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Ferguson v. Prince George's County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

March 6, 2018

KENNETH FERGUSON, Plaintiff,
v.
PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, MD and DETECTIVE TERRANCE WALKER, Individually and in his Official Capacity, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          THEODORE D. CHUANU UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorize dismissal of an action if the plaintiff fails to participate in discovery or comply with a court order. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A)(v); Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b). Plaintiff Kenneth Ferguson has failed to comply with several court orders directing him to provide discovery responses to Defendants Prince George's County, Maryland (the “County”) and Detective Terrance Walker. Now pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion to Dismiss. Ferguson has not responded to the Motion, despite being informed of his right to do so. For the following reasons, the Motion is GRANTED.

         BACKGROUND

         Ferguson alleges that following a traffic stop on April 20, 2014, Detective Walker assaulted him and unlawfully arrested him as part of a Prince George's County Police Department custom, policy, and practice of using excessive force and arresting individuals without probable cause. Ferguson filed this civil rights lawsuit pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, asserting violations of the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and common law claims of assault, battery, and false arrest.

         This case has had a long and meandering history, often characterized by Ferguson's refusal to participate in the litigation. Ferguson originally filed this action on September 11, 2014, in the Circuit Court for Prince George's County. The action was removed to this Court on November 17, 2014, and Ferguson amended the Complaint several months later, on February 27, 2015, After filing a partial Motion to Dismiss that was denied, the County filed an Answer, as did Detective Walker.

         Although Ferguson was represented by counsel when the case began, on October 3, 2015, Ferguson's counsel withdrew for medical reasons. The Court stayed the case for 45 days to permit Ferguson to find new counsel. On October 22, 2015, Defendants filed a motion to bifurcate the case for discovery and trial so that Ferguson's claims against Walker would be addressed separately from those against the County. Ferguson did not file a response. After the stay was lifted on November 30, 2015, the Court granted Ferguson an additional 14 days to file a response to the motion. Ferguson failed to do so, and the Court granted in part the Motion to Bifurcate, on the issue of bifurcation of discovery, on January 22, 2016.

         The Court issued a Scheduling Order a week later, on January 29, 2016, requiring the parties to file a Joint Status Report within 10 days. On February 8, 2016, Defendants filed a Status Report in which they represented that attempts to contact Ferguson by phone had been unsuccessful. On June 13, 2016, the deadline for completing discovery, Defendants filed a second Status Report in which they stated that they had propounded discovery to Ferguson on March 2, 2016 and again on May 19, 2016, but that Ferguson had not responded. On June 29, 2016, Defendants filed a motion seeking to extend the discovery deadline because of Ferguson's failure to respond. Counsel for Defendants represented that he had attempted to contact Ferguson “on numerous occasions for the last 2 weeks to ascertain the status of the outstanding discovery requests” and had “left numerous detailed messages for the Plaintiff with regard to” the pending discovery requests at his last known telephone number. Mot. Amend Scheduling Order ¶¶ 6-7, ECF No. 49. Although Ferguson twice attempted to return these calls, he did not provide discovery responses. Defendants thus requested an extension of the discovery deadline until August 19, 2016. Ferguson did not file a response, and the Court granted the Motion. On August 12, 2016, Defendants filed a Motion to Compel and for Sanctions based on Ferguson's continued failure to respond to Defendants' written discovery requests. On August 19, 2016, the extended discovery deadline, Defendants filed a third Status Report stating that Ferguson still had not responded to the written discovery requests.

         Defendants filed a Supplemental Motion to Compel on November 15, 2016, attaching a Rule 104.7 Certificate of Efforts to Resolve Discovery Dispute, copies of the interrogatories and requests for production of documents mailed to Ferguson, and six letters mailed to Ferguson between April 7, 2016 and August 5, 2016 regarding the outstanding discovery requests. Ferguson never responded to the motion. United States Magistrate Judge Charles B. Day granted the motion in part by ordering that Ferguson had waived any objections to the written discovery due to his failure to respond.

         On November 29, 2016, Ferguson filed a Motion for an Extension of Time in which he requested extra time to respond to the written discovery. Judge Day denied the Motion and ordered Ferguson to “provide all responses to discovery on or before December 27, 2016.” Mem. Op. & Order at 2, ECF No. 64. Ferguson did not provide responses to discovery or otherwise respond to the Order. On January 6, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion for Dismissal for failure to comply with the Order. On May 18, 2017, the Court ordered Ferguson to respond to Defendants' discovery requests by June 5, 2017 and warned that failure to do so would result in dismissal of the case without further notice.

         According to a Status Report filed by the Defendants on June 9, 2017, Ferguson finally filed “substantially deficient” and unsigned responses to Defendants' Interrogatories on June 5, 2017. Defs.' Status Report at 1, ECF No. 69. He did not submit any documents in response to Defendants' Request for Production of Documents. Nevertheless, because of this response and the fact that Ferguson had not been warned before the filing of the motion that dismissal could result from non-compliance with discovery orders, the Court denied the Motion for Dismissal on June 12, 2017. In so ruling, the Court explicitly warned Ferguson that “failure to participate in [a] Case Management Conference, to respond to valid discovery requests in a timely manner, or to comply with any other orders of the Court, will result in dismissal of this case with prejudice.” Order at 3, ECF No. 70.

         Defendants filed a Motion to Compel and for Sanctions on July 5, 2017. At an October 25, 2017 hearing on the Motion, Judge Day orally ordered Ferguson to provide additional discovery responses by November 1, 2017. On January 2, 2018, the Court ordered Defendants to file a Status Report stating whether Ferguson had responded to the discovery requests and restated its warning to Ferguson that failure to comply with valid discovery requests and court orders would result in dismissal. On January 31, 2018, having reported that Ferguson did not comply with Judge Day's prior order, Defendants filed the pending Motion to Dismiss, seeking dismissal under Rules 37 and 41 for Ferguson's failure to obey court orders and to participate in discovery.

         DISCUSSION

         Defendants argue that the case should be dismissed pursuant to Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 37 and 41 because Ferguson failed to obey multiple orders directing him to respond to Defendants' discovery requests.

         I. ...


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