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Chase v. Dietrich

United States District Court, S.D. Mississippi, Northern Division

September 30, 2017




         Before this Court is a Motion for Reconsideration [Docket No. 94] filed on October 3, 2016, by Plaintiff Michael Chase (“Plaintiff”). Plaintiff filed this Motion following this Court's Order to Dismiss with Prejudice [Docket No. 89] and Final Judgment [Docket No. 90] in favor of Defendants Ivan Dietrich and Norco Corporation filed on September 22, 2016. The motion requests that this Court reconsider its dismissal of Plaintiff's case, and asserts that the Court abused its discretion by dismissing this case with prejudice.


         This matter arises out of a motor vehicle accident that occurred on Sunday, January 19, 2014, on Interstate 20 near Meridian, Mississippi. Chase was driving a 1999 Mercury Villager, and Dietrich was driving a tractor-trailer owned by Norco Corporation. The accident involved Dietrich colliding with Chase, causing damage to both vehicles. Medical records indicated that Chase's whole blood alcohol content tested after the collision was 0.325 grams of alcohol per 100 milliliters of blood, which is more than four times the legal limit of 0.08 grams per milliliter. Chase allegedly was also driving at a speed of seven to ten miles per hour when the collision occurred, and was driving with a deflated right rear tire, causing him to move along the highway in an erratic and unsafe manner, determinations he disputes.

         Defendants filed their Motion to Dismiss [Docket No. 51] on May 1, 2015 based on Chase's failure to comply with the Federal Rules by providing false testimony under oath. Such testimony includes:

• False statements under oath concerning how much alcohol Plaintiff had to drink in the twenty-four hours preceding the collision;
• False statements under oath concerning how fast Chase was driving at the time of the collision;
• Repeated false statements under oath concerning Chase's history of driving under the influence of alcohol;
• False statements under oath regarding the status of Chase's driver's license and his history of other traffic citations; and,
• False statements under oath concerning his verified interrogatory responses.

         This Court, after reviewing these instances of false testimony by Chase, determined that dismissal with prejudice was warranted, as explained to the parties during a telephonic hearing conducted by this court on September 20, 2016. The Court's Order granting the motion to dismiss [Docket No. 89] was entered on September 22, 2016. Plaintiff now asks this Court to reconsider its ruling.


         The Court is not persuaded by Plaintiff's assertions. A federal district court is authorized by Rule 41(b) to “dismiss an action or claim of a party that fails to prosecute, to comply with the Federal Rules, or to obey an order of the court, Fed.Rule Civ.Proc. 41(b)[.]” Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 62, 111 S.Ct. 2123, 2142, 115 L.Ed.2d 27 (1991) (emphasis added).

         The Fifth Circuit has stated that it “ordinarily will affirm a dismissal with prejudice 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.) The Fifth Circuit will only reverse this Court's decision if it finds an abuse of discretion. Brown, 664 F.3d at 76. In affirming these cases, the Fifth Circuit has dismissed many cases with prejudice that have involved the presence of one or more of three “aggravating factors”: (1) the delay or failure to comply is attributable directly to the plaintiff, rather than his attorney; (2) actual prejudice to the defendant; and (3) the delay or failure to comply is caused by intentional conduct. Callip v. Harris Cnty. Child Welfare Dep't., 757 F.2d 1513, 1519 (5th Cir. 1985). The Fifth Circuit also considers dismissal with prejudice a more appropriate sanction when the conduct in question is that of the plaintiff, not the attorney. Brown, 664 F.3d at 77 (citing Brinkmann v. Dallas Cnty. Deputy Sheriff Abner, 813 F.2d 744, 749 (5th Cir.1987)).

         Contumacious conduct, as explained by the Court, is shown by a lack of respect for the Court or the Rules governing the judicial process and procedure. McNeal v. Papasan, 842 F.2d 787 (5th Cir. 1988) (“[I]t is not a party's negligence-regardless of how careless, inconsiderate, or understandably exasperating-that makes conduct contumacious; instead, it is “the stubborn resistance to authority” which justifies a dismissal with prejudice.”). Intentionally lying under oath, as Plaintiff did in our present case, constitutes contumacious conduct necessary for district courts to appropriately dismiss a plaintiff's entire case as a sanction. Brown, 664 F.3d at 77-78 (affirming district court's dismissal with prejudice and agreeing that “This [oath] is not trivial. The proper administration of justice depends on people testifying truthfully under oath.”).

