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Sementhe Dozier v. Quest Diagnostics Incorporated

December 8, 2010

SEMENTHE DOZIER,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
QUEST DIAGNOSTICS INCORPORATED, DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: TO The Honorable Barbara S. Jones, U.S.D.J.:

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

Sementhe Dozier brought this diversity action alleging that her employer, Quest Diagnostics Incorporated ("Quest"), failed to accommodate her disability as required by the New York City Human Rights Law. The defendant has submitted a letter motion seeking dismissal of the action based on the plaintiff's failure to prosecute and her failure to cooperate in discovery.

Background

Sementhe Dozier commenced this action by filing a summons and complaint dated November 18, 2009, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, Bronx County. At that time, she was represented by an attorney, David Abrams. Ms. Dozier alleged that Quest had failed to provide her with accommodations to permit her to perform her job, accommodations that were necessary because she suffers from disabling arthritis. (Complaint ("Compl."), ¶¶ 8-10). Ms. Dozier asserted that Quest's conduct violated the New York City Human Rights Law. (Compl., ¶ 13). Quest removed the action to this Court and filed an answer. The case was then referred to me for general pretrial supervision.

After a pretrial conference on March 17, 2010, I ordered that all discovery be completed by July 15, 2010. (Order dated March 17, 2010). Shortly thereafter, plaintiff's counsel informed me that he was having difficulty securing his client's compliance with discovery demands and would be applying to withdraw from representation. (Letter of David Abrams dated May 26, 2010). The defendant soon complained that plaintiff's discovery responses, document production, and medical authorizations were seven weeks overdue and that numerous attempts to gain compliance had been unsuccessful. (Letter of Amy Traub dated June 1, 2010).

Mr. Abrams then filed an application to withdraw as plaintiff's counsel because of the plaintiff's repeated failure to attend scheduled appointments and produce requested discovery materials. (Certification of David Abrams dated June 8, 2010, ¶¶ 3-4). Receiving no objection, I granted Mr. Abrams' application and ordered Ms. Dozier to either arrange for new counsel to file a notice of appearance or inform the Court of her intention to proceed pro se by September 30, 2010. (Order dated Aug. 4, 2010).

After the plaintiff failed to respond to my order, the defendant submitted a letter motion requesting that the plaintiff's complaint be dismissed with prejudice. (Letter of Amy Traub dated Oct. 1, 2010). Rather than granting the motion immediately, I issued a second order explicitly informing the plaintiff that her complaint would be dismissed if she did not take the steps required by my earlier order no later than November 19, 2010. (Order dated Oct. 21, 2010). The plaintiff again failed to respond, and the defendant has again moved to dismiss the complaint. (Letter of Amy Traub dated Nov. 9, 2010).

Discussion

Rule 16(f) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that "if a party . . . fails to obey a scheduling or other pretrial order," the court "may issue any just orders, including those authorized by Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(ii)-(vii)." Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(v), in turn, authorizes dismissal of the action as a sanction. Rule 41(b) provides in pertinent part that "[i]f the plaintiff fails to prosecute or to comply with these rules or a court order, a defendant may move to dismiss the action or any claim against it."

Dismissal under Rule 41(b) is a harsh remedy that is only appropriate in extreme circumstances. Spencer v. Doe, 139 F.3d 107, 112 (2d Cir. 1998); see also Peart v. City of New York, 992 F.2d 458, 461 (2d Cir. 1993). When the plaintiff is proceeding pro se, the court should be particularly hesitant to dismiss the action on the basis of a failure to follow proper procedures. See Spencer, 139 F.3d at 112. Nevertheless, "litigants, including pro ses, have an obligation to comply with court orders. When they flout that obligation they, like all litigants, must suffer the consequences of their actions." McDonald v. Head Criminal Court Supervisor Officer, 850 F.2d 121, 124 (2d Cir. 1988).

In determining whether dismissal is appropriate, courts consider:

(1) the duration of the plaintiff's failure to comply with the court order; (2) whether the plaintiff was on notice that failure to comply would result in dismissal;

(3) whether the defendants are likely to be prejudiced by 3 further delay in the proceedings; (4) a balancing of the court's interest in managing its docket with the plaintiff's interest in receiving a fair chance to be heard; and (5) whether the judge has adequately considered a sanction less drastic than dismissal. Spencer, 139 F.3d at 112-13; see also Peart, 992 F.2d at 461.

Ms. Dozier has delayed this case for over four months by failing to respond to discovery requests that were due in July. Furthermore, there is no end in sight to the current delay, since there is no way to know when the ...


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