United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division
ERICA N. STEWART PLAINTIFF
BELHAVEN UNIVERSITY DEFENDANT
CARLTON W. REEVES, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.
the Court are Belhaven University's motion for sanctions
and dismissal, Docket No. 69, as well as its motion for
summary judgment, Docket No. 124. The matters are fully
briefed and ready for adjudication.
Factual and Procedural History
2015, Erica Stewart sought a job in the Online Admissions
Department of Belhaven University. She knew Tarold Durham,
the director of that office, through social channels. Durham
had led her to believe that there would be a vacancy within
and Durham then exchanged a series of sexually explicit text
messages and photos. Durham wanted sexual favors in exchange
for the job offer, while Stewart kept up flirtatious banter
to try and get the job. When no offer materialized, Stewart
filed a charge of discrimination with the EEOC and
subsequently commenced this suit against Belhaven and Durham.
She asserted a variety of claims under Title VII and
was fired from Belhaven for his conduct-maintained that the
messages were flirtatious and consensual. The record bore
that out to the extent that there was no evidence that he had
caused Stewart emotional distress. As a result, Durham was
dismissed from this case. See Docket No. 98.
now seeks sanctions and summary judgment. It contends that
Stewart's case should be dismissed because she disposed
of her cell phone in disregard of her obligation to preserve
relevant evidence. Alternatively, Belhaven seeks summary
judgment because there was no actual job vacancy, Durham was
not a supervisor within the meaning of Title VII, and Stewart
did not suffer any emotional distress at Belhaven's
hands, among other reasons.
Sanctions for Destruction of Evidence
agree that a willful or intentional destruction of evidence
to prevent its use in litigation can justify severe
sanctions.” Rimkus Consulting Grp., Inc. v.
Cammarata, 688 F.Supp.2d 598, 618 (S.D. Tex. 2010).
“Sanctions for spoliation of evidence may include
awarding attorney fees, deeming certain facts admitted,
giving an adverse inference instruction to the jury,
excluding evidence or expert testimony, striking pleadings,
entering a default judgment, and dismissing the case
entirely.” Allstate Texas Lloyd's v.
McKinney, 964 F.Supp.2d 678, 683 (S.D. Tex. 2013)
(quotation marks and citation omitted). Spoliation of
evidence may also subject a party to criminal penalties,
contempt sanctions, and disciplinary sanctions. Wallace
v. Ford Motor Co., No. 3:11-CV-567-CWR-FKB, 2013 WL
3288435, at *5 n.1 (S.D.Miss. June 28, 2013). Much like
criminal sentencing, an appropriate discovery sanction will
take into account principles of deterrence, restitution, and
punishment in proportion to the significance of the
violation. McKinney, 964 F.Supp.2d at 682-83.
with prejudice is an extreme sanction. It is appropriate
“only if: (1) there is a clear record of delay
or contumacious conduct by the plaintiff, and (2)
lesser sanctions would not serve the best interests of
justice.” Brown v. Oil States Skagit Smatco,
664 F.3d 71, 77 (5th Cir. 2011) (quotation marks and
citations omitted). “[I]t is not a party's
negligence-regardless of instead, it is the stubborn
resistance to authority which justifies a dismissal with
prejudice.” McNeal v. Papasan, 842 F.2d 787,
792 (5th Cir. 1988) (quotation marks and citation omitted).
judgment is appropriate when “the movant shows that
there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the
movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). A party seeking to avoid summary judgment
must identify admissible evidence in the record showing a
fact dispute. Id. at 56(c)(1). “Once a summary
judgment motion is made and properly supported, the nonmovant
must go beyond the pleadings and designate specific facts in
the record showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.
Neither ‘conclusory allegations' nor
‘unsubstantiated assertions' will satisfy the
nonmovant's burden.” Wallace v. Tex. Tech
Univ., 80 F.3d 1042, 1047 (5th Cir. 1996) (quotation
marks and citations omitted).
Court views the evidence and draws reasonable inferences in
the light most favorable to the nonmovant. Maddox v.
Townsend and Sons, Inc., 639 F.3d 214, 216 (5th Cir.
2011). But the Court will not, “in the absence of any
proof, assume that the nonmoving party could or would prove
the necessary facts.” McCallum Highlands, Ltd. v.
Wash. Capital Dus, ...