Robinson v. CHAMPAIGN UNIT 4 SCHOOL DISTRICT, Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit 2011 – Google Scholar

Robinson v. CHAMPAIGN UNIT 4 SCHOOL DISTRICT, Court of Appeals, 7th Circuit 2011 – Google Scholar.

This is an unpublished opinion of the Seventh Circuit reversing the district court’s decision to dismiss a lawsuit on the basis that the Rule 26(a) disclosures were insufficient.

The plaintiff sued the defendant school district claiming wrongful termination of employment based upon race discrimination and retaliation.  The plaintiff was a pro se litigant who argued that she did comply with the rules and make appropriate disclosures.

In the Seventh Circuit, the district court’s rule 37 sanctions are reviewed for abuse of discretion.  See Greviskes v. Univ. Research Ass’n, Inc., 417 F.3d 752, 758-59 (7th Cir. 2005).  The court noted that “dismissal with prejudice is an extreme sanction that should be used only as a last resort in situations where the noncomplying party displayed willfulness, bad faith or fault.”

Here, the decision was reversed because the district court failed to adequately explain the basis for its ruling.  “We do not see in the record before us a clear explanation of how Robinson failed to comply with Rule 26(a)(1). She submitted a timeline that set out the events underlying her complaint and listing the persons present during each incident she deems significant. She also states in her complaint that she is seeking back pay, a straightforward category of damages that the school district may easily compute. Cf. Design Strategy, Inc. v. Davis, 469 F.3d 284, 295 (2d Cir. 2006) (explaining that damages computation is especially necessary when plaintiff seeks complex damages such as lost profits)….We see no reason why Robinson’s disclosures were insufficient to allow the school district to commence discovery—particularly given that the majority of her proposed witnesses are current or former employees of the school district—and so the school district’s argument that it has been prejudiced is unpersuasive. Even in cases of prejudice, district courts must consider and explain why lesser sanctions would be ineffective before dismissing a case. See Maynard, 332 F.3d at 468. Although Robinson had already been sanctioned once by requiring her to pay a portion of the school district’s attorney fees, the judge did not explain why barring Robinson from calling the witnesses she failed to provide information on—the sanction recommended by Rule 37(c)(1)—or limiting her possible recovery to back pay for failure to provide a detailed computation of other categories of damages would beinsufficient to cure any prejudice to the defendants.”

Comment: this is a thoughtful opinion of use to anyone resisting a Rule 37 motion for sanctions.  It is unfortunate that it was not published.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

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