United States of America v. 2008 33' Contender Model Tournament Vessel
OPINION AND ORDER re 27 MOTION for Default Entry . 28 MOTION to Strike Claimants' Answer to the Complaint Re: 16 Answer to Complaint. The motion for entry of default (ECF No. 27) and the motion to strike claimants' answer to the complaint and claim and for default judgment (ECF No. 28) are GRANTED. The Clerk is to enter judgment accordingly. Signed by Chief Judge Aida M. Delgado-Colon on 7/20/2017.(wm)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA,
Civil No. 12-01721 (ADC)
2008 33' CONTENDER MODEL
JULIO DE JESÚS-GOMEZ, TANIA DE
OPINION AND ORDER
Before the Court is the United States of America’s (“plaintiff”) motion for entry of
default (ECF No. 27), plaintiff’s motion to strike (“motion to strike”) claimants Julio L. de Jesús
Gómez (“Mr. de Jesus”), Tania de Jesús Gómez (“Ms. de Jesús”), and Luquillo Boat Glass,
Inc.’s (collectively “claimants”) claims and answer and for default judgment (ECF No. 28), and
claimants’ opposition to plaintiff’s motion to strike and motion for entry of default
(“opposition”) (ECF No. 30). For the foregoing reasons, plaintiff’s motion for entry of default
and motion to strike are GRANTED.
The procedural history of this action is drawn from the parties’ submissions and it is
not in dispute. The instant case is a civil forfeiture action brought by plaintiff against a 2008
33' Contender Model Tournament Vessel (“defendant vessel”). ECF No. 2. A complaint
against defendant vessel was filed by plaintiff on September 4, 2012. Id. On March 8, 2013,
claimants, represented by Attorney Luis R. Rivera Rodríguez (“Attorney Rivera”), filed an
answer (ECF No. 16) to claim ownership of the defendant vessel. Statements of interest by
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
Mr. de Jesús and Ms. de Jesús were attached to, and filed concurrently with, the answer. ECF
No. 16-1, 16-2.
Claimants filed a motion to stay the instant civil forfeiture proceedings on October 30,
2014 on the basis that the individual claimants are defendants in a criminal case (Criminal
Case No. 12-192) where the defendant vessel is also involved. ECF No. 20. On November 5,
2014, the Court denied claimants’ motion to stay without prejudice, and requested from
claimants an update regarding the status of the underlying criminal case. ECF No. 22.
Claimants and Attorney Rivera did not respond to the Court’s request to furnish information,
nor did they re-submit their motion for a stay.
Shortly thereafter, plaintiff’s special
interrogatories (the “interrogatories”), pursuant to Rule G(6) of the Supplemental Rules for
Admiralty or Maritime Claims and Asset Forfeiture Actions (“Supplemental Rules”), were
served on claimants by e-mail on November 12, 2014. ECF No. 29 at 1.
On December 4, 2014, claimants filed a motion for an extension until January 5, 2015
to answer the interrogatories (“first motion for extension”). ECF No. 23. The Court granted
the first motion for extension and ordered claimants to answer the interrogatories by January
5, 2015, with the forewarning that no further extensions would be granted. ECF No. 24. On
January 7, 2015, claimants filed an “emergency” motion for an extension (“second motion for
extension”) to answer the interrogatories by January 15, 2015. ECF No. 25. The Court denied
the second motion for extension on the basis that a month-long extension had already been
granted to claimants, and that claimants had been forewarned by the Court that no further
extensions to answer the interrogatories would be granted. ECF No. 26.
On January 20, 2015, plaintiff filed a motion for default entry (ECF No. 27), and the
motion to strike (ECF No. 28). Claimants filed an informative motion on January 26, 2015 to
inform the Court that claimants’ answers to the interrogatories were served on plaintiff on
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
January 26, 2015. ECF No. 29 at 2. The opposition (ECF No. 30) was filed by claimants on the
Discovery Rules and Sanctions in a Civil Forfeiture Action
Rule G of the Supplemental Rules (“Rule G”) “governs a forfeiture action in rem arising
from a federal statute.” Supp. R. Adm. or Mar. Cl. & Asset Forfeiture Actions G(1). Where
Rule G fails to address a procedural issue that arises out of a civil forfeiture action, the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure apply. Id. Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (“Rule 37”)
provides guidance as to when sanctions may be imposed for discovery failures, and the type
of sanctions a court may impose. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37.
