Rule 37 Sanctions Denied Even Though Defendant Failed to Produce Documents


Gym Door Repairs, Inc. v. Young Equipment Sales, Inc. (No. 15-cv-4244 March 11, 2020) discusses a Rule 37 sanctions motion where one party failed to produce some documents. Here the court denied sanctions because the documents that were not produced would not have changed the outcome of the case. The plaintiffs obtained the documents by serving a FOIA request on a governmental body. The reasoning is included here:

In an opinion also dated January 28, 2020, the Magistrate Judge denied the plaintiffs’ request for Rule 37 sanctions based on the alleged failure of the Defendants to produce the documents that were disclosed as a result of the FOIL request. Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) requires this Court to set aside any portion of the order under review “that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.” As a “non-dispositive matter,” a Magistrate Judge’s pretrial discovery ruling is reviewed under this highly deferential standard. See Thomas E. Hoar, Inc. v. Sara Lee Corp., 900 F.2d 522, 525 (2d Cir. 1990). An order is clearly erroneous if the reviewing court is “left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” See Easley v. Cromartie, 532 U.S. 234, 242 (2001) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). “An order is contrary to law when it fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law or rules of procedure.” Thompson v. Keane, No. 95-CV-2442 (SHS), 1996 WL 229887, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. May 6, 1996) (citation and internal quotation marks omitted). See also Frydman v. Verschleiser, No. 14-CV-8084 (JGK), 2017 WL 1155919, at *2 (S.D.N.Y. Mar. 27, 2017).

It is not clear that the plaintiffs have filed a timely appeal from the denial of sanctions under Rule 37. The plaintiffs have not denominated their pleading as an appeal from the Magistrate Judge’s ruling, and have referred to Rule 37 only in the final sentence of their objections to the Magistrate Judge’s Report and Recommendation relating to Rule 11 sanctions. Even then, the plaintiffs do not detail any objections to the denial of their request for Rule 37 sanctions.

In any event, in this case, far from being erroneous, the Magistrate Judge correctly concluded that there was no basis for imposing any sanctions under Rule 37 because the failure to produce the documents disclosed in response to the FOIL request would not have changed the outcome of the summary judgment motions at all. There were numerous reasons to grant the summary judgment motions against the plaintiffs and the documents produced in response to the FOIL request would not have changed that result. Therefore, the decision of the Magistrate Judge was not clearly erroneous or contrary to law but was plainly correct.

The court denied all requests for sanctions.

New York Bankruptcy Court Denies Rule 11 Motion as Untimely


The timeliness of a Rule 11 motion is an issue which has not been adequately addressed by the courts. The issue can arise in the following situation: you represent a client and you file a claim. Some time later you withdraw from the case with the claim still pending. After you have withdrawn, the claim is dismissed and the opposing party files a Rule 11 motion against you. In re Patsy Fierro, No. 14-41439 (Bankruptcy Court E.D. New York, March 31, 2020).

Early in the case a creditor filed a claim that a debt was not dischargeable under the Bankruptcy Code. (A non dischargeable debt remains with the debtor after the bankruptcy). The lawyer withdrew and eventually the claim was rejected. 18 months after the lawyer withdrew the debtor file a Rule 9011 (Rule 11 in Bankruptcy Court) motion against the creditor and its lawyer. The court denied the sanctions motion. The court found that the lawyer acted appropriately and that the sanctions motion was untimely. The key fact is that when the lawyer withdrew there was no sanctions motion pending nor was there any threat that the other party would file such a motion.

Because it is not patently clear that the claims had no chance of success, it cannot be said that they were groundless. Thus, Kipiniak [Lawyer] and J.C. Ryan [Her Client] were under no obligation to withdraw the Proofs of Claim or the Non-Dischargeability Actions during Kipiniak’s time as lead counsel. This case can be distinguished from Fuerst v. Fuerst, where the District Court for the Eastern District of New York found that sanctions under Rule 11 were appropriate where an attorney failed to withdraw a complaint. 832 F.Supp.2d 210, 220 (E.D.N.Y. 2011). There, the parties previously signed a settlement agreement that released the claims brought in the complaint, causing the court to find that the complaint was groundless, as there was no longer a legal or factual basis to assert the causes of action. See id. Here, the Default Judgment was still in place at the time Kipiniak was lead counsel, and thus there was still a legal and factual basis to maintain the Proofs of Claim and the Non-Dischargeability Actions. As such, the actions of Kipiniak and J.C. Ryan were objectively reasonable pursuant to the Rule 9011(b) standard. See In re Beinhauer, 570 B.R. at 137. Consequently, the Court does not find sanctions appropriate under Rule 9011(b)….

