T.O.P.S. et al v. King et al
MEMORANDUM OPINION. Signed by Judge Virginia Emerson Hopkins on 8/3/2016. (JLC)
2016 Aug-03 PM 04:15
U.S. DISTRICT COURT
N.D. OF ALABAMA
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE NORTHERN DISTRICT OF ALABAMA
ALYCE LOUISE THOMAS, and
GREGORY WRIGHT, individually
and as representative of class,
THOMAS ALEXANDER KING, in
his official capacity as Municipal
Judge, City of Gadsden, and
DONALD GARY TUCKER, in his
official capacity as City Prosecutor,
City of Gadsden,
) Case No.: 4:15-CV-315-VEH
Introduction and Procedural History
Plaintiffs initiated this civil rights lawsuit on February 20, 2015. (Doc. 1).
Plaintiffs sued Defendants Thomas Alexander King (“Judge King”) and Donald Gary
Tucker (“City Prosecutor Tucker”) in their official capacities for alleged
unconstitutional conduct, including the claimed improper incarceration of indigent
defendants for minor traffic violations. (Doc. 1 at 1 ¶ 1).
On March 17, 2016, Judge King filed a Motion To Compel (Doc. 21) seeking
an order requiring Plaintiffs to provide him with their overdue initial disclosures and
written discovery responses. Id. at 1. The court held a hearing on April 14, 2016, and
granted Judge King’s Motion To Compel on April 15, 2016. (Doc. 26). Pursuant to
this order, the deadline for Plaintiffs to comply with their overdue discovery
obligations was “no later than June 14, 2016.” Id. at 1. Further, the court forewarned
Plaintiffs that “if they fail[ed] to meet the June 14, 2016, deadline in a manner that
fully complies with their discovery obligations, then the court will dismiss their case
with prejudice as a sanction, if one or both of the defendants file a motion requesting
that relief.” Id. at 2.
In the Joint Motion (Doc. 27), Defendants request that relief. They report that
Plaintiffs have not substantially complied with the court’s order compelling them to
cure their discovery deficiencies and seek a dismissal of Plaintiffs’ case with
prejudice as a sanction for their misconduct. On June 21, 2016, the court entered an
order directing Plaintiffs to show cause, no later than July 11, 2016, why the Joint
Motion should not be granted. (Doc. 28). This deadline passed without any filing
from Plaintiffs. Seven days later, on July 18, 2016, Plaintiffs filed a response. (Doc.
29). Defendants filed a reply (Doc. 31) on August 1, 2016. For the reasons explained
below, the Joint Motion is due to be granted.
As the foregoing procedural history reveals, Plaintiffs have neither complied
with their discovery obligations as previously compelled by this court nor provided
any explanation for their non-compliance. Plaintiffs also have not demonstrated good
cause for denying the Joint Motion. In particular, while the two-page response
informs the court about several medical issues that have negatively affected Plaintiffs’
counsel, nowhere in the response do Plaintiffs address how they intend to cure their
substantial discovery deficits. In contrast, Defendants’ eight-page reply with over 30
pages of substantiating attachments casts serious doubts upon the legitimacy of
Plaintiffs’ counsel’s excuses and solidifies the merits of their Joint Motion. (See, e.g.,
Doc. 31 at 7 ¶ 8 (“Counsel’s activities have been prolific throughout the State of
Alabama, and he has clearly met with the plaintiffs; yet the undisputed discovery
deficiencies in this case persist in violation of this Honorable Court’s order.”)
(emphasis in original)).
Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, “[i]f the plaintiff fails to prosecute
or to comply with these rules or a court order, a defendant may move to dismiss the
action or any claim against it.” FED. R. CIV. P. 41(b). Additionally, “[u]nless the
dismissal order states otherwise, a dismissal under this subdivision (b) . . . operates
as an adjudication on the merits.” Id.
