Jefferson v. Core Civic et al
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION: Considering the above four factors, the Magistrate Judge RECOMMENDS that this action 1 be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE under Rule 41(b) for Jefferson's failure to prosecute his claims and that all pending motions be TERMINATED. Any party has fourteen days after being served with this Report and Recommendation to file specific written objections. Signed by Magistrate Judge Alistair Newbern on 9/15/2022. (xc:Pro se party by regular mail.) (DOCKET TEXT SUMMARY ONLY-ATTORNEYS MUST OPEN THE PDF AND READ THE ORDER.)(ln)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE MIDDLE DISTRICT OF TENNESSEE
TIMOTHY L. JEFFERSON,
Case No. 3:21-cv-00776
Judge William L. Campbell, Jr.
Magistrate Judge Alistair E. Newbern
CORECIVIC et al.,
The Honorable William L. Campbell, Jr., District Judge
REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION
On July 25, 2022, the Court ordered pro se and incarcerated Plaintiff Timothy L. Jefferson
to show cause by August 15, 2022, why this action should not be dismissed under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 41(b) for Jefferson’s failure to prosecute his claims. (Doc. No. 22.) The Court also
ordered Jefferson to return a service packet for Defendant CoreCivic with his show-cause response
and warned Jefferson that failure to comply with the show-cause order could result in a
recommendation of dismissal. (Id.) The docket reflects that Jefferson has not responded to the
Court’s show-cause order or returned a completed service packet as ordered. For the reasons that
follow, the Magistrate Judge will recommend that the Court dismiss Jefferson’s complaint without
prejudice under Rule 41(b) for Jefferson’s failure to prosecute.
Factual and Procedural Background
Jefferson initiated this action by filing a pro se complaint under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, which
the Court received on October 8, 2021. (Doc. Nos. 1–1-2.) The Court granted Jefferson’s
application to proceed in forma pauperis and screened Jefferson’s complaint under 28 U.S.C.
§§ 1915(e)(2) and 1915A, and 42 U.S.C. § 1997e. (Doc. No. 5.) The Court found that Jefferson’s
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complaint did not state any colorable claims for relief but granted him leave to file an amended
complaint. (Id.) Jefferson filed an amended complaint (Doc. No. 14), which the Court found stated
a colorable claim for injunctive relief under the Eighth Amendment to the United States
Constitution against Defendant CoreCivic, Inc. (Doc. No. 15.) The Court dismissed the other
claims and defendants named in the amended complaint, directed the Clerk of Court to send
Jefferson a service packet, and ordered Jefferson to return a completed service packet for
CoreCivic within twenty-one days of entry of the Court’s order. (Id.)
On May 11, 2022, the Court received a service packet for CoreCivic from Jefferson. The
Clerk of Court entered a notation on the docket indicating that the service packet was incomplete
and was being returned to Jefferson for completion, and the Court ordered Jefferson to return a
completed service packet for CoreCivic by June 6, 2022. (Doc. No. 17.) On June 13, 2022, the
Court received a letter from Jefferson stating that he had not received a service packet to complete
as directed by the Court’s order. (Doc. No. 18.) The Court sent Jefferson a new service packet and
extended the time for him to return it to June 30, 2022. (Doc. No. 21.) Jefferson did not do so.
On July 25, 2022, the Court ordered Jefferson to show cause by August 15, 2022, why the
Magistrate Judge should not recommend that his claims be dismissed under Rule 41(b) for failure
to prosecute. (Doc. No. 22.) The Court ordered Jefferson to file a completed service packet for
CoreCivic with his response to the show-cause order and warned him that failure to comply with
the order to show cause would likely result in a recommendation that his claims be dismissed under
Rule 41(b). (Id.) The docket shows that Jefferson has not responded to the show-cause order or
returned a service packet as ordered.
