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Colozzi v. St. Joseph's Hospital Center

July 20, 2010


The opinion of the court was delivered by: David E. Peebles U.S. Magistrate Judge


Currently at issue in this action, which was commenced by named plaintiffs Robert Colozzi, Tammy Aiken, and Christine Correia asserting a variety of claims including, inter alia, alleged violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, as amended ("FLSA"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq., is an application by the defendants seeking dismissal of claims brought by certain opt-in plaintiffs who have failed to provide interrogatory responses despite two court orders directing them to do so. For the reasons set forth below, I recommend that the motion be granted.


Plaintiff commenced this action against defendant St. Joseph's Hospital and various other allegedly inter-related entities, asserting a combination of federal and state law claims. Among them was an FLSA cause of action centering upon defendants' meal break deduction policy and the automatic payroll deduction protocol through which it has been implemented. Plaintiffs argue that that policy and practice, in combination with chronic understaffing and expectations of administrators that employees be available, including during meal breaks, to tend to patient care demands, has resulted in defendants' failure to properly compensate their hourly employees.

After filing suit, plaintiff sought certification of the case as a collective action, pursuant to 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). That application was granted and, following provision of notice to potential opt-in plaintiffs, many of them have joined in the action.*fn1

As is not atypical in such FLSA collective actions, the parties presented the court with a dispute over whether, and if so to what extent, defendants should be permitted to engage in limited discovery with regard to the opt-in plaintiffs. After briefing and a hearing regarding the dispute, I issued an order on November 23, 2009 permitting the defendants to serve a limited, designated set of interrogatories upon each of the opt-in plaintiffs and directing that they be answered within sixty days of the date of service. See Dkt. No. 192. Those interrogatories were subsequently served on November 25, 2009. See Smith Decl. (Dkt. No. 226-1) ¶ 6.

Despite the issuance of that order, several of the opt-in plaintiffs who were subsequently served with the court approved interrogatories failed to provide responses to defendants' counsel. As a result defendants moved seeking dismissal of claims on behalf of those opt-in plaintiffs. Dkt. No. 226. That application resulted in my issuance of an order on May 27, 2010, directing that the recalcitrant opt-in plaintiffs provide responses to defendants' interrogatories within thirty days of the date of the order and notifying them that in the event of their failure to do so a report and recommendation would be issued to District Judge David N. Hurd recommending that any non-complying plaintiff be dismissed from the action, with prejudice. Dkt. No. 255.

By letter dated June 28, 2010 defendants' counsel has advised the court that only two additional opt-in plaintiffs have provided responses and thirteen of the opt-in plaintiffs in this action have persisted in their failure to respond to plaintiffs' interrogatories. Dkt. No. 268. Plaintiffs' counsel has not actively opposed the request for dismissal of those non-complying opt-in plaintiffs, other than to request that the court not dismiss the claims of certain opt-in plaintiffs with whom they have been unable to communicate by mail. See Dkt. No. 265.


A. Motion For Sanctions

Defendants' motion implicates both Rule 37(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the court's inherent authority and overarching power under Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which provides the court with discretion to dismiss a plaintiff's complaint for failure to prosecute or based upon a failure to comply with a legitimate court order.

1. The Court's Inherent Authority

"[C]courts may turn to their inherent powers, which are innate to [their] creation to impose respect for [their] lawful mandates." La Grande v. Adecco, No. 1:03-CV-1453, 2006 WL 2806402, at *7 (N.D.N.Y. Sept. 28, 2006) (Sharpe, J. and Treece, M.J.) (citing United States v. Seltzer, 227 F.3d 36, 39-42 (2d Cir. 2000)). It is axiomatic that a party to an action pending in a federal district court, whether a plaintiff or defendant, is required to comply with legitimate court directives and to participate in scheduled proceedings, including status conferences and discovery. Hall v. Flynn, 829 F.Supp. 1401, 1403 (N.D.N.Y. 1993) (citations omitted); see also New York v. Gleave, 189 F.R.D. 263, 268 (W.D.N.Y. 1999) (citing Cerruti 1881 S.A. v. Cerruti, Inc., 169 F.R.D. 573, 582-83 (S.D.N.Y. 1996)). The failure of a party to fulfill this obligation provides a basis for the striking of the offending party's pleadings and the entry of appropriate corresponding relief. Hall, 829 F.Supp. at 1403; see also Doyle v. Anderson, No. 02-CIV. 3572, 2004 WL 63484, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Jan. 13, 2004) (dismissing complaint where plaintiff failed, inter alia, to appear for scheduled status conference, to attend deposition, and to respond to discovery requests); Lindsey v. Loughlin, 616 F.Supp. 449, 453 (E.D.N.Y. 1985) (McLaughlin, D.J. & Scheindlin, M.J.) (dismissing complaint based upon plaintiff's failure to prosecute the action where he last contacted the court with his address change upon release from prison and subsequently failed to appear for a status conference scheduled by the court).

The court's inherent authority to strike a party's pleading may be exercised sua sponte. See Hall, 829 F. Supp. at 1403; Lindsey v. Loughlin, 616 F.Supp. at 453 (quoting Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-31, 82 S.Ct. 1386, 1388-89 (1962))("The authority of a court to dismiss sua sponte for lack of prosecution has generally been considered an 'inherent power,' governed not by rule or statute but by the control necessarily vested in courts to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases."). In the present action, the non-responding opt-in plaintiffs' refusal to comply with orders of this court would justify sua sponte dismissal of their claims. Such sua sponte action is not necessary, however, ...

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