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Tate v. Sharp

United States District Court, N.D. Mississippi, Aberdeen Division

April 21, 2014

ANNIE TATE, Plaintiff,
v.
OFFICER RICK SHARP, Individually and in His Official Capacity; OKTIBBEHA COUNTY; and OKTIBBEHA COUNTY SHERIFF'S DEPARTMENT, Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

GLEN H. DAVIDSON, Senior District Judge.

On December 27, 2011, Plaintiff Annie Tate ("Plaintiff') filed suit against Officer Rick Sharp, individually and in his official capacity ("Defendant Sharp"); Oktibbeha County; and the Oktibbeha County Sheriffs Department. Plaintiff alleges her constitutional rights were violated under 42 U.S.C. ยง 1983 when she was falsely arrested, subjected to excessive force, maliciously prosecuted, and denied her right to free speech. She further alleges that Defendants' acts were committed as a result of policies and customs of Oktibbeha County and the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department.

Presently before the Court in this civil rights action are a plethora of motions: a motion for summary judgment [67] filed by Defendants Oktibbeha County and Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department; a motion to bifurcate [72 & 76] filed by Plaintiff[1]; a motion for summary judgment [73, 74, & 75] filed by Plaintiff[2]; a motion to strike certain motions [78] filed by Defendants Sharp, Oktibbeha County, and Oktibbeha County Sheriffs Department; and a renewed motion to dismiss [79] this action for failure to comply with Court Order filed by Defendants Sharp, Oktibbeha County, and Oktibbeha County Sheriffs Department.[3] These matters are ripe for review, and the Court is ready to rule.

A. Motion to Strike

First, the Court addresses the motion to strike [78] filed by Defendants Sharp, Oktibbeha County, and Oktibbeha County Sheriffs Department (collectively, "Defendants"), wherein Defendants request that the Court strike certain motions filed by Plaintiff after the motion deadline imposed by the Court.

On September 17, 2013, the United States Magistrate Judge assigned to this cause entered an Order [51] granting Defendants' motion to extend the case management deadlines and imposing a new motions deadline of December 6, 2013. On January 8, 2014-more than 30 days after the motion deadline-Plaintiff filed her motion to bifurcate liability and damages [72] and her motion for summary judgment [73]. Plaintiff has not filed a response to the motion to strike within the time allotted; this is grounds to grant Defendants' motion to strike as unopposed under the Court's local rules. See L. UNIF. CIV. R. 7(b)(3)(E). The Court further notes that "[a]ny nondispositive motion served beyond the motion deadline imposed in the Case Management Order may be denied solely because the motion is not timely served." See L. UNIF. CIV. R. 7(b)(11). For these reasons, the Court grants Defendants' motion to strike Plaintiffs motion to bifurcate.[4]

The Court denies Defendants' motion to strike Plaintiffs untimely filed motion for summary judgment, but finds that Plaintiff's motion for summary judgment must be denied on the merits, as explained below in "Section C. Motions for Summary Judgment."

B. Renewed Rule 37 Motion to Dismiss

The Court now turns to the merits of Defendants' renewed motion to dismiss [79] this case for failure to comply with Court Order.

While merits-discovery was stayed pending the Court's ruling on Defendant Sharp'S motion for qualified immunity [11], Plaintiff filed a motion to compel [14] discovery responses from Defendants. The United States Magistrate Judge denied this motion, because Plaintiff had prematurely served merits-discovery on Defendants prior to the attorneys' discovery conference and without otherwise seeking leave to do so-in violation of the rules of the Court. The Court then entered an Order [25] and opinion [26] dismissing Plaintiffs excessive force claim and First Amendment free speech claim against Defendant Sharp on qualified immunity grounds, sustaining all other claims against Defendant Sharp, and lifting the stay on merits-discovery.

Subsequently, the Magistrate Judge set a Rule 16.1 telephonic case management conference to be initiated by Plaintiffs counsel and advised counsel for the parties to send in their confidential settlement memoranda and proposed case management order by March 25, 2013. Plaintiffs counsel did not initiate the conference, nor did he submit a confidential settlement memorandum or proposed case management order. Therefore, the Magistrate Judge entered an Order [31] sanctioning Plaintiffs counsel $100.00 and also entered a Case Management Order [32] setting pretrial deadlines in the case.

On June 19, 2013, Plaintiffs counsel filed a motion [41] for a protective order to continue her deposition and to continue the trial due to the election of Plaintiffs counsel as mayor of the City of Jackson. The Magistrate Judge entered an Order [42] granting Plaintiffs request to continue her deposition and ordering Plaintiff to file a motion to substitute counsel and/or to allow counsel to withdraw within fourteen days of the Order. The undersigned entered a separate Order [43] denying Plaintiffs request for a continuance of the trial date, as the trial setting allowed adequate time for preparation and substitution ofcounsel, if deemed appropriate.