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) “confers on district courts the authority to dismiss
an action for failure of a plaintiff to prosecute the claim or to comply with the Rules or any order
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of the court.” Schafer v. City of Defiance Police Dep’t, 529 F.3d 731, 736 (6th Cir. 2008) (citing
Knoll v. AT&T, 176 F.3d 359, 362–63 (6th Cir. 1999)); see also Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S.
626, 630 (1962) (recognizing “the power of courts, acting on their own initiative, to clear their
calendars of cases that have remained dormant because of the inaction or dilatoriness of the parties
seeking relief”); Carpenter v. City of Flint, 723 F.3d 700, 704 (6th Cir. 2013) (“It is well settled
that a district court has the authority to dismiss sua sponte a lawsuit for failure to prosecute.”).
Dismissal for failure to prosecute is a tool for district courts to manage their dockets and avoid
unnecessary burdens on opposing parties and the judiciary. See Schafer, 529 F.3d at 736 (quoting
Knoll, 176 F.3d at 363). The Sixth Circuit therefore affords district courts “‘substantial discretion”’
regarding decisions to dismiss for failure to prosecute. Id. (quoting Knoll, 176 F.3d at 363).
Courts look to four factors for guidance when determining whether dismissal under
Rule 41(b) is appropriate: (1) the willfulness, bad faith, or fault of the plaintiff; (2) whether the
defendant has been prejudiced by the plaintiff’s conduct; (3) whether the plaintiff was warned that
failure to cooperate could lead to dismissal; and (4) the availability and appropriateness of other,
less drastic sanctions. Knoll, 176 F.3d at 363 (citing Stough v. Mayville Cmty. Sch., 138 F.3d 612,
615 (6th Cir. 1998)). Under Sixth Circuit precedent, “none of the factors is outcome dispositive,”
but “a case is properly dismissed by the district court where there is a clear record of delay or
contumacious conduct.” Id. (citing Carter v. City of Memphis, 636 F.2d 159, 161 (6th Cir. 1980));
see also Muncy v. G.C.R., Inc., 110 F. App’x 552, 555 (6th Cir. 2004) (finding that dismissal with
prejudice “is justifiable in any case in which ‘there is a clear record of delay or contumacious
conduct on the part of the plaintiff’” (quoting Mulbah v. Detroit Bd. of Educ., 261 F.3d 586, 591
(6th Cir. 2001))). Because dismissal without prejudice is a relatively lenient sanction as compared
to dismissal with prejudice, the “controlling standards should be greatly relaxed” for Rule 41(b)
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dismissals without prejudice where “the dismissed party is ultimately not irrevocably deprived of
his [or her] day in court.” Muncy, 110 F. App’x at 556 (citing Nwokocha v. Perry, 3 F. App’x 319,
321 (6th Cir. 2001)); see also M.D. Tenn. R. 41.01 (dismissal of inactive cases) (allowing Court
to summarily dismiss without prejudice “[c]ivil suits that have been pending for an unreasonable
period of time without any action having been taken by any party”).
Dismissal of this action is appropriate under Rule 41(b) because the four relevant factors,
considered under the “relaxed” standard for dismissals without prejudice, show a record of delay
Bad Faith, Willfulness, or Fault
A plaintiff’s actions demonstrate bad faith, willfulness, or fault where they “‘display either
an intent to thwart judicial proceedings or a reckless disregard for the effect of [plaintiff’s] conduct
on those proceedings.’” Wu v. T.W. Wang, Inc., 420 F.3d 641, 643 (6th Cir. 2005) (quoting
Mulbah, 261 F.3d at 591). There is no indication that Jefferson’s failure to return a completed
service packet or respond to the Court’s show-cause order was motivated by bad faith. However,
because the Court warned Jefferson that failure to respond to the motion to dismiss or to the showcause order could result in dismissal, these failures are indicative of willfulness or fault for
purposes of Rule 41(b) and therefore “tip[ ] the scale in favor of dismissal on the first factor.”