This Court also finds that the Motion is untimely as to Kipiniak. Although the Debtors sent Kipiniak the Demand Letter on November 16, 2015, the Debtors did not properly comply with Rule 9011(c) until they served the Motion on April 28, 2018, which is eighteen months after Kipiniak was active in this matter. See Star Mark Mgmt., Inc. 682 F.3d at 175 (“An informal warning in the form of a letter without service of a separate Rule 11 motion is not sufficient to trigger the 21-day safe harbor period.”). This conclusion is supported by this jurisdiction’s recent holding in Goodwin v. MTA Bus Co. where the court found that Rule 11 sanctions were improper, in part, because the moving party waited approximately two years after the alleged sanctionable conduct to file the sanctions motion and the attorney they were seeking to sanction had already withdrawn from the case. 2017 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 41555, at *10 (E.D.N.Y. Mar. 22, 2017). The court explained that awarding sanctions would “defeat the goal, apparent from the text of Rule 11(c)(2) of streamlining litigation by allowing the party in the wrong the first opportunity to withdraw an offending paper.” Id. (internal quotations omitted). While it is true that Kipiniak never filed a formal notice of withdrawal, the record reflects she did not appear and argue on behalf of J.C. Ryan on any matters after October 2016. Even if the Debtors met the Rule 9011(b) standard, Kipiniak was no longer suited, in April 2018, to withdraw the Proofs of Claim and the Non-Dischargeability Actions. See In re Pennie & Edmonds LLP, 323 F.3d 86, 89 (2d Cir. 2003) (“[M]otions have been disallowed as untimely when filed after a point in the litigation when the lawyer sought to be sanctioned lacked an opportunity to correct or withdraw the challenged submission.”).

Comment: I agree wholeheartedly with this opinion. It is almost impossible to second guess the decisions of a lawyer who withdrew from a case (with no sanctions motion pending or threatened). In my career, on two occasions I had to defend sanctions motions that were filed after a hard fought case had concluded. In both instances the sanctions motion was denied.

Where Exactly Do You Live?


This may seem to be an unimportant question, but for federal jurisdiction it may make all the difference. In the case of Eberle v. Overdrive, Inc., No. 19-cv-466-jdp (W.D. Wisconsin January 28, 2020), the plaintiff filed suit against a former employer in Wisconsin state court. Overdrive sought to move the case to Ohio based on a forum clause. In response Eberle filed an affidavit that stated that he was a long-term resident of Wisconsin with deep ties to the state. Overdrive then removed the case to federal court. Eberle then moved to remand and filed a new affidavit that he was a citizen of Ohio and was raising children there. The court held an evidentiary hearing and determined that Eberle was, in fact, a citizen of Ohio and dismissed the case because both litigants were citizens of Ohio.

The more important question was: would Eberle face consequences for filing an affidavit in Wisconsin that contradicted the affidavit he later filed in federal court?

Sadly, Eberle did not face any adverse consequences because the arguably problematic affidavit was filed in the state court, not the federal court. The court held that Eberle would not be sanctioned. The explanation:

At the hearing, the court expressed concern that Eberle’s state-court affidavit regarding his ties to Wisconsin had been misleading. The affidavit portrayed Eberle as a current Wisconsin resident who stood to be inconvenienced by any transfer of his case to Ohio. See, e.g., Dkt. 1-3, at 11 (“I am a longtime resident of Wisconsin, having been born and raised here, and lived here most of my adult life. Until Defendant hired me in 2017, I lived in Gleason, Wisconsin where I have been residing since 2008.”); id. at 12 (“I still maintain a residence at W1446 Bear Trail Road, Gleason, WI 54435. I filed my taxes earlier this year as a Wisconsin resident.”). After the hearing, the court ordered Eberle to show cause why he should not be sanctioned under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11(c)(3).

Eberle contends that all his statements were and are factually accurate. That’s not true in every detail: as of the date of the affidavit, May 24, 2019, he had not yet filed his taxes for the year. But the main problem is not affirmative false statements; it is that Eberle intentionally omitted material facts. Eberle failed to disclose in state court that he had been a nearly fulltime resident of Ohio since 2017, that he had moved his family there, continued to work there, and intended to remain there permanently. It is inconceivable that Eberle was unaware of these facts, or that he and his counsel did not realize that these facts were highly material to Overdrive’s motion to stay the state case in favor of litigation in Ohio.

