LAUGHTON v. BEST LEGAL SERVICES, INC.
MEMORANDUM SIGNED BY HONORABLE NITZA I QUINONES ALEJANDRO ON 2/6/17. 2/7/17 ENTERED AND COPIES E-MAILED. (va, )
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA
BEST LEGAL SERVICES, INC.
NITZA I. QUIÑONES ALEJANDRO, J.
FEBRUARY 6, 2017
Presently before this Court is the third motion for sanctions, [ECF 38], filed by
Defendant Best Legal Services, Inc. (“Defendant”), in which Defendant seeks the dismissal of
this action for failure to prosecute due to the repeated failures of Plaintiff Andrea Laughton
(“Plaintiff”) to comply with this Court’s previous Orders addressing her discovery obligations.
In light of the procedural posture of this case, and after having carefully considered and weighed
the factors set forth in Poulis v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 747 F.2d 863 (3d Cir. 1984),
for the reasons set forth, this matter is dismissed for failure to prosecute.
On December 15, 2015, Plaintiff filed a complaint in which she asserted claims against
Defendant for an alleged failure to pay her overtime wages, as required by the Fair Labor
Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §201 et seq. [ECF 1]. In response to a motion to dismiss, on March 1,
2016, Plaintiff filed an amended complaint. [ECF 8]. After Defendant filed its answer to the
amended complaint, [ECF 15], on August 18, 2016, the parties attended a pretrial conference.
[ECF 19]. During the pretrial conference, it became apparent to this Court that the amount in
controversy did not exceed $150,000, and the matter was transferred to the court’s arbitration
track, [ECF 18], and an arbitration hearing was scheduled for February 7, 2017. [ECF 20].
On November 15, 2016, Defendant filed a motion to compel discovery from Plaintiff.
[ECF 21]. In that motion, Defendant outlined Plaintiff’s failure to respond to Defendant’s
interrogatories, requests for production, and requests for admissions. Defendant also complained
of Plaintiff’s unilateral cancellation on two occasions of Plaintiff’s deposition. By Order dated
December 5, 2016, this Court granted Defendant’s motion to compel, and ordered Plaintiff to
serve complete responses to Defendant’s written discovery requests and to supplement her initial
disclosures by December 16, 2016, and to provide an alternative date for her deposition, which
was to be held on or before January 16, 2017. [ECF 24].
By letter dated December 14, 2016, [ECF 25], Plaintiff’s counsel advised this Court that
he had been unable to make contact with Plaintiff, who he believed to be hospitalized and,
therefore, could not comply with the deadlines set forth in this Court’s previous Order. The next
day, Plaintiff filed a motion to extend deadlines/stay proceedings, [ECF 26], which Defendant
opposed. [ECF 30]. Defendant also filed a motion for sanctions, [ECF 28], arguing that Plaintiff
had failed to comply with this Court’s previous discovery Order, and seeking dismissal of the
action as a sanction.
By Order dated December 21, 2016, this Court denied Plaintiff’s motion to extend
deadlines/stay proceedings, and ordered Plaintiff to provide this Court and Defendant with proof
of Plaintiff’s hospitalization and inability to provide the requested discovery, and the reason for
Plaintiff’s apparent lack of prosecution of this action. [ECF 31]. That Order advised Plaintiff
that her failure to comply may result in the dismissal of the action for failure to prosecute. By
Order dated December 22, 2016, [ECF 32], this Court denied Defendant’s motion for sanctions,
without prejudice, in light of this Court’s December 21, 2016 Order. In response to this Court’s
Order, by letter dated January 10, 2017, [ECF 33], Plaintiff’s counsel again advised this Court of
his inability “to locate the Plaintiff or verify her hospitalization.”
On January 11, 2017, Defendant filed its second motion for sanctions. [ECF 34]. In it,
Defendant outlined Plaintiff’s failure to comply with either this Court’s Order of December 5,
2016 Order, or this Court’s Order of December 21, 2016. In response, Plaintiff’s counsel
admitted the alleged failures, again attributing them to his inability to locate the Plaintiff. [ECF
35]. By Order dated January 20, 2017, [ECF 37], this Court denied Defendant’s second motion
for sanctions, without prejudice, but gave Plaintiff until January 31, 2017, to respond to the
outstanding discovery requests. That Order again advised Plaintiff that her failure to comply
“may result in the dismissal of this action for failure to prosecute and/or failure to comply with
this Court’s numerous orders pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b).”
On February 1, 2017, Defendant filed its underlying third motion for sanctions, in which
it outlines Plaintiff’s continuing failure to comply with this Court’s previous Orders, and notes
that the arbitration hearing is scheduled for February 7, 2017. [ECF 38].
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) provides that an action may be dismissed if a
plaintiff “fails to prosecute or to comply with these rules or a court order.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(b).
Although dismissal is an extreme sanction that should only be used in limited circumstances,
dismissal is appropriate if a party fails to prosecute the action. Harris v. City of Phila., 74 F.3d
1311, 1330 (3d Cir. 1995). Because of the extreme nature of this type of sanction, the Third
Circuit Court of Appeals in Poulis v. State Farm Fire and Casualty Co., 747 F.2d 863 (3d Cir.
1984), instructed district courts to apply a six-factor balancing test to determine whether the
entry of such a dismissal order is appropriate. Id. at 867-68.