Hatcher v. Dennis, No. 1:17-cv-01042, 2018 WL 1586235, at *1 (W.D. Tenn. Mar. 30, 2018); see
also Estes v. Smith, No. 2:15-cv-95, 2018 WL 2308780, at *1 (E.D. Tenn. May 21, 2018)
(attributing pro se incarcerated plaintiff’s failure to return service packets or respond to showcause order “to his own willfulness or fault”). This factor therefore weighs in favor of dismissal.
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The Sixth Circuit has held that “[a] defendant is prejudiced by a plaintiff’s dilatory conduct
if the defendant is ‘required to waste time, money, and effort in pursuit of cooperation which [the
plaintiff] was legally obligated to provide.’” Carpenter, 723 F.3d at 707 (second alteration in
original) (quoting Harmon v. CSX Transp., Inc., 110 F.3d 364, 368 (6th Cir. 1997)); see also
Schafer, 529 F.3d at 739 (same). Such prejudice typically arises in the discovery context. See, e.g.,
Harmon, 110 F.3d at 368 (finding prejudice where plaintiff failed to respond to defendant’s
interrogatories and a related motion to compel); Wright v. City of Germantown, No. 11-02607,
2013 WL 1729105, at *2 (W.D. Tenn. Apr. 22, 2013) (finding prejudice where defendant
“expended time and money pursuing [plaintiff’s] required initial disclosures and deposition
testimony”). Notably, time and effort spent on “typical steps in the early stages of litigation[,]”
such as answering a complaint or filing pretrial motions to advance the defendant’s position, are
not actions “necessitated by any lack of cooperation” and therefore do not weigh in favor of
dismissal for failure to prosecute. Schafer, 529 F.3d at 739. The Sixth Circuit explained in Schafer
v. City of Defiance Police Department that “[i]f such efforts . . . [were] alone sufficient to establish
prejudice,” for the purpose of Rule 41(b), “then every defendant who answers a complaint and
responds even minimally to a lawsuit would be able to claim prejudice[,]” a “result [that] would
defy common sense.” Id. at 740.
Because the defendant in this action has not appeared, this factor weighs against dismissal.
Whether a party was warned that failure to cooperate could lead to dismissal “is a ‘key
consideration’” in the Rule 41(b) analysis. Schafer, 629 F.3d at 740 (quoting Stough, 138 F.3d at
615). Here, the Court expressly warned Jefferson that failure to return service packets and comply
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with the Court’s orders could jeopardize his prosecution of this action and may result in a
recommendation that his claims be dismissed. (Doc. No. 22.) This factor supports dismissal.
Appropriateness of Other Sanctions
The less-drastic sanction of dismissal without prejudice is available and appropriate here.
Dismissal without prejudice balances the Court’s interest in “sound judicial case and docket
management” with “the public policy interest in the disposition of cases on their merits . . . .”
Muncy, 110 F. App’x at 557 n.5; see also Mulbah, 261 F.3d at 590–91. Such a sanction is
particularly appropriate in cases of prolonged inactivity and where, as here, the plaintiff appears
pro se. See Schafer, 529 F.3d at 737 (noting that courts apply the four-factor test “‘more stringently
in cases where the plaintiff’s attorney’s conduct is responsible for the dismissal’” (quoting
Harmon, 110 F.3d at 367)).
Considering the above four factors, the Magistrate Judge RECOMMENDS that this action
be DISMISSED WITHOUT PREJUDICE under Rule 41(b) for Jefferson’s failure to prosecute his
claims and that all pending motions be TERMINATED.
Any party has fourteen days after being served with this Report and Recommendation to
file specific written objections. Failure to file specific objections within fourteen days of receipt
of this report and recommendation can constitute a waiver of appeal of the matters decided.
Thomas v. Arn, 474 U.S. 140, 155 (1985); Cowherd v. Million, 380 F.3d 909, 912 (6th Cir. 2004).
A party who opposes any objections that are filed may file a response within fourteen days after
being served with the objections. Fed. R. Civ. P. 72(b)(2).
Entered this 15th day of September, 2022.
ALISTAIR E. NEWBERN
United States Magistrate Judge
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