The court will decline to impose sanctions under Rule 11, but not because Eberle’s statements are factually accurate. The court would impose sanctions under Rule 11 for intentional material omissions in an appropriate case. But Eberle’s intentional material omissions related to statements made to the state court, not to this court. If Eberle had relied on his state-court affidavit in advocating for remand, I would consider Rule 11 sanctions for his counsel. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 11 advisory committee’s note to 1993 amendment (“[I]f after a notice of removal is filed, a party urges in federal court the allegation of a pleading filed in state court ([including] in disputes regarding removal or remand), it would be viewed as `presenting’—and hence certifying to the district court under Rule 11—those allegations.”). As it stands, I have found that Eberle was honest with this court; it was the state court whose dignity was insulted by the material omissions that made Eberle’s state-court submissions so misleading.

The court did award Overdrive its legal fees in removing the case under 28 USC 1447(c).

But that’s not the end of the matter. Under 28 U.S.C. § 1447(c), courts remanding an improperly removed case “may require payment of just costs and any actual expenses, including attorney fees, incurred as a result of the removal.” Eberle asked the court to shift costs and expenses to Overdrive for removing the case without an “objectively reasonable basis.” Dkt. 7, at 8-9 (quoting Martin v. Franklin Capital Corp., 546 U.S. 132, 141 (2005)). That request is denied; Eberle’s state-court affidavit gave Overdrive a reasonable basis to infer that Eberle was a Wisconsin citizen. The court will, however, grant Overdrive’s request that Eberle be ordered to pay its removal-related fees and expenses. Although § 1447(c) is more commonly invoked against the defendant, there is “no party-based limitation in § 1447(c) on a district court’s discretion to award fees and costs.” Micrometl Corp. v. Tranzat Techs., Inc., 656 F.3d 467, 470 (7th Cir. 2011). Fee-shifting is appropriate here. Eberle’s misleading representations in state court prompted unnecessary expenditure of time and resources addressing a reasonable but ultimately flawed removal. See Martin, 546 U.S. at 141 (“a plaintiff’s . . . failure to disclose facts necessary to determine jurisdiction may affect the decision to award attorney’s fees”).

This is an excellent example of how removal issues can be confusing and complicated.

http://www.clintonlaw.net

Lawyer Sanctioned For Removing Case After Deadline Passed


The right of a defendant to remove a case to federal court is set forth in several statutes. To remove the defendant normally has to prove that there is federal jurisdiction. In this slip and fall case, the defendant had to show that the plaintiff and defendant were citizens of different states and that the amount in controversy exceeded $75,000. There is also a rule that no case can be removed more than one year after it was first filed.

Here, in Hajdasz v. Magic Burger, LLC, No. 19-12528 (unpublished) (11th Circuit, March 11, 2020), the case was a slip and fall case. The plaintiff had medical expenses of $26, 434, 31 and some future medical expenses. An expert testified that those expenses would be $2,800 per year for 22 years. The defendant then removed the case. The federal court remanded the case back to the state court and assessed Rule 11 sanctions in the amount of $2750 against the lawyer. The lawyer appealed the sanctions award.

Result: sanctions were affirmed. The lawyer’s decision to remove a case more than one year after it was filed was unreasonable. The explanation:

Because Metsch’s decision to remove his clients’ case is the basis for the Rule 11 sanctions, we review that law here. Any removal to federal court on the basis of diversity jurisdiction must satisfy both the substantive jurisdiction requirements of 28 U.S.C. § 1332 and the “procedural requirements regarding the timeliness of removal” pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1446. Pretka v. Kolter City Plaza II, Inc., 608 F.3d 744, 756 (11th Cir. 2010). Where the requirements for diversity jurisdiction can be derived from the face of the complaint, “notice of removal of a civil action or proceeding shall be filed within 30 days after the receipt by the defendant . . . of a copy of the initial pleading.” 28 U.S.C. § 1446(b)(1). Where, as here, the complaint does not state facts that satisfy diversity jurisdiction, “a notice of removal may be filed within 30 days after receipt by the defendant . . . of a copy of an amended pleading, motion, order or other paper from which it may first be ascertained that the case is one which is or has become removable.” Id. § 1446(b)(3). This late-removal procedure has a time limit, however, as a case that comes to satisfy the substantive requirements of federal diversity jurisdiction may not be removed “more than 1 year after the commencement of the action.” Id. § 1446(c)(1). The sole exception to this one-year removal cutoff is where “the district court finds that the plaintiff has acted in bad faith in order to prevent a defendant from removing the action.” Id. § 1446(c)(1). Bad faith is shown where the district court determines that “the plaintiff deliberately failed to disclose the actual amount in controversy to prevent removal.” Id. § 1446(c)(3)(B).