         On June 15, 2017, this Court heard oral arguments on this Motion for Reconsideration of this Court's previous Order Granting Dismissal with Prejudice [Docket No. 89] The Court previously dismissed Plaintiff's case with prejudice due to Plaintiff's lying under oath during his deposition and intentionally providing false testimony in his interrogatory responses. Plaintiff, in arguing for a reconsideration, provided no evidence of anything other than willful and contumacious conduct warranting dismissal, as the Court previously held. Plaintiff offered no evidence of any abuse of discretion by the Court, and as such the Court follows the jurisprudence by the Fifth Circuit and is persuaded to deny reconsideration of its previous ruling.

         The most pertinent instances of Plaintiff's conduct follow below.

         I. False Testimony Regarding Plaintiff's Other Traffic Citations

         Plaintiff's testimony in response to questions about his prior traffic citations leads this court to agree that Plaintiff has intentionally lied under oath in the discovery process. During his deposition, Plaintiff was asked if he had ever received any other traffic citations other than the DUIs previously discussed, to which he firmly replied that he had not:

Q. Other than the -- your past DUIs, have you ever received any traffic tickets?
A. No.
Q. None?
A. No.
MR. EVANS: Be absolute certain. If you have, you better tell him.

[Pl.'s Dep. at 196:19-197:1.]

         It was later discovered by Defense counsel that Plaintiff had at least fourteen (14) traffic citations other than DUIs, a partial listing is as follows:

• On October 19, 2007, he was ticketed for No Driver's License and Careless Driving in Newton County (the charges were ultimately dismissed).
• On August 29, 2009, he was ticketed for No/Expired Driver's License in Scott County. He was found guilty and fined.
• On January 25, 2011, he was ticketed in Newton County for No or Expired Inspection Sticker, Speeding, No Driver's License, and Possession of Liquor. The Inspection Sticker charge was dismissed. Plaintiff was found guilty of the remaining charges and fined. He never paid the fines and there is an active warrant for his arrest.
• On April 2, 2011, he was ticketed in Newton County for No Driver's License. He was found guilty and fined, but never paid the fine. There is an active warrant for his arrest in connection with this charge.
• On February 5, 2013, he was ticketed in Scott County for Possession of Liquor/Whiskey, Careless Driving, No Motor Vehicle Liability Insurance, No/Expired Driver's License, Switched Tag and Seatbelt Violation. He was found guilty of each charge and fined.

[Docket No. 51, Exhibit 5].

         Plaintiff's counsel argues that because many of these traffic citations were issued in conjunction with the DUIs, Plaintiff simply couldn't remember them as separate instances. Due to his history of alcoholism and the head injury Plaintiff sustained during the accident, his counsel argues, Plaintiff's failure to remember these citations separate from his DUIs cannot be proof of intentional fabrication, and such failure is not material to the issues in this case. In his response to Defendant's motion to dismiss, Plaintiff includes an affidavit of his girlfriend stating that he has displayed problems with his memory following the incident. [Docket No. 64, Exhibit 2]. Plaintiff, however, does not include any medical report from a licensed physician stating that the injury sustained in the incident caused him to suffer memory loss preventing him from being able to fully answer his deposition questions.

         Importantly, the Defendant points out that while Plaintiff asserts that his inconsistent answers are due to a loss of memory and not intentional fabrication, he does not have any problem remembering other specific details about the incident, namely:

