United States District Court, N.D. New York
March 24, 2004.
RANDY Q. IRELAND, SR., JENNIFER IRELAND, and RANDY Q. IRELAND, JR., Plaintiffs,
THOMAS L. HICKEY; THOMAS BUCKLEY, REX ATKINSON, ROBERT LAFOUNTAIN, JAMES BUTZNER, COUNTY OF ESSEX, ESSEX COUNTY ADMINISTRATOR, ESSEX COUNTY BOARD OF SUPERVISORS, and HENRY HOMMIS, Defendants
The opinion of the court was delivered by: FREDERICK SCULLIN, Chief Judge, District Page 2
MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER
Plaintiffs filed their pro se complaint, alleging violations
of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and 1988, on December 1, 2000. On March 13, 2003,
this Court issued an Order granting Defendants Hickey, LaFountain,
Butzner, Buckley and Atkinson's motions to dismiss all of Plaintiffs
Jennifer and Randy Ireland, Sr.'s claims against them on statute of
limitations grounds. See Dkt. No. 64 at 4-10. The Court denied
Defendant Buckley's motion to dismiss Plaintiff Randy Ireland, Jr.'s
claim against him in his individual capacity. See id. at 9.
On April 17, 2003, Magistrate Judge David Homer held a
Rule 16 telephone conference, which Plaintiffs failed to attend. See
Dkt. No. 68. After the conference, Magistrate Judge Homer issued a
uniform pre-trial scheduling order setting the discovery deadline for
November 1, 2003. See id. Presently before the Court are the
Essex County Defendants'*fn1 motion for sanctions and/or dismissal
pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 37 and 41(b) and Local
Rule 41.2 as well as Defendant Buckley's motion for sanctions pursuant to
Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.
For an unspecified period of time in August 1996, Plaintiffs, residents
of Missouri, were vacationing in the Adirondack State Park in upstate New
York. Plaintiffs allege that on August 15, 1996, officers of the New York
State Police, including Defendant Buckley and several of the Essex County
Defendants, subjected them to unlawful searches, seizure of personal
property, interrogation, detention and arrest.
Plaintiffs assert eighteen causes of action arising from multiple
alleged instances of police and prosecutorial misconduct.
A. Rule 41(b) and Local Rule 41.2 motion for
failure to prosecute
Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure allows a court to
dismiss an action because of a plaintiffs failure to prosecute or comply
with rules or court orders. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b). To
evaluate a motion to dismiss under Rule 41(b), courts should balance five
factors, including the duration of a plaintiff's failure to comply with
an order, whether the plaintiff was on notice that failure to comply
would result in dismissal of the action, whether additional delay would
unfairly prejudice defendants, the court's interest in managing its
docket versus the plaintiff's interest in being heard, and whether a
sanction less severe than dismissal is suitable. See Lucas v.
Miles, 84 F.3d 532, 535 (2d Cir. 1996) (citations omitted). A
dismissal under Rule 41(b) is a harsh remedy to which a court should
resort only in limited circumstances, particularly where the plaintiff
proceeds pro se. See Lucas, 84 F.3d at 535.
Local Rule 41.2(a) provides that "[w]henever it appears that the
plaintiff has failed to prosecute an action or proceeding diligently, the
assigned judge shall order it dismissed." L. R. 41.2. Courts in this
district analyze motions under Rule 41.2 using the same framework and
standards as motions under Rule 41(b). See, e.g., Wagner v.
Ashcroft, 214 F.R.D. 78, 82 (N.D.N.Y. 2003) (citation omitted)
(comparing delays under Rule 41(b) and Rule 41.2(a)).
In seeking dismissal, Defendants point out that Plaintiffs have
acknowledged that they failed to attend scheduled and duly noticed
depositions without giving enough advance notice to prevent Defendants
from incurring expenses and lost time waiting for Plaintiffs. Therefore,
Plaintiffs have willfully violated this Court's pre-trial scheduling
Order. In turn, Plaintiffs contend that they lost a close family member
in an accident and became overwhelmed with arrangements relating to the
death. In applying the five-factor test from Lucas, the
duration of Plaintiff's failure to comply is approximately three months,
since Plaintiffs should have commenced discovery shortly after Magistrate
Judge Homer's order. Although the sudden loss of Plaintiffs' relative was
clearly a hardship, the depositions were not scheduled until roughly ten
months afterward. With respect to the second factor, Plaintiffs likely
knew that dismissal was possible, as the pre-trial scheduling order
specifically indicated that deadlines are firm. As a result, these
factors weigh in favor of granting Defendants' motions for dismissal.
However, the other factors are neutral or weigh in Plaintiffs' favor.
Plaintiffs proceed pro se and have, albeit with multiple delays,
put forth great effort in pursuing their causes of action. Although
Defendants lost several hours waiting for Plaintiffs for the depositions,
the loss of time does not rise to the level of serious prejudice.
Accordingly, the Court denies all Defendants' motions to dismiss
pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 41(b) and Local Rule 41.2.
B. Rule 37 sanctions
Rule 37(b)(2) permits courts to award several types of sanctions when a
party has failed to comply with deposition-related discovery
orders. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2). Among the sanctions a
court may order are establishing facts in favor of the deposing party,
disallowing the disobedient party to support or oppose some of their
claims, striking portions of pleadings, dismissing an action, or holding
a party in contempt. See id. Courts have broad discretion in
awarding sanctions under Rule 37. See Valentine v. Museum of Modern
Art, 29 F.3d 47, 49 (2d Cir. 1994) (citations omitted).
Defendants rely on the same arguments with respect to their motions for
sanctions under Rule 37.*fn2 For the reasons stated above, the Court
also denies all Defendants' motions to dismiss pursuant to Federal Rule
of Civil Procedure 37.
Since there are discovery issues that still must be resolved, the Court
remands this matter to Magistrate Judge David R. Homer to consider
Defendants' requests for sanctions and to reschedule pre-trial discovery,
in whatever manner he deems necessary and appropriate.
After carefully considering the file in this matter and the parties'
submissions, as well as the applicable law, and for the reasons stated
herein, the Court hereby
ORDERS that Defendant Buckley's motions to dismiss and for
costs are DENIED in their entirety with leave to renew; and the
ORDERS that Defendants Essex County, Essex County
Administrator, Essex County Board of Supervisors and Henry Hommis's
motions to dismiss and for costs are DENIED in their entirety
with leave to renew; and the Court further
ORDERS that this case is remanded to Magistrate Judge David
R. Homer for consideration of requested sanctions as well as all other
pre-trial discovery matters.
IT IS SO ORDERED.