Irrational Behavior Dooms ADA Lawsuit


In Holt v. Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital, No. H-19-5464 (S.D. Texas Houston Division), December 31, 2020, the court dismissed an Americans With Disabilities Act discrimination case because the pro se plaintiff had developed a pattern of refusing to comply with discovery and court orders.

The explanation:

“Plaintiff has repeatedly failed to comply with Orders issued by the Magistrate Judge, including orders to appear for conferences. When ordered on October 3, 2019, not to file additional documents until the Court ruled on Defendant’s 2019 Motion to Dismiss, Plaintiff filed four additional documents on October 9, 2019. Plaintiff failed to appear as ordered for conferences on May 8, 2020, and on July 27, 2020.

Plaintiff also refused to participate in discovery. She failed to respond to written discovery and failed to appear for her deposition on June 24, 2020. Her only explanation for her refusal to comply with her discovery obligations was that she believed the Court had ruled in her favor on the ADA claims and that depositions occur at the beginning of a case. Even after the Magistrate Judge ordered her to comply [Doc. # 125], Plaintiff again refused to respond to written discovery and failed without explanation to appear for her deposition on September 24, 2020.

Between the February 28, 2020, Memorandum and Order ruling on Defendant’s 2019 Motion to Dismiss and December 29, 2020, when Plaintiff filed her “Motion to Deny Defendant Motion to Dismiss,” Plaintiff intentionally refused to participate in the prosecution of this lawsuit. Plaintiff’s refusal persisted notwithstanding at least four orders [Docs. # 119, # 123, # 125, and # 128] for her to participate in discovery, respond to an issue raised by Defendant, or appear for a conference. Plaintiff’s refusal to comply with court orders and participate in discovery persisted notwithstanding at least two orders [Docs. # 125 and # 128] warning her that failure to participate in discovery could result in dismissal of this lawsuit.

In her “Motion to Deny Defendant Motion to Dismiss,” Plaintiff notes that in the Magistrate Judge’s Order [Doc. # 100] entered October 3, 2019, Plaintiff was precluded from calling or appearing at Defendant’s place of business, at defense counsel’s office, or at the Court unless there was a hearing scheduled. This in no way explains or excuses Plaintiff’s failure to comply with Court orders, including the Order [Doc. # 125] requiring Plaintiff to appear for her deposition, or to respond to Defendant’s written discovery requests. Moreover, Plaintiff’s explanation for refusing to appear for her June 24, 2020 deposition was not that she believed her appearance at counsel’s office was precluded by the Magistrate Judge’s October 3, 2019 Order. Instead, Plaintiff stated that she would not appear for her deposition because oral depositions occur at the beginning of a case and she would “not be starting this case over.”

Plaintiff also cites the statement in the October 3, 2019 Order that discovery deadlines were vacated and a new scheduling conference would be held after the Court ruled on the 2019 Motion to Dismiss. It is clear, however, that the referenced scheduling conference occurred on May 8, 2020, but Plaintiff chose not to attend.

Plaintiff relies also on the statement in the October 3, 2019 Order that neither party could file anything in the case until the Court ruled on the 2019 Motion to Dismiss. The Court ruled on the 2019 Motion to Dismiss in its Memorandum and Order [Doc. # 112] issued February 28, 2020. After that date, there was no prohibition on Plaintiff filing additional matters. Yet after that date, until December 29, 2020, Plaintiff willfully refused to file anything, to participate in discovery, or to appear at conferences held by the Magistrate Judge.

In this case, there is a clear record of Plaintiff intentionally and steadfastly refusing to participate in discovery, to appear for conferences with the Magistrate Judge, and to prosecute her lawsuit in any way for a 10-month period. This intentional delay was caused by Plaintiff’s own conduct. As a result, the Court finds without reservation that sanctions are warranted.

The Court finds that there is no lesser sanction that would induce Plaintiff to comply with Court orders and with her discovery obligations. Plaintiff is pro se and filed this lawsuit in February 2019 challenging the termination of her employment in 2017. There is nothing in the record to suggest that Plaintiff has funds to pay a monetary sanction. Court orders and repeated warnings that failure to comply could result in dismissal of this lawsuit have not persuaded Plaintiff to fulfill her discovery obligations.

Although the Court recognizes that dismissal is a severe sanction, Plaintiff’s conduct in this case has been intentional and persistent. The case was filed almost two years ago. Yet, because of Plaintiff’s refusal to prosecute her lawsuit and comply with Court orders and discovery obligations, basic discovery has not begun. Indeed, to date Plaintiff has not responded to Defendant’s written discovery requests or appeared for her deposition. Dismissal of this case, after repeated warnings, is warranted.”

Comment: courts will tolerate a great many faults by pro se litigants, but, eventually, everyone has to comply with the rules.

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