Here, Metsch removed his client’s case beyond the one-year anniversary of the filing of the complaint. Thus, one-year bar was plainly implicated. Id.. § 1446(c)(1). Metsch argues nonetheless that his client was excepted from the one-year deadline for two reasons: (1) Hajdasz’s refusal during discovery to provide a damages calculation amounted to “bad-faith”; and (2) our cautionary language in Lowery v. Alabama Power Co., where we stated that, in the context of a § 1446(b)(3)-type removal, a defendant removing a case to federal court must possess a document containing an “unambiguous statement that clearly establishes federal jurisdiction.” 483 F.3d 1184, 1213 n.63 (11th Cir. 2007). For these reasons, Metsch contends he had no option but to wait until Hajdasz moved in writing for a directed verdict of more than $75,000—which just happened to occur at the end of trial—before removing the case, and thus his decision to remove the case was not frivolous.

The district court found that Metsch’s invocation of the bad-faith exception to § 1446(c)(1) was “insupportable.”[9] We agree.[10] The district court found that the plaintiff’s discovery objections were well-taken and that there was no “bad-faith pattern” or failure to disclose the amount in controversy. Metsch has not demonstrated that the district court abused its discretion in so ruling.

Further, as the district court noted, the delay in learning the total damage amount was squarely attributable to Metsch:

The most telling factor in this particular case is the timeline of the discovery and the lack of any effort by Magic Burgers to take any steps whatsoever within the one-year removal period to compel [Hajdasz’s] damages response which it now alleges [Hajdasz] “deliberately withheld to avoid removal.”

Hajdasz v. Magic Burgers, LLC, No. 6:18-cv-01755-ACC-LRH, 2018 WL7436133, at *8 (M.D. Fla. Dec. 10, 2018) (emphasis added). Indeed, Magic Burgers took Hajdasz’s deposition 10 months after the suit was filed, asked only a few questions at that deposition pertaining to the damage amount, and neglected to move to compel answers to those deposition questions for nearly 16 months after the complaint was filed. And not once did Magic Burgers seek to compel responses to written discovery regarding damages. Because of Metsch’s lack of diligence, the one-year deadline passed. His untimely attempt to remove during trial, accordingly, was arguably frivolous. And therefore the district court did not abuse its discretion in so ruling. See A.S. ex rel. Miller v. SmithKline Beecham Corp., 769 F.3d 204, 212 (3d Cir. 2014) (finding that the bad-faith exception to the one-year limit applies only where a defendant can demonstrate “(1) that he has been pursuing his rights diligently, and (2) that some extraordinary circumstances stood in his way.” (quoting Pace v. DiGuglielmo, 544 U.S. 408, 418 (2005))).

Federal removal rules are tricky and contain traps for the unwary. Federal judges often find ways to remand cases to state court, even where it seemed clear that there was removal jurisdiction. In this case, a bad decision to remove cost a lawyer $2,750.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

http://www.clintonlaw.net

Plaintiff Given One More Chance – Rule 37 Sanctions Denied


In Rhodes v. Hilton Resorts Corporation, LLC 2-19-cv-00938-JAD-EJY, the defendant served discovery requests on the plaintiff. Plaintiff did not answer any of them and the defendant moved for Rule 37 sanctions and requested dismissal of the case.

Plaintiff has not complied with her discovery obligations pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 33 or 34. Plaintiff’s responses to discovery propounded by Defendants was untimely (resulting in a waiver of all objections), incomplete, and misleading. After a meet and confer in which Plaintiff’s Counsel did not disagree with Defendants’ position, Plaintiff continued to ignore her duties to engage in discovery in a timely and appropriate manner.

The Court is empowered with wide discretion, pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37, to fashion a sanction for Plaintiff’s repeated discovery failures. When a party believes its opponent has failed to timely comply with the requirements of disclosure, that party may move for sanctions under Rule 37(c). Rule 37 “gives teeth” to the disclosure requirements of Rule 26(e). Yeti by Molly, Ltd. v. Deckers Outdoor Corp.,259 F.3d 1101, 1106 (9th Cir. 2001). District courts are entrusted with wide latitude when exercising their discretion to impose Rule 37(c) sanctions. Id.

Defendants are correct that dismissal of Plaintiff’s Complaint is severe. In fact, even in the face of bad faith or willfulness courts are loathe to enter a case-terminating sanction in the first instance. See Cooley v. Leung, Case No. 2:10-cv-1138-RLH-RJJ, 2013 WL 209730, *1-2 (D. Nev. Jan. 16, 2013). Here, Plaintiff’s conduct is egregious; however, the Court considers alternative sanctions before it will order dismissal of Plaintiff’s Complaint. Specifically, the Court provides Plaintiff one opportunity to change her course and participate timely and in good faith in the case that she brought to Court. Plaintiff’s failure to obey this Court Order will result in an Order to Show Cause why her case should not be dismissed.

Comment: the court granted the motion to compel and gave the plaintiff one more chance to comply with discovery.