It is long established that a trial court has discretion to “choose appropriate sanctions
when a party does not comply with procedural rules.” United States v. One 1987 BMW 325,
985 F.2d 665, 657 (1st Cir. 1993); see also Jensen v. Frank, 912 F.2d 517, 524 (1st Cir. 1990)
(sanctions, including sanctions for failure to comply with discovery order, is “a matter for the
district court’s discretion.”).
Standing in a Civil Forfeiture Action
“Standing is a threshold consideration in all cases, including civil forfeiture cases.”
United States v. One-Sixth Share of James J. Bulger in All Present and Future Proceeds of Mass
Million Lottery Ticket No. M246233, 326 F.3d 36, 40 (1st Cir. 2003). In a civil forfeiture case, a
claimant must have both statutory standing and Article III standing (often described as
“constitutional standing”) to sustain its claim. Id. To establish statutory standing in a civil
Although claimants’ informative motion actually states that the answers to the interrogatories were
served on plaintiff on December 26, 2015, this date appears to be a typographical error. ECF No. 29at 2. The
opposition states that the service date of the answers to the interrogatories was January 26, 2015. ECF No. 30
at 2. Since the date stated in the opposition appears more consistent with the record and the filings in the
case, the Court will consider the same to be the actual date that the answers to the interrogatories were
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
forfeiture claim, a claimant must comply with the statute that confers on the claimant its right
to file a claim, including relevant provisions of the Supplemental Rules. Id. at 40-41. As for
constitutional standing, a claimant must demonstrate an ownership or possessory interest in
the defendant property. Id. at 41.
Plaintiff avers that claimants’ failure to answer plaintiff’s Rule G(6) interrogatories2
allows plaintiff to move to strike claimants’ claims and answer pursuant to Rule G(8)(c)(i).
ECF No. 28 at 3. Plaintiff contends that since claimants’ answer and claims should be stricken
for their failure to answer the interrogatories, and no other claims have been made by persons
other than claimants, default judgment should be entered accordingly. Id.
Claimants do not dispute that they have failed to answer the interrogatories timely.
Nonetheless, claimants assert in the opposition that service of their answers to the
interrogatories makes plaintiff’s motion to strike moot. ECF No. 30 at 2. Furthermore,
claimants state that sanctions should not be imposed because plaintiff did not allege that it
suffered any prejudice as a result of claimants’ failure to answer the interrogatories timely,
nor did plaintiff file a motion to compel under Rule 37(a). Id. at 3.
Lastly, claimants aver that the interrogatories were improper, as answering the same
would threaten claimants’ Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Id. at 4-7. In
fact, a significant portion of claimants’ opposition discusses the impropriety of the
W hile claimants did eventually serve their answer to the interrogatories, such answer was not
served until 6 days after plaintiff filed its motion to strike claimants’ answer and claim. Thus, plaintiff’s
assertion that claimants failed to answer the interrogatories was factually correct when plaintiff’s motion to
strike was filed, and more so in light of the fact that this Court had denied claimants’ request for an
extension to serve the answer 19 days before claimants purportedly served the answer.
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
interrogatories due to alleged Fifth Amendment violations, and the merit of claimants’ claims
on the defendant vessel. Id. at 4-7.
