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Tetzner v. Hazel

United States District Court, D. Idaho

January 7, 2020

RANDALL TETZNER, Plaintiff,
v.
CHRISTA HAZEL, Former Trustee President, Coeur d'Alene School District 271; TAMBRA PICKFORD, CASEY MORRISROE, TOM HEARN, DAVE EUBANKS, Trustees, Coeur d'Alene School District 271; MATT HANDELMAN, Former Superintendent, Coeur d'Alene School District 271; COEUR D'ALENE SCHOOL DISTRICT 271; CITY OF COEUR D'ALENE, IDAHO; COEUR D'ALENE POLICE DEPARTMENT; LEE R. WHITE, Chief of Police, Coeur d'Alene Police Department; JAY WILHELM, CRYSTAL SHAW, BUHL, Detectives, Coeur d'Alene Police Department; JOHN DOES 1 & 2, Coeur d'Alene Police Officers; JOHN DOES 3-100 Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER

          DAVID C. NYE CHIEF U.S. DISTRICT COURT JUDGE

         Plaintiff Randall Tetzner has repeatedly failed to respond to Defendant Coeur d'Alene School District and the District related-individual defendants' (hereinafter the “District”) discovery requests, ignored the Court's orders compelling discovery, and continued to delay in prosecuting his suit. The Court accordingly enters the following order of dismissal.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Between August 27, 2019, and October 23, 2019, the District repeatedly attempted to obtain discovery responses from Plaintiff Randall Tetzner.[1] When such attempts were unsuccessful, the Court ultimately entered an Order Compelling Mr. Tetzner to respond to the District's Interrogatories and Requests for Production by November 12, 2019. Dkt. 31. While Mr. Tetzner failed to produce any discovery, he notified counsel for the District, on the date his discovery was due, that he was having an invasive medical procedure. Counsel for the District requested more information regarding Mr. Tetzner's health situation and the impact it would have on his ability to respond to discovery but did not receive any response. Although Mr. Tetzner did not file a motion with the Court to seek an extension, nor provide it with notice or any other information regarding his health condition, the Court, in an abundance of caution, gave Mr. Tetzner another extension of time and ordered him to respond to discovery by November 29, 2019, or face dismissal. Dkt. 32. Mr. Tetzner did not respond to the District's discovery requests by November 29, 2019, and has yet to produce the requested discovery. Id.

         On December 2, 2019, Mr. Tetzner notified the District's counsel by email that he may need surgery and that his condition was life-threatening. The District's counsel requested additional information but did not receive a reply. Nor has the District's counsel received a reply to any of its emails in the last four months regarding Mr. Tetzner's obligation to respond to discovery. Despite the Court's November 1, 2019, and November 18, 2019, orders compelling him to produce discovery, Mr. Tetzner has never filed a motion for a protective order, or any other information regarding his health condition, with the Court.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 gives courts the power to impose sanctions against parties who do not comply with discovery orders. Rule 37(d)(1)(A)(ii) authorizes the court to impose sanctions against a party who, after being properly served with interrogatories under Rule 33 or a request for inspection under Rule 34, fails to serve its answers, objections, or a written response. A failure to respond to interrogatories or requests for production is not excused on the grounds that the discovery sought was objectionable unless the party failing to act has a pending motion for a protective order under Rule 26(c). Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(d)(2).

         Unlike Rule 37(b), a finding of bad faith is not a prerequisite for imposing sanctions under Rule 37(d). Hyde & Drath v. Baker, 24 F.3d 1162, 1171 (9th Cir. 1994). Rule 37(d) also allows for direct sanctions even without a prior court order compelling discovery and even where a party has not previously been warned for any rule misconduct. Halaco Eng'g Co. v. Costle, 843 F.2d 376, 380 n. 1 (9th Cir. 1988); Sigliano v. Mendoza, 642 F.2d 309, 310 (9th Cir. 1981).