Further, case law reinforces that, as a result of Plaintiffs’ pattern of noncompliance with their discovery obligations and related orders as well as the absence
of any indication on the record that they still wish to pursue their claims against
Defendants (e.g., such as by providing supplemental discovery responses to
Defendants by the court’s show cause deadline of July 11, 2016), the court possesses
the inherent power to dismiss their suit sua sponte. See Link v. Wabash Railroad Co.,
370 U.S. 626, 630-31, 82 S. Ct. 1386, 1389, 8 L. Ed. 2d 734 (1962) (“The authority
of a court to dismiss sua sponte for lack of prosecution has generally been considered
an ‘inherent power,’ governed not by rule or statute but by the control necessarily
vested in courts to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and
expeditious disposition of cases.”); see also Goforth v. Owens, 766 F.2d 1533, 1535
(11th Cir. 1985) (“The court’s power to dismiss is an inherent aspect of its authority
to enforce its orders and insure [sic] prompt disposition of lawsuits.” (citing Link, 370
U.S. at 630-31, 82 S. Ct. at 1388-89)); cf. Gratton v. Great American
Communications, 178 F.3d 1373, 1374 (11th Cir. 1999) (recognizing that court has
broad authority under Rule 37 to control discovery and enforce its orders); cf. also
FED. R. CIV. P. 1 (“[These rules] should be construed, administered, and employed by
the court and the parties to secure the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of
every action and proceeding.”) (emphasis added).
“While dismissal is an extraordinary remedy, dismissal upon disregard of an
order, especially where the litigant has been forewarned, generally is not an abuse of
discretion.” Moon v. Newsome, 863 F.2d 835, 837 (11th Cir. 1989) (emphasis added)
(citing State Exchange Bank v. Hartline, 693 F.2d 1350, 1352 (11th Cir. 1982)). Here,
by virtue of the court’s order compelling Plaintiffs to provide their overdue initial
disclosures and other written discovery to Judge King, Plaintiffs were expressly put
on notice that the court would consider dismissing their lawsuit with prejudice as a
sanction if they failed to timely and adequately comply. (Doc. 26 at 2).
Nonetheless, they ignored that warning and served incomplete and improper
responses to Judge King’s discovery requests. (Doc. 27 at 4-7 ¶¶ 9-10). Additionally,
Plaintiffs have not ever served responses to City Prosecutor Tucker’s written
discovery served on February 11, 2016. (Id. at 3 ¶ 7; id. at 2 ¶ 3). Furthermore,
Plaintiffs missed meeting the deadline to show cause why Defendants’ Joint Motion
should not be granted and their late response cured nothing and failed to advance this
litigation in any appreciable fashion.
Guided by the foregoing legal framework and in light of this lawsuit’s
procedural record, the court concludes that granting Defendants’ Joint Motion and
dismissing Plaintiffs’ action “with prejudice” (rather than “without prejudice”) is the
appropriate measure to take. No lesser sanction reasonably promises an acceptable
turnaround in Plaintiffs’ prosecution of their case. In particular, and despite being
represented by counsel, Plaintiffs have engaged in a neglectful pattern of non5
compliance with their discovery obligations as well as a flagrant disregard of separate
orders compelling their compliance with the discovery rules and directing them to
show cause why their lawsuit should not be dismissed in light of Defendants’ Joint
Motion. Cf. Phipps v. Blakeny, 8 F.3d 788, 790-91 (11th Cir. 1993) (Even though a
pro se litigant is generally afforded greater latitude than a represented party, “[w]hen
the record clearly demonstrates that a [pro se] plaintiff deliberately and defiantly
refused to comply with several court orders on discovery and tells the court that he
will not comply in the future, a district judge has the authority to deny that plaintiff
further access to the court to pursue the case.”). Additionally, a “with prejudice”
dismissal is consistent the court’s prior warning to Plaintiffs about the negative
consequences for them in the event that they did not timely and adequately cure their
discovery deficiencies as unambiguously ordered. (Doc. 26 at 2).
Therefore, Defendants’ Joint Motion is due to be granted and Plaintiffs’
complaint is due to be dismissed with prejudice. The court will enter a separate final
judgment order in conformance with this memorandum opinion.
DONE and ORDERED this the 3rd day of August, 2016.
VIRGINIA EMERSON HOPKINS
United States District Judge
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