Discovery Sanction under Supplemental Rule G(8)(c)(i)(A)
Rule G(6)(a) of the Supplemental Rules allows the government to serve special
interrogatories, which must be limited to the claimant’s identity and relationship to the
defendant property, on a claimant. Supp. R. Adm. or Mar. Cl. & Asset Forfeiture Actions
G(6)(a). The purpose of Rule G(6)(a) is to prevent a person who has no colorable claims over
defendant property from proceeding with his claim. United States v. 2007 33' Hydra Sport
Vessel, 59 F. Supp. 3d 417, 419 (D.P.R. 2014). A claimant must answer the government’s special
interrogatories within 21 days after the same are served. Supp. R. Adm. Or Mar. Cl. & Asset
Forfeiture Actions G(6)(b).
Rule G(8)(c)(i)(A) of the Supplemental Rule permits the
government to move to strike a claim or an answer if a claimant fails to comply with Rule
G(6). Supp. R. Adm. Or Mar. Cl. & Asset Forfeiture Actions G(8)(c)(i)(A).
Claimants’ do not dispute their failure to answer the interrogatories timely. On
November 12, 2014, plaintiff served the Rule G(6) interrogatories on claimants. ECF No. 28
at 2. Under Rule G(6), claimants had until December 3, 2014 to answer the interrogatories.
While claimants filed a motion for an extension to answer the interrogatories on December
4, 2014, said motion was filed after the 21 day deadline to answer had passed. ECF No. 23.
Thus, claimants failed to comply with the deadline set out by Rule G(6).
Despite claimants’ non-compliance with Rule G(6), plaintiff did not object to claimants’
first motion for extension, and this Court granted said motion in the interest of resolving this
matter on its merits rather than through discovery sanctions. ECF No. 24. Claimants were
ordered to answer the interrogatories by January 5, 2015, a date requested by claimants in
their first motion for extension. ECF Nos. 23, 24. Claimants were forewarned that no further
extensions would be granted. ECF No. 24. On January 7, 2015, two days after the deadline
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
requested by claimants and ordered by the Court had passed, claimants filed the second
motion for extension ECF No. 25. In the second motion for extension, claimants requested
an additional 8 days to answer the interrogatories. Id. Thus, claimants had once again failed
to answer the interrogatories timely and failed to comply with the Court’s discovery order.
As the Court had already warned claimants that they would not receive any additional
extension, and claimants did not state in the second motion for extension any extenuating
circumstances that would move this Court to revisit its decision, the Court denied claimants’
second motion for extension. ECF No. 26. Since claimants repeatedly failed to comply with
Rule G(6) despite given an additional month to do so, plaintiff was well within its right to file
a motion to strike claimants’ answer and claims pursuant to Rule G(8)(c)(i)(A).
Although plaintiff properly filed the motion to strike claimants’ answer and claims
under Rule G(8)(c)(i)(A), Rule G(8) does not explicitly state when such a motion should be
granted. Except for a brief note in the Advisory stating that “[n]ot every failure to respond
to [Rule G](6) interrogatories warrants an order striking the claim,” neither the text of Rule
G nor its Advisory Committee Notes provides clear guidance as to when a court may grant
such a motion. Supp. R. Adm. or Mar. Cl. & Asset Forfeiture Actions, R. G Advisory
Committee Notes. Nevertheless, since Rule G(8) specifically allows the government to file a
motion to strike when a claimant fails to comply with Rule G(6), it stands to reason that Rule
G(8) anticipated courts granting the same for such failures. See 2007 33' Hydra Sport Vessel, 59
F. Supp. 3d at 419-20 (citing cases and striking claimant's answer and claim pursuant to Rule
G(8)(c)(i)(A) when claimant repeatedly failed to adequately respond to Rule G(6) special
interrogatories); see also United States v. Vazquez-Alvarez, 760 F.3d 193 (2nd Cir. 2014) (affirming
default judgment when lower court struck claimants’ answer and claims for claimants’ failure
to answer Rule G(6) special interrogatories). Consequently, based on claimants’ repeated
failure to answer plaintiff’s interrogatories timely, which led to their failure to establish
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
statutory standing, the Court now strikes claimants’ answer and claims pursuant to
Discovery Sanction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37
Even if the Court deems Rule G to be silent on when a court may strike a claimant’s
answer and claim, and therefore Rule 37 should apply to discovery sanctions in a civil
forfeiture case, the Court would still have the discretion to strike the claimants’ answer and
claims in the instant case. This is especially so as a court in a civil forfeiture action is not
bound strictly by the provisions of Rule 37; the importance of Rule G(6) special interrogatories
in forfeiture proceedings “may justify a somewhat more demanding approach than the
general approach to discovery sanctions under Rule 37.” Supp. R. Adm. or Mar. Cl. & Asset
Forfeiture Actions, R. G(8) Advisory Committee Notes.