Ed Clinton, Jr.

Litigant Should Have Moved to Compel – Sanctions Denied


This case, Finato v. Fink, 18-55044, Ninth Circuit February 18, 2020, is unpublished but does illustrate an important point. Finato sued his former lawyers for legal malpractice. They obtained summary judgment against him. He claimed that the district court erred in rejecting his Rule 37 sanctions motion because the defendant disclosed insufficient information about its attorney fees. The trial court and the Ninth Circuit disagreed.

The district court did not err by denying Finato’s motion for Rule 37 sanctions. We review a district court’s decision on “the imposition of discovery sanctions under Rule 37 for abuse of discretion,” Fjelstad v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 762 F.2d 1334, 1337 (9th Cir. 1985), giving “particularly wide latitude to the district court’s discretion,” Yeti by Molly, Ltd. v. Deckers Outdoor Corp., 259 F.3d 1101, 1106 (9th Cir. 2001). Under Rule 26(a)(1)(A)(iii), a party must provide in its initial disclosures “a computation of each category of damages claimed by the disclosing party—who must also make available for inspection . . . the documents or other evidentiary material . . . on which each computation is based.” If it does not, the party may be subject to Rule 37 sanctions, “unless the failure to disclose is `substantially justified or harmless.'” Ingenco Holdings, LLC v. Ace Am. Ins. Co., 921 F.3d 803, 821 (9th Cir. 2019) (quoting Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(c)(1)).

Finato moved for sanctions on the ground that KFA provided no notice of its claimed fees or how they were computed in its Rule 26 disclosures, but instead presented them for the first time at trial. KFA’s Rule 26 disclosures were brief and not at all detailed. But if Finato believed the computations needed to be more specific, he should have filed a motion to compel, not a Rule 37 motion for sanctions. Cf. Patelco Credit Union v. Sahni, 262 F.3d 897, 913 (9th Cir. 2001) (finding the defendants’ Rule 37 motion was, “in essence, a motion to compel discovery from plaintiffs,” and thus any “failure to obtain the requested documents [was] due to [defendants’] own lack of diligence” in not filing a motion to compel). In addition, Finato signed the final pretrial order, which explicitly stated that “[a]ll disclosures under [Rule] 26(a)(3) have been made.” Even if KFA violated Rule 26, any failure to disclose was harmless. The court had all the evidence before it at trial, including KFA’s estimates and the witnesses’ testimonies regarding the hours they worked, and Finato failed to show how not having this information prior to trial harmed his case. Thus, the district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Finato’s Rule 37 motion for sanctions.

The take-away here is that if you receive disclosures which are insufficient you must move to compel and obtain a court order requiring more information. Then, when the other party fails to comply with the court order, you can move for Rule 37 sanctions.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

Ignoring Discovery Requests And Court Orders To Comply Results In Dismissal of Case


The case is Tenzer v. Hazel, 2:17-cv-00459 (D. Idaho). The Plaintiff filed some sort of employment lawsuit against the Defendant. The Defendants issued discovery requests, but the plaintiff did not answer them. Plaintiff ignored court orders to comply with those requests. Later, when Defendants moved for Rule 37 sanctions, plaintiff claimed that he had a health problem that prevented him from complying with discovery requests.

Between August 27, 2019, and October 23, 2019, the District repeatedly attempted to obtain discovery responses from Plaintiff Randall Tetzner.[1] When such attempts were unsuccessful, the Court ultimately entered an Order Compelling Mr. Tetzner to respond to the District’s Interrogatories and Requests for Production by November 12, 2019. Dkt. 31. While Mr. Tetzner failed to produce any discovery, he notified counsel for the District, on the date his discovery was due, that he was having an invasive medical procedure. Counsel for the District requested more information regarding Mr. Tetzner’s health situation and the impact it would have on his ability to respond to discovery but did not receive any response. Although Mr. Tetzner did not file a motion with the Court to seek an extension, nor provide it with notice or any other information regarding his health condition, the Court, in an abundance of caution, gave Mr. Tetzner another extension of time and ordered him to respond to discovery by November 29, 2019, or face dismissal. Dkt. 32. Mr. Tetzner did not respond to the District’s discovery requests by November 29, 2019, and has yet to produce the requested discovery. Id.

On December 2, 2019, Mr. Tetzner notified the District’s counsel by email that he may need surgery and that his condition was life-threatening. The District’s counsel requested additional information but did not receive a reply. Nor has the District’s counsel received a reply to any of its emails in the last four months regarding Mr. Tetzner’s obligation to respond to discovery. Despite the Court’s November 1, 2019, and November 18, 2019, orders compelling him to produce discovery, Mr. Tetzner has never filed a motion for a protective order, or any other information regarding his health condition, with the Court.