         Where, as here, a party has failed to respond to discovery, Rule 37(d) authorizes the court to award any of the sanctions available under Rule 37(b)(2)(A). Such sanctions include: (i) directing that facts be taken as established “as the prevailing party claims”; (ii) prohibiting the disobedient party from introducing certain evidence or from supporting or opposing certain claims or defenses; (iii) wholly or partially striking pleadings; (iv) staying further proceedings until orders are obeyed; (v) dismissing the action in whole or in part; (vi) entering a dismissal or default judgment against the disobedient party; or (vii) treating failure to obey most kinds of orders as contempt. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A)(i)-(vii). A district court has “great latitude” in fashioning sanctions pursuant to Rule 37. Lew v. Kona Hosp., 754 F.2d 1420, 1425 (9th Cir. 1985).

         When sanctions are warranted, the court must determine the appropriate level or severity of sanctions based on the circumstances of the case. A case-dispositive sanction is a harsh penalty reserved for extreme circumstances. Henderson v. Duncan, 779 F.2d 1421, 1423 (9th Cir. 1986). As a result, the Ninth Circuit has constructed a five-factor test to determine whether a case-dispositive sanction is just: (1) the public's interest in the expeditious resolution of litigation; (2) the court's need to manage its docket; (3) the risk of prejudice to the other party; (4) the public policy favoring disposition of cases on their merits; and (5) the availability of less drastic sanctions. Rio Properties, Inc. v. Rio Intern. Interlink, 284 F.3d 1007, 1022 (9th Cir. 2002) (citation omitted); Thompson v. Hous. Auth. of City of Los Angeles, 782 F.2d 829, 831 (9th Cir. 1986) (hereinafter “Thompson Factors”). Provided a court weighs such factors, the Ninth Circuit has repeatedly upheld case-terminating sanctions for failure to comply with pretrial procedures mandated by local rules and court orders. Id.

         Finally, while due process requires that dismissal may not be imposed when a failure to respond to discovery is due to circumstances beyond a party's control, United States v. Sumitomo Marine & Fire Ins. Co., 617 F.2d 1365, 1369 (9th Cir. 1980), the Ninth Circuit has specifically encouraged dismissal when it determines “that counsel or a party has acted willfully or in bad faith in failing to comply with the rules of discovery or with court orders enforcing the rules or in flagrant disregard of those rules or orders.” G-K Properties v. Redevelopment Agency, 577 F.2d 645, 647 (9th Cir. 1978) (citing National Hockey League v. Metropolitan Hockey Club, Inc., 427 U.S. 639 (1976)). A party's repeated failure to comply with discovery requests and court orders manifests the requisite fault to impose the harsh sanction of dismissal. Sigliano, 642 F.2d at 310.

         III. ANALYSIS

         Here, the Court already assessed the five Thompson Factors to determine whether case-dispositive sanctions were warranted, and found three of the five factors weighed in favor of dismissal. Dkt. 31, at 5-7 (finding the public policy favoring disposition of cases on their merits and the availability of less drastic sanctions weighed against dismissal). Because the Court had not ordered an alternative, less severe sanction at that time, the Court allowed Mr. Tetzner an additional ten days to respond to discovery, and then extended his response deadline another two weeks, sua sponte, upon Mr. Tetzner's notice to the District's counsel that he was suffering from health problems. As noted, Mr. Tetzner has never contacted the Court regarding his health condition, nor filed a motion to seek an extension or to request a protective order.

         In light of Mr. Tetzner's continued failure to respond to discovery despite two orders compelling him to do so, the Court finds that four of the five Ninth Circuit factors now weigh in favor of dismissal. Where, as here, a court order has been violated, the first and second factors support case-dispositive sanctions. Adriana Int'l Corp. v. Thoeren, 913 F.2d 1406, 1412 (9th Cir. 1990). Instead of considering the merits of this case, the Court must again address Mr. Tetzner's failure to comply with his discovery obligations. Mr. Tetzner's conduct thus impedes the expeditious resolution of this case and the ...


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