On July 22, 2013, Defendants filed a motion to compel [44] Plaintiff to appear at her deposition and to more fully respond to discovery, as Plaintiff had failed to comply with the Court's fourteen-day deadline to file a motion to substitute counsel or to allow counsel to withdraw. Plaintiff did not respond to the motion to compel. The Magistrate Judge entered an Order [47] granting the unopposed motion to compel and ordered Plaintiff to appear for her deposition within twenty-eight days and to serve supplemental responses to the interrogatories referenced in the motion to compel within fourteen days. The Magistrate Judge declined to impose sanctions, but cautioned that if Plaintiff failed to comply with the Order or otherwise failed to cooperate with discovery, sanctions would likely be imposed. Meanwhile, the Magistrate Judge entered an Order [50] denying a motion for Plaintiffs new attorney to appear pro hac vice, as the application did not comport with the rules of the Court. The Magistrate Judge also granted Defendants' request to extend the case management deadlines.

Subsequently, Defendants filed a motion to dismiss [52] the case pursuant to Rule 37 based on Plaintiffs continued failure to cooperate in discovery. Rather than filing a response to Defendants' motion to dismiss [52], Plaintiff filed a motion to dismiss [55] Defendants' motion. Defendants subsequently filed a reply in support of their motion to dismiss [52]. On October 21, 2013, this Court entered an Order [61] and memorandum opinion [62] granting Defendants' motion to dismiss in part, finding that Defendants had suffered prejudice due to Plaintiff's delays and non-cooperation in discovery, warning Plaintiff and her counsel that although the Court would not dismiss the case at that time, further failure to comply with orders and deadlines would result in dismissal of the case. The Court further ordered Plaintiffs counsel to reimburse Defendants' counsel $1, 134.50 for the reasonable expenses caused by Plaintiff's failure to obey the Court's Orders.

After the Court entered its Order imposing sanctions and instructing Plaintiff to cooperate in further discovery, Defendants and Plaintiff noticed the deposition of Plaintiff; Defendant Defendant Sharp filed a notice of service of supplemental discovery responses to Plaintiff; and Plaintiff filed a notice of service of Plaintiffs additional medical records to Defendants. See Notices [63, 64, 66, & 84].

On January 20, 2014, Defendants filed a renewed motion to dismiss [79] this case for Plaintiffs counsel's failure to comply with the Court's Order [61]. Specifically, Defendants maintain that Plaintiffs counsel have not paid the $1, 134.50 ordered to be paid to Defendants' counsel in reimbursement for reasonable expenses caused by Plaintiffs past failure to obey the Court's Orders. Defendants further maintain that Plaintiff's untimely filing of seven motions after the Court's motion deadline constitutes further proof of non-compliance with the Court's Orders. For these reasons, Defendants renew their request for dismissal pursuant to Rule 37 of the Federal Rules ofCivil Procedure. Plaintiff has not filed a response, and the time for response has now passed. Accordingly, this matter is ripe for review.

A district court has the inherent power "to control its docket by dismissing a case as a sanction for a party's failure to obey court orders." Gonzales v. Trinity Marine Grp., Inc., 117 F.3d 894, 898 (5th Cir. 1997) (internal citations omitted). "Rule 37 empowers the district court to compel compliance with Federal discovery procedures through a broad choice ofremedies and penalties." Griffin v. Aluminum Co. of Am., 564 F.2d 1171, 1172 (5th Cir. 1977). Rule 37 allows a district court to impose the following sanctions: (1) the court may order that designated facts be taken as true in favor of the party seeking compliance with discovery, FED. R. CIV. P. 37(b)(2)(A)(i); (2) the court may enter an order refusing to allow the noncomplying party to support or oppose designated claims or defenses, or prohibiting the party from entering designated matters in evidence, FED. R. CIY. P. 37(b)(2)(A)(ii); (3) the court may enter an order striking pleadings or parts thereof, or staying further proceedings until the party obeys the order, FED. R. CIY. P. 37(b)(2)(A)(iii), (iv); (4) the court may enter an order treating as contempt the failure to obey any orders, [5] FED. R. CIY. P. 37(b)(2)(A)(vii); (5) the court may require the party to pay the reasonable expenses, including attorney's fees, caused by the party's failure to obey the court's orders, FED. R. CIY. P. 37(C); (6) the court may enter an order dismissing the action or proceeding in whole or in part, FED. R. CIV. P. 37(b)(2)(A)(v); and (7) the court may render a default judgment against the noncomplying party, FED. R. CIY. P. 37(b)(2)(A)(vi).

Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides in pertinent part:

(b) Failure to Comply with a Court Order.
...
(2) Sanctions Sought in the District Where the ...

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