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Mann v. Missouri in Home Therapy, LLC

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

October 17, 2019

LATONIA MANN, Plaintiff,



         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Missouri In Home Services, LLC's (“Defendant”) “Motion for Sanctions for Plaintiff's Failure to Appear at Deposition” (Doc. 42). The motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition. For the following reasons, Defendant's Motion will be GRANTED, in part and DENIED, in part.

         I. Background

         On June 18, 2019, Plaintiff Latonia Mann (“Plaintiff”) filed her second amended complaint against Missouri In Home Services, LLC for employment discrimination pursuant to the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended, 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101, et seq. (the “ADA”) (Doc. 33). Plaintiff alleges that she was wrongly terminated as a result of a positive drug test notwithstanding her participation a supervised rehabilitation program under a doctor's care with a prescription for methadone (Id.).

         The following procedural history is relevant to the current motion. Shortly after Plaintiff's initial complaint was filed on June 27, 2018, a deputy clerk of this Court attempted to contact Plaintiff's counsel by phone on several occasions but received a busy tone each time. Ultimately, the deputy clerk sent counsel an email to address a ministerial issue. Plaintiff's counsel subsequently failed to appear as ordered for the Rule 16 Conference in this matter on November 19, 2018 (Doc. 26). Despite counsel's non-appearance, that same day the Court entered a Case Management Order in this matter (Doc. 27). On September 11, 2019, Defendant filed a Motion to Compel Discovery and for Sanctions indicating that Plaintiffs counsel had not provided answers to Defendant's interrogatories and requests for production (Doc. 38). Defendant further indicated that Plaintiffs counsel stated that he was unable to reach his client (Id.). On September 17, 2019, Plaintiffs counsel responded to the Motion and indicated that he was “finally able to reach Plaintiff last Friday” and that Plaintiff had fully responded to Defendant's Interrogatories and Document Requests (Doc. 39). Counsel further noted that the parties had rescheduled Plaintiffs deposition for September 30, 2019 (Id.). On September 17, 2019, defense counsel served a Second Amended Notice of Deposition on Plaintiffs counsel setting Plaintiffs deposition for September 30, 2019, at 9:30 a.m. (Doc. 42-1).

         On October 1, 2019, Defendant filed the current Motion in which Defendant indicates that neither Plaintiff nor her counsel appeared at her deposition scheduled for September 30, 2019 (Doc. 42). Defendant further asserts that both defense counsel and his staff attempted to call Plaintiffs counsel but that no one answered the phone and counsel's voicemail was full (Id.). Defendant notes that defense counsel did not receive any communication from Plaintiffs counsel regarding counsel's unavailability (Id.). Defendant requests an order dismissing Plaintiffs Second Amended Complaint and directing Plaintiff to pay reasonable attorney's fees and costs associated with preparing the instant motion (Id.). Alternatively, Defendant seeks an order directing Plaintiff to appear for her deposition on or before October 15, 2019 in addition to his request for attorney's fees and costs (Id.).

         On October 4, 2019, the Court directed Plaintiff to respond to Defendant's motion on or before October 8, 2019 (Doc. 44). The Court further directed Plaintiffs counsel to indicate whether he has been able to discuss the serious nature of Defendant's Motion with Plaintiff (Id.). On October 8, 2019, Plaintiffs counsel responded to Defendant's Motion indicating that he was under the mistaken assumption that Plaintiffs deposition had been continued until defense counsel received certain medical records (Doc. 46). Plaintiffs counsel concedes that Defendant's Motion should be granted as to the appearance and transcript fees of the court reporter (Id.). However, Plaintiffs counsel contests the remaining requested sanctions, asserting that Defendant failed to comply with Local Rule 3.04(a) (Id.). Of note, the response does not indicate whether Plaintiffs counsel spoke with Plaintiff about Defendant's Motion (Id.).

         On October 10, 2019, Defendant filed its reply in support of its Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 48). Defendant continues to seek reasonable attorney's fees and costs as well as dismissal of this action (Id.). Defense counsel asserts that opposing counsel “must not be rewarded for engaging in repeated discovery abuses and for failing to produce Plaintiff for deposition based on an [sic] ‘mistaken assumption'" (Id. at 3). Defense counsel further indicates that the cost of the transcript of non-appearance is $150.00 and, without providing any support, that his attorney's fees for preparing the Motion for Sanctions, Reply, and waiting to see if opposing counsel and his client would appear at the deposition totals $2, 350.00 (Id. at 2 n. 1, 2)

         II. Analysis

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(d)(1)(A), a court may order sanctions if a party fails, after being served with proper notice, to appear for that person's deposition. Sanctions may include dismissing the action or proceeding in whole or in part. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A)(v). Instead of or in addition to the sanction, the court “must” require the attorney advising the party to pay the reasonable expenses, including attorney's fees, caused by the failure, unless the failure was substantially justified or other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(d)(3). If the violation is willful and in bad faith, then the appropriateness of dismissal as a sanction is “entrusted to the sound discretion of the district court.” Avionic Co. v. Gen. Dynamics Corp., 957 F.2d 555, 558 (8th Cir. 1992).

         In consideration of the procedural background and upon a full and thorough review of the current motion, the Court finds that award of attorney's fees and costs are warranted. The non-appearance was not intentional or willful such that dismissal is currently warranted. Contrary to the assertion of Plaintiff's counsel that defense counsel failed to comply with Local Rule 3.04, the Rule does not strictly apply here where the discovery matters are not in dispute. Regardless, even if Local Rule 3.04(a) applied, the Court would find that defense counsel made a reasonable effort to reach Plaintiff's counsel by phone. Pursuant to Local Rule 12.01(G), attorneys admitted to practice in this District have a “continuing duty to promptly notify the Clerk of any changes of name, business address, telephone number, or e-mail address” (emphasis added). It is the responsibility of Plaintiff's counsel to provide the Court and opposing counsel with a working telephone number where he may be reached. While voicemail capability is not explicitly contemplated by the rule, the repeated inability of the Court and defense counsel to reach Plaintiff's counsel via telephone merits consideration. Therefore, given the nature of the misunderstanding, the Court will award defense counsel 1) court reporter fees totaling $150.00 and 2) attorney's fees for defense counsel's time waiting for Plaintiff and her counsel to appear for her deposition. The Court finds that while the current motion is certainly meritorious, much of the underlying dispute could have been addressed, within a reasonable period of time, between counsel. The Court will thus award defense counsel only a portion of his attorney's fees for the filing of the current motion and the reply. As defense counsel has not provided the Court with any support for his fee request, the Court will direct defense counsel to submit his applicable billing records and an associated affidavit supporting his requests for attorney's fees within seven days of the date of this Order.

         III. Conclusion

         Accordingly, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant Missouri In Home Services, LLC's “Motion for Sanctions for Plaintiff's Failure to Appear at Deposition” (Doc. 42) is GRANTED, in part and DENIED, in part.

         IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that Plaintiff's counsel shall pay defense counsel $150.00 for the court ...

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