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Macaluso v. Keyspan Energy

May 7, 2007

ANDREA MACALUSO, PLAINTIFF,
v.
KEYSPAN ENERGY AND ITS SUBSIDIARIES, AND EDWARD VANGULDEN, IN HIS INDIVIDUAL AND OFFICIAL CAPACITIES, DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Spatt, District Judge.

MEMORANDUM OF DECISION AND ORDER

Currently pending before the Court are appeals by the Plaintiff Andrea Macaluso ("Macaluso" or the "Plaintiff") from two orders (the "Orders") issued by United States Magistrate Judge William D. Wall.

Although the Court assumes the parties are familiar with the lengthy procedural background of this case, in the interests of clarity, the Court will restate the pertinent history.

I. BACKGROUND

A. Factual Background and Procedural History

On February 10, 2005, the Plaintiff commenced this employment discrimination action against Keyspan Energy ("Keyspan") and Edward Vangulden ("Vangulden") (collectively the "Defendants"), alleging that the Defendants discriminated against her on the basis of her sex and sexually harassed her in violation of federal and state law.

Throughout 2005 and 2006, the parties engaged in discovery, and a review of the docket sheet reveals motions for extensions of the discovery deadline and discovery disputes between the parties. Also, there were various motions by the Defendants to compel the Plaintiff to respond to the Defendants' discovery requests. Specifically, on May 30, 2006, the Defendants moved to compel the Plaintiff to respond to interrogatories and document requests. Judge Wall granted the unopposed motion. Again, on August 2, 2006, the Defendants filed a letter informing the Court that the Plaintiff still had not responded to the Defendants' discovery requests. Thereafter, on August 30, 2006, the Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint for failure to comply with the Court's Orders and failure to prosecute. Judge Wall denied the motion to dismiss and ordered the Plaintiff to respond to the Defendants' discovery requests, noting that a conference was scheduled on September 12, 2006, to further resolve issues. On September 12, 2006, the Plaintiff's counsel failed to appear at thescheduled status conference.

On October 6, 2006 and October 10, 2006, the Defendants again moved to dismiss the complaint and for sanctions. Thereafter, on October 27, 2006, the Defendants filed an amended motion, pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Fed. R. Civ. P.") 37, to dismiss the complaint as a result of the Plaintiff's failure to respond to discovery requests; failure to appear at a scheduled conference; and failure to prosecute the case. The Plaintiff failed totimely respond to the Defendants' motion to dismiss and the Court denied the Plaintiff's untimely motion for an extension of time to file a response. Thereafter, despite the Plaintiff's failure to oppose the motion to dismiss the complaint, in a January 18, 2007 Order, the Court, sua sponte, granted the Plaintiff an extension of time until February 9, 2007, to oppose the Defendants' motion.

On January 29, 2007, more than three months after the filing of the Defendants' motion, the Plaintiff, again moved for an extension of time to respond to the motion and, by letter, requested an appeal to this Court from Judge Wall's January 18, 2007 Order. Judge Wall denied the motion for an extension of time, noting that he had already set a deadline of February 9, 2007 for the Plaintiff to respond to the motion to dismiss. Although the Plaintiff attempted to appeal Judge Wall's Order to this Court, the Plaintiff was informed that the appeal would not be accepted as it was filed in violation of this Court's Individual Motion Practices because this Court does not accept letter motions.

On February 9, 2007, and again on February 12, 2007, the Plaintiff filed additional lettersto Judge Wall requesting an extension of time to oppose the Defendants' October 2006 motion to dismiss. On March 6, 2007, the Plaintiff filed a letter to Judge Wall stating that she had become aware of a conflict of interest in this case and requesting a stay of activity and additional time to brief the issue. On March 8, 2007, Judge Wall denied the Plaintiff's request for a stay.

On March 9, 2007, the Plaintiff's attorney filed a motion with Judge Wall seekinghisrecusal. The Plaintiff claimed that Judge Wall was biased in favor of the Defendants because he attended the same law school as one of Keyspan's attorneys; had defended corporations when he practiced law; and is active in community service in the Rockville Center community, as is Keyspan's attorney, James G. Ryan. Among other things, the Plaintiff contended that Judge Wall's Orders contain "grammatical errors" and were filled with "false statements."

In opposition to the Plaintiff's motion, the Defendants' counselaffirmed that they were not aware that Judge Wall had attended the same law school as counsel, James G. Ryan, and that the Plaintiff's motion was "nonsensical." The Defendants further requested that the Court impose sanctions on the Plaintiff's counsel.

B. Magistrate Judge Wall's April 3, 2007 Order

On April 3, 2007, Judge Wall denied the Plaintiff's motion for his recusal; denied the Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint; and granted the Defendants' motion for monetary sanctions. In acomprehensive forty-three page Order, Judge Wall reviewed the history of the Plaintiff's numerous late filings; her motions for extensions of time; and her persistent failures to respond to discovery requests. Judge Wall noted that he set forth such a "detailed history to illustrate the breadth of Ms. Pollack's failure to comply with orders and meet deadlines in this action."

However, notwithstanding the Plaintiff's counsel's many serious discovery failures, Judge Wall denied the Defendants' motion to dismiss the complaint and held that the action is trial ready. Judge Wall noted that "the court has no reason to believe that Ms. Macaluso has contributed" to her counsel's negligence. Judge Wall ordered Ms. Pollack to pay reasonable expenses incurred by the Defendants, including attorneys' fees and costs in connection with the Defendants': (1) May 30, 2006 motion to compel; (2) August 2, 2006 letter motion; (3) August 30, 2006 letter motion to compel; (4) appearance in Court on September 12, 2007 when Plaintiff's counsel failed to appear; (5) October 10, 2006 motion to dismiss and request for sanctions; (6) October 27, 2006 Rule 37 motion; and (7) application for expenses and costs. The Court directed Keyspan to submit an application for attorneys' fees and costs by April 17, 2007. The Court further directed the Plaintiff to file opposition papers by May 1, 2007, and the Defendants to file a reply by May 15, 2007.

In addition, Judge Wall denied the Plaintiff's motion for his recusal. In a thorough discussion of the recusal issue, Judge Wall determined that the Plaintiff's motion for recusal was legally insufficient, frivolous and irrational. Judge Wall further noted that although Ms. Pollack accused him of representing corporations in practice, he did not practice in the same area of the law as defense counsel. He further stated that the only connection he has to defense counsel,James G. Ryan, is his appearances before the Court in this case and possibly, other matters. ...


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