.)

In light of the very different circumstances of Screwvala's pending motion to withdraw, we deny the motion.

B. Local Civil Rule 1.4

Local Civil Rule 1.4 for the Southern District of New York governs withdrawal of counsel, and provides:

An attorney who has appeared as attorney of record for a party may be relieved or displaced only by order of the court and may not withdraw from a case without leave of the court granted by order. Such an order may be granted only upon a showing by affidavit or otherwise of satisfactory reasons for withdraw or displacement and the posture of the case, including its position, if any, on the calendar[.]

S.D.N.Y. Local Civ. R. 1.4. In making its determination, it is well-settled that a court has "considerable discretion in deciding a motion for withdrawal of counsel." SEC v. Pentagon Capital Mgt. PLC, No. 08 C 3324, 2013 WL 5815374, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 29, 2013); Whiting v. Lacara, 187 F.3d 317, 320 (2d Cir. 1999); Spadola v. N.Y.C. Transit Auth., No. 00 C 3262, 2002 WL 59423, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 16, 2002).

"When considering whether to grant a motion to be relieved as counsel, district courts analyze two factors: the reasons for withdrawal and the impact of the withdrawal on the timing of the proceeding.'" Battino v Cornelia Fifth Ave., LLC, No. 09 C 04113, 2013 WL 4779635, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. June 26, 2013) (quoting Blue Angel Films, Ltd. v. First Look Studios, Inc., No. 08 C6469, 2011 WL 672245, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 17, 2011)); Ashmore v. CGI Group, Inc., No. 11 C 8611, 2013 WL 5863569, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 30, 2013); SEC, 2013 WL 5815374, at *4.

Although there is no definitive standard for what constitutes a "satisfactory reason" for allowing a withdrawal, district courts in the Second Circuit have found that "[s]atisfactory reasons' include failure to pay legal fees, a client's lack of cooperation-including lack of communication with counsel, and the existence of an irreconcilable conflict between attorney and client.'" Ashmore, 2013 WL 5863569, at *1 (quoting Diorama Trading Co. v. J. Walter Thompson U.S.A., Inc., No. 01 C 2950, 2005 WL 1963945, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Aug. 15, 2005) (quoting Hallmark Capital Corp. v. Red Rose Collection, Inc., No. 96 C 2839, 1997 WL 661146, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Oct. 21, 1997))).

In addition to considering the reasons for withdrawal, district courts also consider whether the prosecution of the suit is likely to be disrupted by the withdrawal of counsel. Whiting, 187 F.3d at 320-21 (citing Brown v. National Survival Games, Inc., No. 91 C 221, 1994 WL 660533, at *3 (N.D.N.Y. Nov. 18, 1994)). "In considering a motion for leave to withdraw, a court may consider the protracted history of the litigation[.]'" SEC, 2013 WL 5815374, at *4 (citing SEC v. Great American Technologies, Inc., No. 07 C 10694, 2009 WL 4885153, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Dec.15, 2009). Courts should consider whether allowing counsel to withdraw would be too disruptive or cause too much delay, especially when the case is on the verge of trial. Vachula v. General Electric Capital Corp., 199 F.R.D. 454, 458 (D. Conn. 2000) ("Where an attorney moves to withdraw on the eve of ...

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