The court found the 9th Circuit factors favored dismissal of the lawsuit.

Here, the Court already assessed the five Thompson Factors to determine whether case-dispositive sanctions were warranted, and found three of the five factors weighed in favor of dismissal. Dkt. 31, at 5-7 (finding the public policy favoring disposition of cases on their merits and the availability of less drastic sanctions weighed against dismissal). Because the Court had not ordered an alternative, less severe sanction at that time, the Court allowed Mr. Tetzner an additional ten days to respond to discovery, and then extended his response deadline another two weeks, sua sponte, upon Mr. Tetzner’s notice to the District’s counsel that he was suffering from health problems. As noted, Mr. Tetzner has never contacted the Court regarding his health condition, nor filed a motion to seek an extension or to request a protective order.

In light of Mr. Tetzner’s continued failure to respond to discovery despite two orders compelling him to do so, the Court finds that four of the five Ninth Circuit factors now weigh in favor of dismissal. Where, as here, a court order has been violated, the first and second factors support case-dispositive sanctions. Adriana Int’l Corp. v. Thoeren, 913 F.2d 1406, 1412 (9th Cir. 1990). Instead of considering the merits of this case, the Court must again address Mr. Tetzner’s failure to comply with his discovery obligations. Mr. Tetzner’s conduct thus impedes the expeditious resolution of this case and the Court’s ability to manage its docket. Malone v. United States Postal Serv., 833 F.2d 128, 131 (9th Cir. 1987); Hyde & Drath, 24 F.3d 1162, 1166 (9th Cir. 1994).

Under the third factor, a party is prejudiced if the non-responding party’s conduct impairs the requesting party’s ability to go to trial or threatens to interfere with the rightful decision of the case. United States ex rel. Wiltec Guam, Inc. v. Kahaluu Constr. Co., 857 F.2d 600, 604 (9th Cir. 1988). Because Mr. Tetzner has completely ignored both the District’s discovery requests and the Court’s orders compelling him to respond, the District is unable to defend against his case. The third factor thus supports dismissal. Adriana, 913 F.3d at 1412 (failure to produce documents as ordered is considered sufficient prejudice to warrant case-dispositive sanctions).

Although the fourth factor—the public policy favoring decisions on the merits— always weighs against dismissal or default, Wanderer v. Johnston, 910 F.2d 652, 656 (9th Cir. 1990), this policy “standing alone, is not sufficient to outweigh the other four factors.” Leon v. IDX Sys. Corp., 464 F.3d 951, 961 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Malone, 833 F.2d at 133 n. 2). Moreover, where, as here, a fair trial is potentially impossible due to a party’s failure to cooperate, the fourth factor should not be given much weight. Hyde & Drath, 24 F.3d at 1167.

Finally, the fifth factor requires the district court to consider alternate, less severe sanctions before entering a default judgment or ordering dismissal. The Court previously denied sanctions because it had not yet considered alternate, less severe sanctions, and entered an order compelling discovery. Now that both the Order compelling discovery and subsequent Order giving Mr. Tetzner an additional two-weeks to respond to the District’s discovery requests have both been ignored, the Court turns again to the fifth factor.

The Ninth Circuit requires a three-part test to determine whether a district court has properly considered the adequacy of less drastic sanctions: (1) whether the court implemented alternative sanctions before ordering default or dismissal; (2) whether the court warned the party of the possibility of default before ordering it; and (3) whether the court explicitly discussed the feasibility of less drastic sanctions and explained why they would be inappropriate. Malone, 833 F.2d at 130.

All three conditions are met in this case. The Court has already considered less severe sanctions by issuing two orders compelling discovery. Mr. Tetzner disregarded both orders. The Court has also twice warned Mr. Tetzner that failure to comply with its discovery orders could result in the dismissal of his case. Dkt. 31; Dkt. 32. Despite this, Mr. Tetzner failed to comply. Furthermore, if Mr. Tetzner was facing a serious or life-threatening medical condition, he should have simply notified the Court and provided supporting evidence. Ultimately, however, Mr. Tetzner failed to provide any medical information despite numerous opportunities to do so. In light of such conduct, it is clear that less drastic sanctions would be ineffective and will not provide the District with the discovery it needs to defend against Mr. Tetzner’s case. Where, as here, four of the five Ninth Circuit factors weigh in favor of case-dispositive sanctions, dismissal in warranted. Adriana, 913 F.2d at 1413. Although pro se, Mr. Tetzner “is expected to abide by the rules of the court in which he litigates.” Carter v. C.I.R., 784 F.2d 1006, 1008 (9th Cir. 1986); Ghazali v. Moran, 46 F.3d 52, 54 (9th Cir. 1995) (“pro se litigants are bound by the rules of procedure.”).