Before the Court reviews claimants’ actions under Rule 37 for sanctionable conduct, it
will first address claimants’ assertion that discovery sanctions pursuant to Rule 37 should not
be imposed since plaintiff did not file a motion to compel discovery. ECF No. 30 at 3. Indeed,
the First Circuit Court of Appeals previously held that a court may sanction a party who fails
to answer special interrogatories only if the government first files a motion for an order to
compel such answer and the party refuses to comply with such order. One 1987 BMW 325,
985 F.2d at 660-61. However, the circumstances in the current case are vastly different from
those in United States v. One 1987 BMW 325.
Although plaintiff has not filed a motion to compel discovery in this case, this Court,
as opposed to the trial court in One 1987 BMW 325, specifically ordered claimants to answer
the interrogatories, ECF No. 24, which order the claimants undisputably violated. More
importantly, the procedural rules regarding civil forfeiture have undergone significant
changes in 2006, 13 years after the One 1987 BMW 325 opinion was issued in 1993. As
previously mentioned, Rule G not only provides procedural rules to guide the progression
of a civil forfeiture action, it also codifies actions that the government may take against
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
non-responsive claimants. As a result, many of the holdings in One 1987 BMW 325, such as
“Admiralty Rules are completely bereft of guidance concerning what measures may be
appropriate when parties fail to serve answers to interrogatories in a full and timely fashion
. . . the Admiralty Rules make no provision whatever for discovery sanctions," are no longer
applicable. See One 1987 BMW 325, 985 F.3d at 659.
Furthermore, the First Circuit Court of Appeals held in a later opinion that while a
party has a right to file a motion to compel, “this right is not an obligation.” Resolution Trust
Corp. v. North Bridge Assocs., 22 F.3d 1198, 1206. (1st Cir. 1994). As such, “a discovering
party’s failure to invoke Rule 37 celeritously will not excuse the guilty party’s failure to
furnish required discovery in a timely manner.” Id. Given the uncontested fact that claimants
failed to comply with the Court’s discovery order, the Court may properly impose sanctions
on claimants under Rule 37(b) even though plaintiff never filed a Rule 37(a) motion to compel
discovery. This is especially so in light of the Court’s entitlement to take a more demanding
approach than a typical Rule 37 review in a civil forfeiture action. Supp. R. Adm. or Mar. Cl.
& Asset Forfeiture Actions R. G(8) Advisory Committee Notes.
As claimants’ violations of the discovery rules and order are not disputed, the Court
now examines the record to determine what type of sanction, if any, it should impose on
claimants. Under Rule 37, a court may sanction a party litigant for its failure to comply with
a discovery order or to answer interrogatories. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b), (d). To evaluate whether
a Rule 37(b) sanction should be imposed for the violation of discovery rules or orders, a court
may consider substantive factors such as: (1) the severity of the violation; (2) the legitimacy
of the party’s excuse; (3) repetition of violations; (4) the deliberateness of the misconduct; (5)
mitigating excuses; (6) prejudice to the other side and to the operations of the court; and (7)
the adequacy of lesser sanctions. AngioDynamics, Inc. v. Biolitec AG, 780 F.3d 429, 435 (1st Cir.
