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Taylor v. Null

United States District Court, E.D. Missouri, Eastern Division

August 9, 2016

SAMUEL LEWIS TAYLOR, Plaintiff
v.
DAVID NULL, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM

          CAROL E. JACKSON UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         This matter is before the Court for consideration of whether or not to sanction plaintiff for failure to comply with a pretrial order. Previously, the Court ordered plaintiff to show cause why he should not be prohibited from presenting evidence at trial. Plaintiff has now responded.

         I. Background

         On January 21, 2016, the Court issued an Order Relating to Trial which required the parties to file lists of witnesses and exhibits, proposed jury instructions, and other materials 30 days before the trial date. The deadline to mail those materials was Monday, July 18, 2016. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 6(a)(1)(C). With respect to complying with that deadline, the parties were warned as follows:

Except for good cause shown, no party will be permitted to call any witness, or offer any exhibit, interrogatory answer, deposition testimony, or answer to a request for admissions that is not listed or disclosed in compliance with this Order.

         Concededly aware of the order, plaintiff did not move to extend the deadline. Nor did he timely file the required materials.

         Consequently, on July 22, 2016, the Court issued the order to show cause. On August 1, 2016, plaintiff timely responded to the show cause order. His sole explanation for not complying with the Order Relating to Trial is that he has no postage to mail the requisite materials. He states that he has been denied access to paper, writing utensils, and postage essential to the task. Alternatively, he appears to suggest that he has already drafted the pretrial compliance materials and merely lacks postage to mail them. In any event, his response consists of six handwritten pages, which he mailed to the Court in a stamped envelope.

         Though plaintiff claims he has been stymied from purchasing additional writing implements and paper, he does not contend he lacked those items at the time the pretrial materials were due. His response to the show cause order allays all doubts he has those utensils now. Therefore, even assuming arguendo plaintiff could not timely draft his pretrial submissions, it is undisputed he could have drafted those documents with his response to the show cause order. He offers no explanation for filing a lengthy response yet not employing the resources at his disposal to comply with the Order Relating to Trial.

         The same is true of plaintiff’s claim that his noncompliance is attributable to a lack of postage. Plaintiff admits that he obtained multiple stamps on July 17, in time to mail the pretrial submissions by the July 18 deadline. But he did not do so. Further, even assuming arguendo he lacked sufficient postage to mail all the required documents, only one stamp would have been necessary to file a motion for extension of time. But he filed no such motion. In any event, he retained sufficient postage to respond to the order to show cause. Yet plaintiff did not include with that response the pretrial submissions, again without explanation. Finally, with only days remaining before trial, plaintiff does not suggest when or even if he will comply with the Order Relating to Trial.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(f)(1)(C) allows a district court to sua sponte issue sanctions on “a party” that “fails to obey a scheduling or other pretrial order.” That Rule permits issuance of any sanction “authorized by Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(ii)-(vii).” Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(f)(1). In turn, as relevant here, Rule 37(b)(2)(A), Fed. R. Civ. P., authorizes sanctions that include, “(ii) prohibiting the disobedient party from supporting or opposing designated claims or defenses, or from introducing designated matters in evidence; (iii) striking pleadings in whole or in part; . . . [or] (v) dismissing the action or proceeding in whole or in part . . . .”

         Whether to issue such sanctions “is entrusted to [a] district court’s sound discretion.” United States v. Eleven Million Seventy-One Thousand One Hundred & Eighty-Eight Dollars & Sixty-Four Cents ($11, 071, 188.64) in U.S. Currency, No. 15-1743, 2016 WL 3144679, at *2 (8th Cir. June 6, 2016). The factual question is “whether the evidence supports the chosen sanction.” Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted). A district court’s factual determinations undergirding the decision to issue sanctions, “including its ‘determination that’” a party “‘willfully disregarded court orders, ’” will be upheld absent clear error. Schubert v. Pfizer, Inc., 459 F. App’x 568, 572 (8th Cir. 2012) (quoting Rodgers v. Curators of Univ. of Mo., 135 F.3d 1216, 1219 (8th Cir. 1998)). Where a party fails to comply with a pretrial order to, for example, “submit a statement of the case, exhibit list, witness list, list of deposition testimony, all motions in limine, proposed voir dire, joint proposed jury instructions, and a proposed special verdict form, ” sanctions are appropriate. Siems v. City of Minneapolis, 560 F.3d 824, 825-27 (8th Cir. 2009).

         When sanctions are warranted, a “district court is not . . . constrained to impose the least onerous sanction available, but may exercise its discretion to choose the most appropriate sanction under the circumstances.” Keefer v. Provident Life & Accident Ins. Co., 238 F.3d 937, 941 (8th Cir. 2000) (quotation marks and citation omitted). However, “dismissal is an extreme sanction that should be applied only where there is an order” requiring compliance, “a willful violation of the order, and prejudice to the other party.” Eleven Million Seventy-One Thousand One Hundred & Eighty-Eight Dollars & Sixty-Four Cents, 2016 WL 3144679, at *2 (quotation marks and citation omitted). In determining whether a party willfully failed to comply with a court order, one consideration is whether the party “was simply incapable of complying” based on circumstances beyond his control-e.g., “a serious health problem which required surgery.” Smith v. Gold Dust Casino, 526 F.3d 402, 405 (8th Cir. 2008).

         For those reasons, “before dismissing a case” pursuant to Rule 16(f)(1), “the court must investigate whether a sanction less extreme than dismissal would suffice, unless the party’s failure was deliberate or in bad faith.” Comstock v. UPS Ground Freight, Inc., 775 F.3d 990, 992 (8th Cir. 2014) (quotation marks and citation omitted). But a “court dismissing under Rule” 16(f)(1) “need not investigate lesser sanctions when a party’s violation is deliberate.” Id. (quotation marks and citation omitted). Further, a “district court need not” find that a party “acted in bad faith, only that he acted intentionally[, ] as opposed to accidentally or involuntarily.” Rodgers, 135 F.3d at 1219 ...


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