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Hekking v. Hekking

United States District Court, D. Rhode Island

December 14, 2018

DARREN MALLOY HEKKING and SHAUN EGAN HEKKING, on behalf of Himself and on behalf of C.H. and B.H., Plaintiffs,


          PATRICIA A. SULLIVAN, United States Magistrate Judge

         After the Court had already scheduled a hearing to address Plaintiffs' potential breach of its Amended Order (ECF No. 262) banning further efforts to sell the “Raymond Weil Watch, ”[1]Defendants Craig and Molly Hekking[2] filed a motion for injunctive relief, contempt and sanctions, which sought to replow the same ground. ECF No. 264. The motion has been referred to me pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B).

         I recommend that it be denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Following a bench trial in this family dispute over three brothers' inheritance from their father and step-mother, the Court wrote a decision that is scathingly critical of Defendants and awarded Plaintiffs judgment in the amount of $2, 169, 052. Hekking v. Hekking, C.A. No. 14-295-ML, 2016 WL 3093448 (D.R.I. June 1, 2016); ECF No. 174. After Defendants made no effort to satisfy the judgment, Plaintiffs initiated post judgment collection efforts, resulting in the seizure from Defendants' home of a mix of estate and personal assets. After months passed and almost nothing had been sold, in the spring of 2018, the Court sua sponte held a hearing to develop a protocol for reducing the judgment in light of the seizure and permitting Defendants to buy back certain items. One item - the Raymond Weil Watch - was afforded special treatment: the Court ordered that it must be retained for a period of sixty-eight days, during which Defendants could purchase it for $100 plus shipping and any insurance. ECF No. 262. However, as credibly represented by counsel for Plaintiffs, after the hearing held on July 6, 2018, counsel were confused by the complexity of what was contemplated by the Court[3] and mistakenly thought the Watch was subject to the same protocol applicable to all other property, as to which sales efforts could continue.

         Following the July 6, 2018, hearing, at the Court's request, Plaintiffs submitted a draft Order, which the Court did not adopt because, among other matters, it was not accurate with respect to the Raymond Weil Watch. Meanwhile, Plaintiffs' counsel (mistakenly) advised their clients that they could continue to try to sell all of the seized property, including the Raymond Weil Watch. By the time the Court's Amended Order issued on July 26, 2018, setting out in crystal clear terms that the Watch was not to be sold, Plaintiffs had already sold it, eliminating the opportunity for Defendants to buy it back. With some credibility, Defendants argue that the sale of this one item was done to inflict “as much stress, [e]motion and emotional impact upon the Defendants as possible, particularly upon Molly Hekking[.]” ECF No. 264 at 6-7.

         After the Court received Plaintiffs' monthly accounting, which disclosed the sale of the Raymond Weil Watch, ECF No. 263, it sua sponte scheduled a hearing to address that issue, as well as the failure of Defendants to meet and confer about the other matters pertaining to the Amended Order. One day later, Defendants filed the pending motion.

         At the September 27, 2018, hearing, the Court heard from both sides regarding the Raymond Weil Watch and how it came to be sold. Following the hearing, the Court issued a Supplement to Amended Order (ECF No. 269), which finds that Defendants failed to abide by the Court's Order requiring them to meet and confer, while Plaintiffs failed to abide by the Court's Order barring sale of the Raymond Weil Watch. The solution to both matters was addressed in the Supplement. Id. at 2.

         Another important issue arose at the September 27, 2018, hearing. Counsel for Plaintiffs advised the Court that Molly had filed for personal bankruptcy and they did not know whether the bankruptcy case's automatic stay might impact either her ability to prosecute the motion for injunctive relief or the Court's authority to address the motion as to her. To allow time to sort through this issue, the Court acknowledged the pendency of the instant motion for injunctive relief, contempt and sanctions, but took it under advisement. Molly was ordered to make a filing (with assistance from her bankruptcy attorney) on “the degree to which the Court may proceed with the pending motion as to her specifically.” Text Order of September 28, 2018. After conferring directly with Molly about what would be realistic for her, the Court set a deadline for such a filing - October 22, 2018. That date came and went, but Molly has completely ignored the Court's Order.


         Defendants entitled their motion, “Defendants Motion for Injunctive Relief and a Finding of Contempt, with Sanctions, Against the Plaintiffs.” ECF No. 264 at 1. It is focused on Plaintiffs' failure to comply with the Court's prohibition on selling the Raymond Weil Watch and alleges that Plaintiffs' failure to comply amounts to contempt, as well as that Plaintiffs' filing of their proposed Order (which the Court rejected) amounts to a violation of Fed.R.Civ.P. 11. As a sanction, Defendants ask the Court to enjoin any further sales of the property and to order that all property be returned to Defendants, to order that a replacement of the Raymond Weil Watch be procured, as well as to impose other sanctions as the Court may deem necessary. Defendants also replay the allegations of fraud and perjury by Plaintiff Shaun, which the Court already rejected. ECF No. 245, adopted by Text Order of Oct. 12, 2017.

         A. Applicable Law

         “An injunction is an exercise of a court's equitable authority, to be ordered only after taking into account all of the circumstances that bear on the need for prospective relief.” Salazar v. Buono, 559 U.S. 700, 714 (2010). “Equitable relief is not granted as a matter of course, ” id., and injunctions in particular should be used sparingly due to their potential scope and duration. Monsanto Co. v. Geertson Seed Farms, 561 U.S. 139, 165 (2010) (“An injunction is a drastic and extraordinary remedy[.]”). Civil contempt orders may issue if, “the moving party establishes by clear and convincing evidence that the alleged contemnor violated [an] order despite clear and unambiguous notice of the order and the ability to comply with it.” AngioDynamics, Inc. v. Biolitec AG, 780 F.3d 420, 426 (1st Cir. 2015). “In addition to nudging a party to comply with a past court order, a district court may also utilize sanctions to compensate the complainant for harms suffered as a result of the contempt and to reinforce the court's own authority.” Id. Finally, sanctions under Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b) may be imposed on an attorney who has signed and filed a paper in the court for an improper purpose or that is not warranted in law or fact.

         B. Proposed Findings of ...

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