2015). However, such factors merely act as a guide, and they are not to be applied
mechanically. Benítez-García v. González-Vega, 468 F.3d 1, 5 (1st Cir. 2006). An offending
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
litigant should also be provided procedural safeguards before discovery sanctions are
imposed. AngioDynamics, 780 F.3d at 435. These procedural safeguards include notice to the
offending litigant regarding the possibility of sanctions, and the opportunity to explain its
misconduct and argue against the imposition of sanction. Id.
The procedural safeguards required to impose discovery sanctions have been satisfied.
In the Court’s order granting the first motion for extension, claimants were specifically
forewarned that no further extension would be granted. ECF No. 24. As such, claimants were
put on notice that they must answer the interrogatories by the new, self-imposed deadline,
and the Court would not allow them to do so once the deadline had passed. Furthermore,
claimants had the opportunity to, and did, offer reasons for its failure to comply with the
discovery rules and the Court’s order in the opposition. Since both procedural safeguards
have been satisfied, the Court now considers the substantive factors for sanctions.
Repetition of Violation, Deliberateness of Misconduct, and Severity
Since repetition of violation, deliberateness of misconduct, and severity of violation can
all be gleaned from a simple review of claimants’ actions, these factors will be considered
together. As stated above, claimants allowed the statutory deadline to answer the
interrogatories to pass before filing the first motion for extension. Claimants then requested,
and received, the extension they sought (33 days), yet failed to answer the interrogatories by
this self-imposed deadline. Furthermore, claimants did not file their second motion for
extension until two days after claimants’ self-imposed deadline had passed. ECF No. 25. As
such, claimants have twice committed discovery violations by ignoring two separate
discovery deadlines to answer the interrogatories.
Claimants, through their second motion for extension (which was subsequently denied
by this Court), requested an extension of the deadline to answer the interrogatories to January
15, 2015. Id. However, claimants did not serve the answers to the interrogatories until
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
January 26, 2015, 11 days past the extension they requested in the second motion for
extension, and 5 days after plaintiff had filed the motion to strike claimants’ answer and
complaint. ECF Nos. 25, 28, 29. Thus, had the Court granted claimants’ second motion for
extension, despite forewarning that it would not entertain such a motion, claimants would
have failed to answer the interrogatories by their self-imposed deadline yet again.
Despite repeated failures to adhere to statutory, court ordered, or even self-imposed
deadlines to answer the interrogatories, claimants only answered the interrogatories after
plaintiff’s motion to strike was filed. This behavior suggests that claimants were determined
to violate discovery deadlines and withhold discovery until their claims were at risk of being
stricken. When a litigant is granted an extension for a deadline to the date it proposes, failure
to meet such deadline “warrants an inference of deliberate manipulation.” Tower Ventures,
Inc. v. City of Westfield, 296 F.3d 43, 47. (1st Cir. 2002). Thus, claimants’ failure to meet
multiple deadlines, including self-imposed deadlines, for the same discovery demand
demonstrates repeated and deliberate violations of the discovery rules and the Court’s order.
Claimants did not answer the interrogatories until 54 days after the original statutory
deadline of December 3, 2014, and 21 days after the court-ordered and self-imposed deadline
of January 5, 2015. Claimants’ chronic delay in answering the interrogatories, coupled with
their repeated and deliberate violations of the discovery deadlines, lead the Court to conclude
that claimants’ failure to answer the interrogatories was sufficiently severe to warrant
Prejudice to Plaintiff and to the Operations of the Court
Claimants’ noncompliance with discovery rules and the Court’s discovery order,
though it may not have prejudiced plaintiff, negatively affected the operation of the Court.
Claimants state in the opposition that the motion to strike should be denied as moot because
claimants eventually did answer the interrogatories, and that plaintiff has not been prejudiced
by their untimely answers to the interrogatories. ECF No. 30 at 2-3. However, a party is not
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
free to flout discovery deadlines as long as it eventually complies with the discovery request;
and claimants provide neither case law nor statutory authorities to support such an argument.
