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Doggett v. City of Hyattsville

United States District Court, D. Maryland

November 17, 2014

ERNEST DOGGETT, Plaintiff.
v.
CITY OF HYATTSVILLE, MARYLAND, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

THEODORE D. CHUANG, District Judge.

Presently pending and ready for review in this 42 U.S.C. § 1983 civil rights case is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss for Failure to Participate in Discovery, ECF No. 26. The Court has reviewed the Motion and heard oral argument on October 9, 2014. For the reasons outlined below, the motion is GRANTED and the case is DISMISSED with prejudice.

BACKGROUND

On May 30, 201 Plaintiff Ernest Doggett ("Daggett") filed a complaint, through his attorney, against the City of Hyattsville and two of its police officers, Officers Chanthavong and Chite. He alleged that on February 19, 2011, after pulling him over on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, the officers committed the state law torts of assault (Count 1), battery (Count II). and false arrest (Count III) against him, arrested him with ut probable cause in violation of 42 U.S.C. § 1983 ("§ 1983") (Count IV). and used excessive force against him in violation of § 1983 (Count VI). See Compl.¶¶ 12-34, ECF No. 2. He also alleged that the City of Hyattsville was liable for Counts 1-III based on the doctrine of respondent superior and for arrest without probable cause and excessive force in violation of § 1983 (Counts V and VII) because the police force had a pattern and practice of such conduct. See id.

On December 26, 2013, Defendants removed the case to this Court.[1] Notice of Removal, ECF No. 1. That same day, the City of Hyattsville tiled a Motion to Dismiss or, in the Alternative. to Bifurcate Doggett's § 1983 claims against it. ECF No. 5. On February 12, 2014, Officers Chantavong and Chite filed a Partial Motion to Dismiss the assault count, contending that Doggett had filed his claim outside the one-year statute of limitations. ECF No. 10. In response. on February 25, 2014, Doggett voluntarily dismissed the assault claim. ECF No. 11.

On March 24, 2014. Doggett's attorney filed a Motion to Withdraw, citing "irreconcilable differences" between himself and his client. Mot. at 3. ECF No. 13. On March 25, 2014, the Court (Grimm, J.) instructed counsel to give Doggett the full seven-day period under Local Rule 101.2(a) to respond to the Motion. ECF No. 14. On April 1, 2014, defense counsel informed the Court that he had received no response from Doggett. ECF No. 16. Accordingly, on April 3, 2014. the Court (Grimm, J.) granted the Motion to Withdraw. ECF No. 17, That same day, the Clerk of the Court mailed to Doggett a letter informing him that he was now proceeding pro se. ECF: No. 18.

On May 14, 2014, the Court (Grimm. J.) granted the City of Hyattsville's Motion to Dismiss the § 1983 claims against it. ECF No. 20. In that Opinion. the Court noted that Hyattsville was also immune from liability for the battery and false arrest counts (Counts II and III), which were based on the doctrine of responder: superior, because "the officers' alleged actions were governmental in nature." id at 2. However, the Court gave Doggett until May 30, 2014 to submit a brief showing "whether he has stated a claim against Hyattsville" in those counts. Id; see Order, ECF No. 21. Doggett submitted nothing in response.

On May 15, 2014, the Court (Grimm, J.) issued a Scheduling Order setting a discovery deadline of October 28, 2014. ECF No. 22. On May 20 2014, Defendants sent Doggett their first set of interrogatories and requests for production of documents, with a responsive deadline of June 19, 2014. Mot. Dismiss, Ex. A, ECF No. 26-2. In a June 5. 2014 telephone status conference, Doggett indicated that he had not received the discovery request because he had recently moved. See Letter Order, ECF No. 25. On June 9, 2014. Defendants re-sent their discovery requests, with a deadline of June 23, 2014, to Doggett's updated address. Mot. Dismiss, Ex. B, ECF No. 26-3. Doggett did not respond. Id

On July 3, 2014 Defendants sent a letter to Doggett noting that it was "important that we keep discovery moving, " and asking Doggett to "promptly" advise defense counsel "as to [his] intentions." Id., Ex. C, ECF No. 26-4. Counsel added that if he did not hear from Doggett, he would have "no choice but to tile the appropriate motion with the court." Id Doggett did not respond. Mot. Dismiss at 4.

On August 1. 2014, Defendants filed the pending Motion to Dismiss for Failure to Participate in Discovery. ECF No. 26. On August 4, 2014, the Clerk of the Court mailed Doggett a "Rule 12/56" letter informing him that the motion was pending, detailing the proper procedure for him to respond to the motion, explaining that the deadline for his response was 17 days from the date of the letter, and cautioning him that if he "d[id] not file a timely written response, the Court may dismiss the case or enter judgment against you without further notice." ECF No. 27. Doggett did not submit a response.

On September 24, 2014, the Court issued a Notice informing the parties that a hearing was schedled in this case for October 9, 2014 at 10:00 a.m. and cautioning Doggett that "his failure to appear at this hearing may result in dismissal of his case." ECF No. 28. Doggett did not appear at the October 9 hearing. ECF No. 30. Accordingly. that same day, the Court issued an Order instructing Doggett to show cause by October 28. 2014, the date for the close of discovery, for his failure to attend the hearing and to participate in discovery and informing him that if he failed to do so, his case would be dismissed with prejudice. ECF No. 31. That Order also instructed defense counsel to re-send his discovery requests to Doggett. Id On October 13, in compliance with that Order, defense counsel re-sent his original discovery requests to Doggett and outlined for him the procedures for complying with them. ECF No. 32. The October 28, 2014 deadline has passed and Doggett has yet to submit any responses or contact the Court.

DISCUSSION

Defendants ask the Court to dismiss this case based on Doggett's failure to participate in discovery. Specifically, they ask this Court to dismiss this case pursuant either to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(d) (governing discovery) or 41(b) (governing involuntary dismissal in general). As a threshold matter, because Defendants' motion is based on Doggett's behavior in discovery, this Court must consider it only under Rule 37, not Rule 41. In Societe Internationak Pour Participations Industrielles E1 Connnerciales, S.A. v. Rogers, 357 U.S. 197 (1958), the Supreme Court explained that "whether a court has power to dismiss a complaint because of noncompliance with a production order depends exclusively upon Rule 37, which addresses itself with particularity to the consequences of a failure to make discovery." Id at 207. There was, the Court continued, "no need to resort" to Rule 41, which "lacks [the] specific references to discovery" present in Rule 37. Id. Societe Internationale thus instructs courts to rely on the federal rule most tailored to the circumstances under consideration. Accordingly, because the Motion under consideration involves discovery, the Court considers it only pursuant to Rule 37.

Pursuant to Rule 37(d), courts may impose sanctions on a party who fails to respond to interrogatories. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(d)(1)(A)(ii). Such sanctions include dismissing the action or proceeding in whole, or in part, or issuing a default judgment. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A)(i)(vi); see Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(d)(3) (indicating that sanctions for violations of subsection (d) may include any of the orders listed in Rule 37(b)(2)(A)(i)-(vi)). When assessing the appropriateness of sanctions under Rule 37(d), the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit requires consideration of four factors: "(1) whether the noncomplying party acted in bad faith; (2) the amount of prejudice his noncompliance caused his adversary, which necessarily includes an inquiry into the materiality of the evidence he failed to produce; (3) the need for deterrence of the particular sort of noncompliance; and ...


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