Rule 37(d)(3) requires the Court to award attorney’s fees against a party who fails to respond to discovery unless the failure was substantially justified, or other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust. Indigency, standing alone, does not make an award of expenses or attorney’s fee unjust. Barker v. Hertz Corp., 2008 WL 2705152, at *8 (D. Ariz.). Mr. Tetzner has not offered any justification to the Court, let alone substantial justification, for his failure to comply with its discovery orders. Nevertheless, the Court concludes that Mr. Tetzner, who appears to be suffering from health problems and has been granted leave to proceed in forma pauperis, should not be required to pay fees and costs. Dkt. 20; see Elliott v. United Parcel Serv., Inc., 2009 WL 213004, at *2 (W. D. Wash. 2009) (holding “it would be unjust to require a pro se plaintiff to pay fees and costs for the depositions.”).

The court then dismissed the case. Had the Plaintiff come up with an affidavit showing that he was actually ill, the case would not have been dismissed.

No Sanctions For Plaintiff Which Challenged Subject Matter Jurisdiction


In this case, Northeast Natural Energy, LLC, v. Larson, 3:18-cv-240 (W.D. Pennsylvania November 25, 2019), the plaintiff originally filed the case in state court. The Defendant removed the action to federal court. Plaintiff then filed an unsuccessful motion to challenge subject matter jurisdiction.

The procedural history: “

Defendants argue that Plaintiff’s conduct in this lawsuit warrants Rule 11 sanctions. (ECF No. 42.) Defendants state the following as Plaintiff’s “bad faith and vexatious conduct:” (1) Plaintiff filed a complaint and a motion to vacate the arbitration award in state court in West Virginia the same day it filed its Amended Motion to Vacate Arbitration Award in this Court without informing either this Court or Defendants, (2) Plaintiff did not inform this Court about any protentional lack of diversity of citizenship until after this Court issued its September 20 Order and Opinion, (3) Plaintiff served Defendants in the West Virginia action five days after this Court issued its September 20 Order and Opinion, and (4) the West Virginia action is wasteful because the West Virginia court lacks personal jurisdiction over the Defendants and service on the motion to vacate was eight months late. (ECF No. 28 ¶¶ 12-18.)

In response, Plaintiff asserts that sanctions are not warranted because its conduct was not vexatious or in bad faith. (ECF No. 41.) Plaintiff asserts that it filed its Motion to Vacate and the West Virginia action to preserve its case. (Id.)”

The district court denied the motion for sanctions on the ground that Plaintiff had an absolute right to challenge subject matter jurisdiction, at any time during the litigation.

Here, Plaintiff has a right to challenge subject-matter jurisdiction at any time, even for the first time on appeal, or even if the party had previously acknowledged the Court’s jurisdiction. See Henderson ex rel. Henderson v. Shinseki, 562 U.S. 428, 434-35 (2011). Plaintiff has filed an appeal in this action and therefore could have skipped over this Court and raised the issue of subject-matter jurisdiction for the first time before the Third Circuit. The Court finds that Plaintiff filed the Motion to Vacate for the Court to address its jurisdiction before the Third Circuit would address it.

The Third Circuit has held Rule 11 sanctions unwarranted when a party files a motion as of right. See Lony v. E.I. Du Pont de Nemours & Co., 935 F.2d 604, 616 (3d Cir. 1991) (holding that defendant’s filing of a forum non conveniens motion did not warrant Rule 11 sanctions because defendant had a right to move for such a dismissal). Because Plaintiff had a right to challenge this Court’s subject-matter jurisdiction at any time, the Court will not impose sanctions on Plaintiff for exercising this right. The Court holds that Plaintiff’s filing of the Motion to Vacate was reasonable under the circumstances of this case.

Accordingly, Plaintiff’s conduct does not warrant Rule 11 sanctions.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.

http://www.clintonlaw.net

Undisclosed Expert Opinion Survives Rule 37 Motion


The case, Centrella v. Ritz-Craft Corporation, 16-729- cv, decided by the Second Circuit on November 5, 2019 (unpublished) allowed a party to present an undisclosed opinion of its expert at trial despite a motion to exclude that opinion. The district court took active measures to allow the other side to cross-examine and rebut the opinion. The Second Circuit affirmed the judgment.