To the contrary, the First Circuit Court of Appeals has held that in determining
appropriateness of discovery sanction, “the presence or absence of prejudice [to a litigant] is
not determinative.” Tower Ventures, 296 F.3d at 47. Therefore, even if the plaintiff has indeed
not been prejudiced by claimants’ failure to timely answer the interrogatories, a lack of
prejudice does not preclude claimants from being sanctioned for such failures.
Moreover, a court has an independent interest in administering its docket and a “strong
institutional interest in ensuring that litigants honor court orders.” Id. Consequently, a
“court’s efforts at stewardship are undermined where . . . a party cavalierly flout the court’s
scheduling orders.” Id. The Rule G(6) special interrogatories are essential tools for a court
and the government to ferret out frivolous and non-meritous claims in a civil forfeiture case,
and thus conserving judicial resources. 2007 33' Hydra Sport Vessel, 59 F. Supp. 3d at 419. In
fact, the Rule G(6) special interrogatories are such an important tool in determining standing
in a civil forfeiture case that courts are advised to take a more demanding approach than a
typical Rule 37 review when considering the imposition of discovery sanctions. Supp. R.
Adm. or Mar. Cl. & Asset Forfeiture Actions G(8) Advisory Committee Notes.
Here, claimants have missed two deadlines to answer the interrogatories, despite the
Court’s forewarning that no further extensions to the second deadline would be granted. ECF
No. 24. Claimants’ failure to answer the interrogatories timely prevented the government and
the Court from examining the merits of their claims, which forced the Court to continue
expending judicial resources on said claims. Consequently, claimants’ failure to honor the
Court’s order to answer the interrogatories timely has negatively impacted the Court’s
interest in administering its docket and judicial efficiency.
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
Legitimacy of Party’s Excuses and Mitigating Excuses
Although the above review indicates that claimants’ failure to answer the
interrogatories timely is clearly sanctionable, courts have traditionally excused discovery
violations if good cause exists. See Tower Ventures, 296 F.3d at 46-47. Claimants assert in the
opposition that their failure to respond to the interrogatories was the result of Mr. de Jesús’
solitary confinement (ECF No. 30 at 3). Claimants also expend a significant portion of the
opposition in objecting to the interrogatories, on the basis that the same violate claimants’
Fifth Amendment rights. Id. at 4-7. The Court now examines the record to determine if said
excuses serve as legitimate mitigating factors for claimants’ failure to timely answer the
A party’s failure to answer interrogatories is not excused by objections the party has
against the interrogatories unless said party has a “pending motion for a protective order
under Rule 26(c).” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(d)(2); see also AngioDynamics, Inc. v. Biolitec AG, 991 F.
Supp. 2d 283, 291-92 (D. Mass. 2014), aff’d, 780 F.3d 429 (1st Cir. 2015). Here, Claimants did
not file any such motion for a protective order before or after any of the deadlines to answer
the interrogatories. Further, claimants have not previously voiced any objections to the
interrogatories prior to plaintiff’s filing of the motion to strike, nor have claimants requested
that the Court resolve any discovery disputes stemming from such objections. As claimants
did not make any formal objections to the interrogatories prior to the deadlines to answer the
same, they cannot now hope to persuade the Court that such newfound objections are
legitimate reasons that excuse their failure to answer the interrogatories before their own selfimposed deadline.
Additionally, the Court finds claimants’ argument, that their fear of incriminating
themselves led to the delay in answering the interrogatories, to be without merit. Claimants
aver that since they are defendants in a criminal case that involves the defendant vessel,
requiring claimants to answer the interrogatories would violate their Fifth Amendment rights
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
against self-incrimination. However, claimants were given the opportunity to obtain a stay
in the case by providing certain information requested by the Court, thereby avoiding the
discovery process and any chance that claimants would incriminate themselves, but failed to
do so. In the order denying claimants’ motion to stay without prejudice, claimants were asked
to provide the Court with the status of their criminal case. ECF No. 22. For reasons unknown
to this Court, claimants and Attorney Rivera never responded to the Court’s request. Since
claimants voluntarily abandoned their efforts for a motion to stay the proceedings, they
essentially consented to move this case forward. Consequently, they may not now attempt
to avoid discovery by re-invoking the same Fifth Amendment argument they abandoned
through their failure to act upon the motion for a stay.
