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Marsh Supermarkets, former CEO spar over attorney fees

Scott Olson
September 12, 2013
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The years-long legal spat between Don Marsh and the company he once led appeared to have concluded this summer, but has now turned to attorney fees and who’s paying the million-dollar bills.

In court documents, attorneys for Marsh and Marsh Supermarkets Inc. each have submitted expenses totaling roughly $1.7 million and are seeking reimbursement from the other. The requests have drawn sharp rebukes from both sides.

“Neither the court nor the company can determine without discovery the extent to which Mr. Marsh’s request is over-inclusive,” lawyers for Marsh Supermarkets wrote in a Sept. 3 court document. “But the fact that it is over-inclusive is apparent on the face of the request.”

The argument over attorney fees marks the latest dispute in the four-year federal court battle in which Don Marsh won a partial victory.

In July, Judge Sarah Evans Barker issued an order allowing him to keep nearly $2.2 million in severance paid by Marsh Supermarkets, which had attempted to recover the payments from its former CEO.

However, Marsh ended up losing nearly the same amount on another issue. Barker's order followed a two-week civil trial in February after which a federal jury ordered Marsh to pay the local grocery chain $2.2 million, finding that he used company money to finance global travels to entertain mistresses and other unnecessary personal expenses.

Many of the arguments presented by both sides involved the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, or ERISA, a federal law governing pension plans. Marsh’s victory on his ERISA claim for his severance also is at the crux of the fight over attorney fees.

Barker found that Marsh can recover attorney fees relating to his ERISA claims. But she also determined that the company can recover fees relating to non-ERISA claims.

Lawyers for Don Marsh argue that because the ERISA- and non-ERISA-related issues flow from the same set of facts presented at trial, “all fees and expenses in this case are ERISA-related.”

Marsh Supermarkets strongly disagrees.

“It was not his prerogative to say, ‘Here is just about everything’ and then leave it to the court and the company to try to determine from his supporting records what was attributable to ERISA and what was not,” company lawyers wrote.

Conversely, Marsh Supermarkets is asking Marsh to pay its $1.7 million attorney bill for costs relating to only the non-ERISA claims that it succeeded in proving during the trial.

Marsh argues that there’s no legal basis to award the company attorney fees.

“The plain language of the ERISA plan leaves the court with a ‘straightforward’ task that is ‘not a matter of discretion’ when it grants Mr. Marsh his attorneys’ fees, litigation expenses, and costs but makes no provision for the company,” Don Marsh’s lawyers wrote in a Sept. 9 court filing.

Marsh Supermarkets is represented by David Herzog of Faegre Baker Daniels and Don Marsh by Andrew McNeil of Bose McKinney & Evans LLP. Both declined to comment on the fee dispute.

The fight between the two erupted in 2009, when Marsh Supermarkets sued Marsh in federal court. He countersued, asserting the company improperly withheld his post-retirement payouts in 2008 and still owed him about $2.1 million.

Marsh left the company he had led since the late 1960s following its purchase in September 2006 by Sun Capital Partners, a Florida private equity firm.

Marsh Supermarkets stopped the severance payments after it said an Internal Revenue Service audit found “disallowed deductions” for personal expenses he racked up from April 2004 to September 2006. The company ultimately paid the IRS a $616,000 penalty.

The nine-member jury in February found that Marsh committed breach of contract and fraud, but stopped short of delivering Marsh Supermarkets a total victory.

Although the grocery chain asked for $1.6 million to cover expenses and penalties related to the IRS audit, the jury awarded the company half that amount on its fraud claim, saying it shared responsibility. The jury also awarded the company $1.4 million on its breach-of-contract claim.

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  1. Good riddance to this dangerous activist judge

  2. What is the one thing the Hoosier legal status quo hates more than a whistleblower? A lawyer whistleblower taking on the system man to man. That must never be rewarded, must always, always, always be punished, lest the whole rotten tree be felled.

  3. I want to post this to keep this tread alive and hope more of David's former clients might come forward. In my case, this coward of a man represented me from June 2014 for a couple of months before I fired him. I knew something was wrong when he blatantly lied about what he had advised me in my contentious and unfortunate divorce trial. His impact on the proceedings cast a very long shadow and continues to impact me after a lengthy 19 month divorce. I would join a class action suit.

  4. The dispute in LB Indiana regarding lake front property rights is typical of most beach communities along our Great Lakes. Simply put, communication to non owners when visiting the lakefront would be beneficial. The Great Lakes are designated navigational waters (including shorelines). The high-water mark signifies the area one is able to navigate. This means you can walk, run, skip, etc. along the shores. You can't however loiter, camp, sunbath in front of someones property. Informational signs may be helpful to owners and visitors. Our Great Lakes are a treasure that should be enjoyed by all. PS We should all be concerned that the Long Beach, Indiana community is on septic systems.

  5. Dear Fan, let me help you correct the title to your post. "ACLU is [Left] most of the time" will render it accurate. Just google it if you doubt that I am, err, "right" about this: "By the mid-1930s, Roger Nash Baldwin had carved out a well-established reputation as America’s foremost civil libertarian. He was, at the same time, one of the nation’s leading figures in left-of-center circles. Founder and long time director of the American Civil Liberties Union, Baldwin was a firm Popular Fronter who believed that forces on the left side of the political spectrum should unite to ward off the threat posed by right-wing aggressors and to advance progressive causes. Baldwin’s expansive civil liberties perspective, coupled with his determined belief in the need for sweeping socioeconomic change, sometimes resulted in contradictory and controversial pronouncements. That made him something of a lightning rod for those who painted the ACLU with a red brush." http://www.harvardsquarelibrary.org/biographies/roger-baldwin-2/ "[George Soros underwrites the ACLU' which It supports open borders, has rushed to the defense of suspected terrorists and their abettors, and appointed former New Left terrorist Bernardine Dohrn to its Advisory Board." http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/viewSubCategory.asp?id=1237 "The creation of non-profit law firms ushered in an era of progressive public interest firms modeled after already established like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") and the American Civil Liberties Union ("ACLU") to advance progressive causes from the environmental protection to consumer advocacy." https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cause_lawyering

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