• He was driving “45, maybe 50” miles per hour at the time of the accident, and specifically remembers looking at his speedometer because he didn't want to get pulled over for speeding. (Pl.'s Dep. at 151:22-152:13; 182:8-14; 183:3-9.)
• He knew he wasn't driving on a rim with no tire at the time of the accident, “to his knowledge” and denied driving his vehicle on a rim the night of the accident (even though his own expert witness says he was). (Id. . at 178:6-11; 179:14-16.)
• He saw the 18-wheeler driven by Dietrich when the 18-wheeler was about 100 yards behind him, specifically remembers looking out the mirror on his left side; remembers that there was no vehicle next to Chase; no vehicle next to Dietrich; looked up again and there was a vehicle 50 yards behind him; then the next thing he heard was the sound of the collision. (Id. at 179:17 - 180:14.)
• Remembers that he was not driving his vehicle partially in the emergency lane (even though his own expert witness says he was). (Id. at 180:15 - 19.)
• Remembers that he was in his lane just before impact. (Id. at 180:22-25.)
• Remembers how quickly the 18-wheeler approached him from the rear and even specifically which mirror he looked in to see the truck approaching. (Id. . at 181:10-20.)
• Remembers the specific sequence of which mirrors he looked at and when just before the accident: first the rear view, then the door mirror to check the left lane, and finally looked in the rearview mirror again just before impact. (Id. . at 181:17 - 182:5.)
• Remembers that that tractor trailer's lights were on low beam. (Id. at 185:5-13.)
• Remembers hearing the truck blow his horn before impact. (Id. at 185:18-24.)
• Remembered feeding dogs before he left to go to York, Alabama, to the “hole in the wall” lounge where he was drinking. (Id. at 109:7:12.)
• Remembered that, before he left to go to York, one of his fiancée's daughters was not home from school yet, but that his fiancée's other child was home. (Id. at 109:14-16.)
• Remembered that he gave an acquaintance $23, “with taxes and all” to buy a half of a gallon of gin. (Id. at 112:17-20; 115:19-20.)
• Remembers that he ate a chicken and a biscuit for breakfast the morning before the accident, but that he had no lunch or dinner. (Id. at 125:10-24; 129:4-11.)

[Docket No. 99, pp. 20-21].

         Plaintiff's selective memory, as exhibited in his deposition, is not favorable to his asserted defense of memory loss, and the Court is not persuaded by this assertion that Plaintiff was not intentionally lying under oath.

         II. Plaintiffs False Testimony Regarding the Status of Plaintiff s Driver's License

         Plaintiff's testimony regarding the status of his driver's license is particularly important to the Court's determination that Plaintiff intentionally lied under oath. Throughout his deposition, Plaintiff gave different accounts as to the status of his driver's license, before finally admitting that he had never obtained a driver's license from any state, much less a valid license from Mississippi:

Q. Do you have an old driver's license?
A. No. I have an ID.
Q. All right. Can I-can I see your ID?
Witness complies.
Q. Thank you.
Mr. Robinson: Can I get a photocopy of this in a little bit, Don?
Mr. Evans: Yeah. I - let me - let me hand it to somebody and tell them to go get it.
Mr. Robinson: All right. Thank you.
By Mr. Robinson:
Q. Mr. Chase, why don't you have a driver's license?
A. It's been suspended, taken from me.
Q. Why was your driver's license suspended?
A. Due to a DUI.
Q. Okay. When was your driver's license suspended for the DUI you're mentioning?
A. Last year or a year and a half, two years ago- -
Q. All right.
A. -- if not more.
Q. Was that in connection with this accident or - or another occasion?
A. No. With this accident.
Q. Have you made an application to - to get a new driver's license?
A. No I just re-had to go to a class, and you have to pay a $100 reinstatement fee, which I didn't have to pay.
Q. So you're saying that this driver's license-you're saying that you had a valid driver's license at the time of this automobile accident?
A. No.
Q. Why did you not have a valid driver's license at the time of this automobile accident?
A. It'd been taken.
Q. So it had been taken away before this accident?
A. Correct.
Q. All right. And that was in connection with another DUI, correct?
A. Correct. Pl.'s Dep. pp. 12, 13.

         Later, Plaintiff would change his story again regarding his driver's license as a result of a DUI he received in Forest, Mississippi, in 2012:

Q. Okay. Were you convicted of DUI?
A. No.
Q. Well, why did they take your license then?
A. Well, when they give me a DUI, I had to go to court and pay a fine.
Q. Uh-huh. (affirmative response).
A. So that's as far as I ...

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