Claimants’ other excuse, that Mr. de Jesús’ solitary confinement was the cause of
claimants’ failure to timely answer the interrogatories, is likewise unavailing. Claimants
assert that Mr. de Jesús’ six-months solitary confinement greatly affected his mind, which
caused his “declarations [to be] extremely limited,” thereby affecting his capacity to answer
the interrogatories. ECF No. 30 at 3. Although claimants now proffer Mr. de Jesús’ solitary
confinement and his mental condition as a cause of their failure to answer the interrogatories
timely, none of the motions requesting extensions cites Mr. de Jesús’ solitary confinement as
a reason for the same. ECF Nos. 23, 25. Notably, in neither of these motions did Attorney
Rivera provide any evidence, or even bare assertions, that he made any specific attempts to
contact claimants for the purpose of answering the interrogatories. See generally id.
In the first motion for extension, Attorney Rivera stated simply that “counsel has not
been able to meet with claimants JULIO DE JESÚS-GOMEZ AND TANIA DE JESÚS
GOMEZ[sic],” without specifying why he was unable to do so. ECF No. 23. In the second
motion for extension, Attorney Rivera once again stated that “counsel has not been able to
meet with claimants JULIO DE JESÚS-GOMEZ AND TANIA DE JESÚS GOMEZ[sic]”, with
the addition that Attorney Rivera had been traveling out of the jurisdiction due to the
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
Christmas holidays. ECF No. 25. Attorney Rivera did not explain to the court what
prevented him from meeting with his clients to answer the interrogatories. Moreover,
Attorney Rivera failed to explain why he left the jurisdiction for the Christmas holiday before
completing and serving answers to the interrogatories. Lastly, Attorney Rivera failed to
enlighten the Court as to why, knowing that claimants needed to answer the interrogatories
by the deadline, he decided to travel out of the jurisdiction before filing the second motion for
extension. As a result of Attorney Rivera’s travel, claimants’ second motion for extension was
not filed until two days after the court-ordered deadline to answer the interrogatories had
elapsed. Thus, Attorney Rivera’s failure to file a motion for extension before the deadline
surely cannot be blamed on the mental status of Mr. de Jesús. Rather, it appears to be a result
of Attorney Rivera’s own conduct. As a result, the Court is not convinced that Mr. de Jesús’
solitary confinement is a legitimate or mitigating excuse for claimants’ failure to answer the
interrogatories by the Court ordered deadline.
Even if the Court accepts claimants’ explanation that Mr. de Jesús’ solitary confinement
prevented him from answering the interrogatories timely, it does not explain why Attorney
Rivera could not answer part of, if not most of, the interrogatories with information from Ms.
de Jesús. Ms. de Jesús is described as one of the owners of the defendant vessel in the verified
statement of interest. ECF No. 1-2. According to the answer, Ms. de Jesús is also the owner
of Luquillo Boat Glass. ECF No. 1. Thus, Ms. de Jesús should have possessed a significant
amount of the information sought by plaintiff in the interrogatories. While the opposition
states that Mr. de Jesús’ solitary confinement affected his ability to answer the interrogatories,
it said nothing about any impediment Ms. de Jesús may have suffered which prevented
Attorney Rivera from meeting with her to complete the answers to the interrogatories.
In light of the above, the Court is left unconvinced that any of the reasons proffered by
claimants and Attorney Rivera constitute a legitimate excuse that mitigates claimants’
violations of the discovery rules and order.