Ritz-Craft argues that the district court erred by permitting the Centrellas’ expert, James Bradley, to testify regarding an opinion that Bradley did not include in his expert report. The district court responded to Bradley’s undisclosed testimony by permitting Ritz-Craft to cross-examine Bradley on his undisclosed testimony and allowing Ritz-Craft’s expert to rebut Bradley’s undisclosed testimony.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 permits the court to sanction a party that fails to make the disclosures that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 requires. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(c)(1). “A district court has wide discretion to impose sanctions, including severe sanctions, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37, and its ruling will be reversed only if it constitutes an abuse of discretion.” Design Strategy, Inc. v. Davis, 469 F.3d 284, 294 (2d Cir. 2006). We consider four factors to determine whether the district court’s Rule 37 sanctions in this case were an abuse of discretion: “(1) the party’s explanation for the failure to comply with the disclosure requirement; (2) the importance of the testimony . . .; (3) the prejudice suffered by the opposing party as a result of having to prepare to meet the new testimony; and (4) the possibility of a continuance.” Patterson v. Balsamico, 440 F.3d 104, 117 (2d Cir. 2006) (alteration omitted) (internal quotation marks omitted). The Centrellas have not offered any explanation for their failure to disclose Bradley’s opinion prior to his testimony, and the testimony, an expert’s opinion that Ritz-Craft modular homes could not meet Vermont energy code because of a design flaw, was certainly important to the case. These factors support a strong sanction. However, Ritz-Craft agrees in its brief on appeal that the trial court’s “effort[] in permitting Ritz-Craft’s experts to testify on this issue was sufficient to cure any error,” Appellant’s Br. at 30, and there is no indication that Ritz-Craft sought a continuance to meet the testimony. Given these considerations, the district court acted within its substantial discretion by permitting Ritz-Craft to cross-examine Bradley on his undisclosed testimony and permitting Ritz-Craft’s expert to offer an opinion in response.

This is an interesting opinion, which cannot be cited because it was unpublished. It does offer a pathway for a lawyer who mistakenly omits an opinion to correct that error at trial.

Ed Clinton, Jr.

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You Gotta Warn Em First


In Smith v. Fischer, 13-cv-6127 (September 30, 2019), the defendant moved for Rule 37 sanctions – specifically dismissal when the plaintiff did not comply with discovery requests.

The result – motion denied because the court had not given the plaintiff a warning.

Under Rule 37(b), a court may dismiss a case or impose other sanctions if a party does not obey an order to provide or permit discovery. Residential Funding Corp. v. DeGeorge Fin. Corp., 306 F.3d 99, 106-07 (2d Cir. 2002). In evaluating whether to dismiss a case for this reason, a court considers: “1) the willfulness of the non-compliant party or the reason for noncompliance; 2) the duration of the period of non-compliance; 3) whether the non-compliant party had been warned of the consequences of noncompliance; and 4) the efficacy of lesser sanctions.” Ferrer v. Fischer, No. 9:13-CV-0031 NAM/ATB, 2014 WL 5859139, at *2 (N.D.N.Y. Nov. 12, 2014) (citation omitted). Dismissal is a “harsh remedy” to be used “only in extreme situations.” Id. (citation omitted).

The Court declines to analyze each factor here because it finds that the third factor precludes dismissal; that is, Plaintiff has not been warned that his non-compliance with Defendants’ discovery demands could result in the dismissal of his case. The Second Circuit has repeatedly affirmed that courts may not dismiss a pro selitigant’s case under Rule 37 without warning him of the consequences of not complying with discovery obligations. See, e.g., S.E.C. v. Setteducate, 419 F. App’x 23, 24 (2d Cir. 2011) (“[e]ven the most severe Rule 37 sanctions may be imposed even against a plaintiff who is proceeding pro se, so long as a warning has been given that noncompliance can result in a sanction”) (quotation marks omitted and emphasis added) (summary order); Agiwal v. Mid Island Mortg. Corp.,555 F.3d 298, 302 (2d Cir. 2009) (same).

Consistent with this settled authority, courts routinely deny motions to dismiss based on a pro se litigant’s non-compliance with discovery orders where the litigant had not been warned in advance that his non-compliance could result in dismissal. See, e.g., Velazquez v. Vermont Dep’t of Corr., No. 2:07 CV 244, 2009 WL 819445, *2 (D. Vt. 2009) (declining to order dismissal where pro se plaintiff did not appear for a deposition or respond to written discovery requests but “ha[d] not yet been warned that his failure to participate in discovery might result in the dismissal of his case”); Burke v. Miron, No. 3:07CV1181(RNC), 2009 WL 952097, *1 (D. Conn. 2009) (declining to dismiss the pro se plaintiff’s case for non-compliance with discovery, even though he was “a prolific and experienced litigator” because “Second Circuit precedent require[es] a clear warning to pro selitigants” that their case may be dismissed). Accordingly, the Court denies Defendants’ motion to dismiss this case.

Comment: A warning is required before you can move for dismissal.

Edward X. Clinton, Jr.