The Poulis factors require district courts to consider: (1) the extent of the party’s personal
responsibility; (2) the prejudice to the adversary; (3) whether the party has a history of
dilatoriness; (4) whether the conduct of the party was willful or in bad faith; (5) the effectiveness
of sanctions other than dismissal; and (6) the meritoriousness of the claim. Id. at 868. However,
not all of the factors need weigh in favor of entering the dismissal order against a plaintiff nor
need be satisfied. See Briscoe v. Klaus, 538 F.3d 252, 263 (3d Cir. 2008) (“While no single
Poulis factor is dispositive, we have also made it clear that not all of the Poulis factors need be
satisfied in order to dismiss a complaint.”); C.T. Bedwell & Sons, Inc. v. Int’l. Fidelity Ins. Co.,
843 F.2d 683, 696 (3d Cir. 1988) (noting that the district court did not abuse its discretion where
five Poulis factors favored dismissal). A decision to enter a dismissal order is within the district
court’s discretion. Poulis, 747 F.2d at 868.
As stated, it is within this Court’s discretion to dismiss this case for failure to prosecute
should the review and balancing of the Poulis factors warrant such a ruling. Therefore, each
Poulis factor will be briefly addressed and weighed to determine whether Defendant’s motion for
sanctions should be granted and whether the dismissal of Plaintiff’s amended complaint is
1. Extent of Plaintiff’s Responsibility
Though Plaintiff is represented by counsel in this matter, her counsel’s letters and filings
demonstrate that Plaintiff, herself, is responsible for her repeated failure to comply with this
In particular, Plaintiff’s counsel has repeatedly advised this Court of his
inability to locate and/or communicate with Plaintiff. As such, because Plaintiff’s failures to
cooperate with her counsel and comply with this Court’s orders cannot be attributed to counsel
or another party, this factor weighs in favor of dismissal.
2. Prejudice to Defendant
Prejudice occurs when a plaintiff’s failure to prosecute burdens a defendant’s ability to
defend against a case and/or prepare for trial. Ware v. Roadle Press, Inc., 322 F.3d 218, 222-23
(3d Cir. 2003). On August 19, 2016, this matter was transferred to the Court’s arbitration track
and subsequently scheduled for an arbitration hearing on February 7, 2017. [ECF 18, 20].
Plaintiff’s repeated failures to respond to Defendant’s numerous discovery requests, or to this
Court’s numerous Orders directing compliance with her discovery obligations, over a period of
at least five (5) months, has prevented Defendant from preparing for the scheduled arbitration or
obtaining relief in any way other than by dismissal of this action. Under the circumstances, this
factor weighs in favor of dismissal.
3. Plaintiff’s History of Dilatoriness
Plaintiff’s dilatory conduct has been outlined. Since first being ordered to comply with
her discovery obligations by Order dated December 5, 2016, Plaintiff has repeatedly failed to
discharge her discovery obligations. In fact, since at least that date, Plaintiff has failed to
communicate with her own attorney in any manner whatsoever. Plaintiff’s dilatoriness is further
evidenced by her failure to comply with any of this Court’s above-described Orders directing
Plaintiff to comply with her discovery obligations, all of which advised Plaintiff that her failure
to do so may result in dismissal of her action. Indeed, Plaintiff’s failure to even communicate
with her counsel since at least December 5, 2016, suggests she has abandoned this matter. This
factor, therefore, weighs in favor of dismissal.
4. Willfulness and Bad Faith Conduct
“Willfulness and bad faith can be inferred from the totality of the record.” Schutter v.
Herskowitz, 2008 WL 2726921, at *17 (E.D. Pa. July 11, 2008). The Third Circuit has held that
the “[a]bsence of reasonable excuses may suggest that the conduct was willful or in bad faith.”
Roman v. City of Reading, 121 F. App’x 955, 960 (3d Cir. 2005). Plaintiff’s repeated failure to
comply with this Court’s discovery Orders or communicate with her counsel, evidences
willfulness. Thus, this factor weighs in favor of dismissal.
5. Effectiveness of Sanctions other than Dismissal
Plaintiff’s inaction since at least December 2016, particularly in light of the scheduled
arbitration hearing, and her repeated failures to comply with this Court’s discovery Orders, have
deprived this Court of the ability to fashion, if appropriate, a less severe and more moderate
sanction that might ensure future compliance. It appears that Plaintiff has simply ignored this
Court’s previous Orders, all of which informed her that failure to respond might result in
dismissal of her action. In the absence of any mitigating circumstances or offered justification
for her lack of action and repeated failures, Plaintiff’s conduct makes it clear that any other less
severe sanction would be ineffective. This factor, therefore, weighs in favor of dismissal.
6. Meritoriousness of Plaintiff’s Claim
A claim is meritorious if the allegations of the pleadings would support recovery if
established at trial. Poulis, 747 F.2d at 869-70. Given the lack of Plaintiff’s full and complete
responses to discovery requests, and Plaintiff’s failure to provide this Court adequate reason for
her lack of prosecution of this action, it is difficult to assess the merits of her claim. This Court,
therefore, finds this factor neutral. See Emerson v. Thiel College, 296 F.3d 184, 191 (3d Cir.
Having carefully considered and balanced each of the Poulis factors, this Court finds that
these factors collectively weigh in favor of dismissal. As such, Plaintiff’s claims are dismissed
for failure to prosecute. An Order consistent with this Memorandum Opinion follows.
NITZA I. QUIÑONES ALEJANDRO, J.
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