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
Adequacy of Lesser Sanctions
The adequacy of lesser sanctions is the final factor to be examined in determining
whether the sanction imposed is appropriate. Rule 37(b) provides a “veritable arsenal of
sanctions” against a party who fails to comply with a court’s discovery order. Companion
Health Servs. v. Kurtz, 675 F.3d 75, 84 (1st Cir. 2012) (quoting Crispín-Taveras v. Municipality
of Carolina, 647 F.3d 1, 7 (1st Cir. 2011)). The sanctions enumerated in Rule 37(b)(2)(A) are
applicable to a party who fails to answer interrogatories. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(d)(3). Specifically,
where a litigant fails to obey a discovery order, a court may: (1) direct the matters embraced
in the order to be taken as established; (2) prohibit a litigant from supporting or opposing
certain claims; (3) strike pleadings in whole or in part; (4) stay proceedings until the order is
obeyed; (5) dismiss the action in whole or in part; (6) render default judgment against a
disobedient party; or (7) treat a failure to obey as contempt of court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A).
In this case, it is clear that the sanctions described in Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(i), directing the
matters embraced in the order to be taken as established, is the appropriate sanction. A stay
in this case was half-heartedly sought by claimants in late 2014, thus the imposition of a stay
in this matter would serve to reward, rather than punish, claimants’ failure to comply with
a discovery order. As Mr. de Jesús is currently in a federal detention center, and Ms. de Jesús
has been released on bail but in home detention, holding the claimants in contempt is not a
suitable sanction at this time. The remaining sanctions listed in Rule 37(b)(2)(A), which
include prohibiting a party from supporting or opposing certain claims, striking of pleading,
dismissal of action, and default judgment, are all more severe than the sanction under Rule
37(b)(2)(A)(i). Thus, the sanction the Court now imposes is the least severe applicable sanction
under Rule 37(b)(2)(A), and it is not any more severe than those imposed by other courts in
similar circumstances. See Vázquez-Álvarez, 760 F.3d at 197-98; 2007 33' Hydra Sport Vessel, 59
F. Supp. 3d at 419-20.
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
After a thorough review of the procedural history of this case, the Court finds that
claimants’ repeated and severe violations of the discovery rules and the Court’s order, the
deliberateness of such violations, and the negative impacts that they have on the operations
of the Court, justify sanctions under Rule 37 that the Court now imposes. Thus, the Court
now deems the matter embraced in the untimely answered interrogatories, claimants’ lack of
standing, as admitted in favor of plaintiff. As the court’s sanction renders claimants unable
to establish statutory standing required to sustain their claims, the striking of their claims and
answer necessarily follow. Since the sole answer filed in response to plaintiff’s complaint and
all timely submitted claims of ownership of the defendant vessel are stricken, there are no
outstanding claims for this Court to consider. As such, default judgment must be entered
accordingly. In other words, the striking of claimants’ answer and claims, along with default
judgment against them, are not the sanctions now imposed by the Court, but merely the
natural consequences that flowed from the Court’s imposition of the Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(i)
Finally, the Court is cognizant of the fact that although Attorney Rivera appears to be
solely responsible for the discovery failures described above, the sanction imposed herein will
be borne exclusively by the claimants. Nonetheless, such sanction is not an unjust penalty to
impose on claimants. The Supreme Court has held that a party who voluntarily chooses his
attorney cannot avoid the consequences of the acts or omission of said attorney. See Link v.
Wabash R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 633-34 (1962)(affirming dismissal of case where plaintiff’s attorney,
who had a history of employing dilatory tactics in said case, failed to appear for pre-trial
conference). In fact, a holding to the contrary “would be wholly inconsistent with our system
of representative litigation.” Id. at 634. Thus, claimants are bound by Attorney Rivera’s
inaction, and the Court will not keep the claims in question alive simply because claimants
were not active participants in the discovery violations.
Civil No. 12-1721 (ADC)
For the reasons set forth herein, the motion for entry of default (ECF No. 27) and the
motion to strike claimants’ answer to the complaint and claim and for default judgment (ECF
No. 28) are GRANTED. The Clerk is to enter judgment accordingly.
At San Juan, Puerto Rico, this 20th day of July, 2017.
S/AIDA M. DELGADO-COLON
Chief United States District Judge
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