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Haggins v. Ramsey County

United States District Court, D. Minnesota

August 22, 2017

DeJuan Haywood Haggins, Plaintiff,
Ramsey County; Scott Brommerich, Ramsey County Corrections Officer; C.O. Whipps, Ramsey County Corrections Officer; C.O. Reniteria, Ramsey County Corrections Officer; and C.O. Frerichs, Ramsey County Corrections Officers; Defendants.

          DeJuan Haywood Haggins, 14800-041, USP Coleman II, U.S. Penitentiary,

          Robert B. Roche and C. David Dietz, counsel for defendants


          Katherine Menendez United States Magistrate Judge

         The Defendants have filed a Motion to Dismiss as Discovery Sanction. ECF No. 99. Specifically, the Defendants argue that dismissal is an appropriate sanction because Mr. Haggins has failed to comply with his discovery obligations and with an Order of this Court compelling him to do so. Defs.' Mem. at 1, ECF No. 100. Mr. Haggins responds: (1) that he has fully cooperated with the discovery process; (2) that he is unable to comply with certain discovery requests the Defendants have made; and (3) that the breadth of the discovery requested was a ploy designed by the Defendants to engineer a sanctions motion. Pl.'s Resp. at 1-5, ECF No. 105.

         Based on the parties' written arguments and all the proceedings in this litigation, the Court recommends that the Defendants' Motion to Dismiss be denied without prejudice. If the District Court agrees with this course of action, this Court also recommends modification of the scheduling order.


         Mr. Haggins is currently an inmate at the United States Penitentiary in Terre Haute, Indiana. At the time of the events at issue in this lawsuit, he was awaiting a court appearance as a detainee at a Ramsey County correctional facility, where the Defendants work as correctional officers. Mr. Haggins asserts that on February 9, 2009, the Defendants brutally assaulted him, beating him and choking him until he was unconscious. See Am. Compl., ECF No. 5.

         Mr. Haggins originally filed his pro se complaint on January 12, 2015, ECF No. 1, and he was granted IFP status on February 17, 2015, ECF No. 8. Mr. Haggins had some difficulty achieving service through the U.S. Marshals. In July 2015, the Defendants moved to dismiss the complaint without prejudice because they were not appropriately served, see ECF No. 27, though defense counsel was ultimately authorized to accept service on behalf of all but one of the original Defendants, see ECF No. 37. On March 15, 2016, the District Court dismissed the claims against one Defendant for insufficient service and allowed the other claims to proceed. ECF No. 64.

         The Court issued a Scheduling Order on March 31, 2016, giving the parties until November 1, 2016 to complete discovery and until January 1, 2017 to file any dispositive motions. ECF No. 68. The January 1, 2017 deadline passed without any dispositive motion being filed, and the Court sought a status update from the parties. ECF No. 80. Though Mr. Haggins asserted that he was ready for trial and would welcome an opportunity to mediate the dispute, ECF No. 81, the Defendants sought an extension of the schedule to engage in pretrial discovery and to file a dispositive motion, ECF No. 82. The Defendants explained that extra time was needed because Mr. Haggins is a federal prisoner and his relocation to different federal facilities had made it difficult to communicate with him in a timely manner. ECF No. 82. In addition, the Defendants informed the Court that the paralegal and initial attorney assigned to the case unexpectedly left the Ramsey County Attorney's Office after this case was filed, which resulted in delays in getting new counsel up to speed on the litigation. Id. Based on the showing of good cause in the Defendants' status report, the Court extended the deadlines in an Amended Scheduling Order, giving the parties until April 3, 2017 to complete fact discovery and May 1, 2017 to file a dispositive motion. ECF No. 83. The Court later extended the discovery cutoff to July 5, 2017 and the dispositive motion deadline to August 1, 2017. ECF No. 98.

         On February 9, 2017, the Defendants served interrogatories and requests for production of documents. See First Roche Aff. ¶ 3, ECF No. 88. Mr. Haggins did not respond to the discovery requests in a timely manner, but informed the Defendants on March 30, 2017 that he was still working on responses. Id. The following day, the Defendants filed a motion to compel discovery, for the entry of a protective order, and to further revise the schedule. ECF No. 86. This Court found that Mr. Haggins had improperly refused to respond to interrogatories and document requests. 5/9/2017 Discovery Order at 2, ECF No. 91. The Court ordered Mr. Haggins to respond to the written discovery requests by May 26, 2017. Id. at 3 ¶ 3.

         In response to the Court's Order granting the Defendants' motion to compel, Mr. Haggins sent the Defendants responses to their interrogatories. Defs.' Mem., Ex. B, ECF No. 103. He objected to several of the interrogatories and provided no substantive response to those requests. He also gave no response at all to the Defendants' request for production of documents. Id. In their pending motion, the Defendants argue that Mr. Haggins willfully failed to comply with his obligations to respond to discovery and this Court's discovery order.


         I. Legal Standards

         Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides courts with broad discretion to impose sanctions for failing to comply with a court's discovery order. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2). Rule 37(b) requires that any sanction imposed be “just and that it be specifically related to the claim at issue in the discovery order.” Gleghorn v. Melton, 195 Fed. App'x 535 (8th Cir. 2006) (per curiam). In any event, “the ‘choice of sanction should be guided by the concept of proportionality.'” Moore v. Napolitano, 723 F.Supp.2d 167, 179 (D.D.C. 2010) (quoting Bonds v. Dist. of Columbia, 93 F.3d 801, 808 (D.C. Cir. 1996)). In imposing any sanction “[t]he court must balance the goals of enforcing the process of discovery and ensuring adherence to policy aims of discovery with the right of a party to have its case heard on the merits.” Card Tech. Corp. v. DataCard Inc., 249 F.R.D. 567, 571 (D. Minn. 2008).

         Rule 37(b) includes a non-exclusive list of sanctions courts can impose when a party fails to obey an order requiring it to provide discovery. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A)(i)-(vii). Among the options listed is “dismissing the action or proceeding in whole or in part.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A)(v). Because dismissal is “an extreme result, ” such a sanction is permissible only in narrow circumstances. Schubert v. Pfizer, Inc., 459 F. App'x 568, 572 (8th Cir. 2012). Dismissal can only be considered if there is: “(1) an order compelling discovery; (2) a willful violation of that order; and (3) prejudice to the other party.” Keefer v. Provident Life and Acc. Ins. Co., 238 F.3d 937, 940 (8th Cir. 2000). Additionally, before dismissing a case under Rule 37(b)(2), the Court must investigate “whether a sanction less extreme than dismissal would suffice, unless the party's failure was deliberate or in bad ...

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