Sanctions were awarded by the Business Court in Red Ventures, LLC v. Modern Consumer, LLC, when two of the four Defendants didn’t show up for a mediated settlement conference.
The mediation had been scheduled by agreement, and all parties had received notice of the conference. Two of the Defendants, however, decided not to appear and didn’t provide any advance notice that they were not going to do so. The other parties showed up, but decided not to proceed without the missing Defendants.
The Court observed that Rule 4 of the Rules Implementing Statewide Mediated Settlement Conferences "requires all individual parties to attend a mediated settlement conference." The same rule provides specific procedures for a party to follow if it wishes to be excused from the conference.
The Defendants said that the conference wasn’t covered by the Rule, because it was a "voluntary" proceeding. Judge Diaz made short shrift of that argument, stating that "there simply is no basis in the record for Defendants’ belief that they were free to attend the Conference — or not — at their pleasure." He also rejected their argument that Plaintiff should have gone ahead without the missing Defendants.
Mediation Rule 5 authorizes monetary sanctions against a non-attending party. Judge Diaz required the AWOL Defendants to reimburse the mediator fees in full; to pay the hourly fees for the lawyers for the other parties in attending the conference; and also to pay the fees in preparing and arguing the Motion for sanctions. The Court found the Plaintiff’s lawyer’s hourly rate of $405 to be "comparable to the rates of other attorneys with similar experience and practices in the Charlotte, North Carolina market." The total sanctions awarded were $5,000.
There are a couple of other Business Court decisions involving mediations and sanctions, including Hemenway v. Hemenway, and Mattress Now, Inc. v. Vickers; and the Court of Appeals entered a mediation sanctions opinion earlier this year in Perry v. GRP Financial Services Corp.
I mentioned the Red Ventures decision to Andy Little, who is a great mediator and who was one of the leaders in implementing mediation in North Carolina. Andy pointed out that the mediation rules used to provide for even harsher sanctions for a non-attending party, including dismissal of the case, and told me that the Court of Appeals affirmed such a sanction years ago, in Triad Mack Sales and Service, Inc. v. Clement Brothers Co., 438 S.E.2d 485 (N.C. App. 1994). Rule 5 would not permit that type of sanction today.
The cartoon at the top is by Charles Fincher, a lawyer who is also a cartoonist. You can find his "inside baseball" comics for lawyers at lawcomix.com. The one I used, with his permission and which he owns, is from a series of one-panel cartoons called Scribble-in-Law.