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Williams v. Montgomery County

United States District Court, D. Maryland

May 4, 2018

JAMES A. WILLIAMS, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
MONTGOMERY COUNTY, MARYLAND, Defendant.

          ORDER

          Paula Xinis United States District Judge.

         Pending before the Court is Defendant Montgomery County, Maryland's motion to dismiss and for sanctions, ECF No. 25. The issues are fully briefed, ECF Nos. 27 & 28, and a recorded call on the motion was held on May 2, 2018. ECF No. 31. Upon consideration of the parties' arguments, the Court GRANTS the motion.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 20, 2016, Plaintiff James A. Williams, Jr. (“Williams”) asserted a claim through counsel, William Payne (“Payne”), for employment discrimination based on disability, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). ECF No. 1. Williams' Complaint alleged that Defendant Montgomery County, Maryland (“the County”), did not accommodate Williams' physical disability, and that he was wrongfully terminated. Id. The County was served on January 5, 2017, and timely answered the Complaint on January 26. ECF Nos. 3 & 4. The Court then issued a Scheduling Order setting pertinent deadlines, to include: February 13, 2017 - Initial Joint Status Report; April 3, 2017 - Williams' deadline for Rule 26(a)(2) disclosures; May 24, 2017 - Rule 26(e) supplementation of disclosures and responses; Close of Discovery - June 19, 2017. ECF No. 6.

         The County, complying with the Scheduling Order, filed its status report on February 13, 2017. Although the Court's Scheduling Order made plain that the parties must collaborate to submit a joint status report, Williams did not do so, nor did he file a separate status report. See generally ECF No. 8.

         On May 12, Montgomery County served on Williams interrogatories and requests for production of documents. ECF No. 25-4. Hearing nothing from Plaintiff, counsel for Defendant attempted to contact Payne on June 7 to arrange Williams' deposition. ECF No. 25-1 at 2. Payne did not answer the call and his phone did not have voicemail capabilities at the time. ECF No. 25-1 at 2. Montgomery County followed with an email to Payne the following day, attempting to ascertain the status of Plaintiff's discovery responses and to schedule Williams' deposition. See ECF No. 25-5. Payne did not respond. ECF No. 25-1 at 2.

         On June 13, the County again attempted to reach Payne to request Williams' deposition; the County also sought Plaintiff's approval on a joint request to extend all discovery deadlines by sixty (60) days so as to mitigate Plaintiff's failure to answer interrogatories or respond to document requests. ECF Nos. 9 & 25-1 at 2. Once again, Payne did not respond to the County's counsel, prompting the County to move for an extension of time to complete discovery. In that motion, the County informed the Court of Payne's non-responsiveness. See ECF No. 9 at ¶¶ 3- 10.

         The Court held a recorded discovery conference on June 26, 2017. See ECF No. 11. During the call, Payne requested extensions of the scheduling order and explained that his failure to respond to the County was due to his health issues and the unexpected death of his brother. Id. At the same time, Payne assured the Court that he was able and willing to represent Plaintiff and comply with the requested discovery deadlines. Id. The Court granted the requested extension and made plain to the parties that it would not grant any further continuances absent a showing of extraordinary circumstances. The Court also encouraged the parties, and more particularly Payne, to contact the Court should further problems arise. Id. The Court then issued an amended Scheduling Order with the following deadlines: July 26, 2017 - Plaintiff's Rule 26(a)(2) disclosures; August 29, 2017 - Defendant's Rule 26(a)(2) disclosures; September 19, 2017 - Rule 26(e)(2) supplementation of disclosures and responses; close of discovery - October 5, 2017. See ECF No. 12.

         Against this backdrop, neither Williams nor his counsel participated at all in discovery. Accordingly, on September 26, 2017, the County forewarned Williams by first-class mail and electronic communication that failure to respond to its discovery requests by October 2 would result in the County filing a motion to compel and/or for sanctions, to include dismissal of the case. ECF No. 25-5. The County also informed Payne that because he had not responded to repeated attempts to set Williams' deposition, the County was forced to note Williams' deposition unilaterally for October 4 at 10:00 a.m., the day before the close of discovery and without the benefit of any written discovery production. Id.

         A week later, on October 3, Payne told counsel for the County that he would respond to written discovery the following day, October 4, and offered Williams for deposition on October 6 or October 9. Id. The parties then agreed that Williams' deposition would take place on October 6 at 10:00 a.m. Id.

         Despite express warning as to the potential for sanctions including dismissal, Williams did not submit discovery responses on October 4, 2017. ECF No. 25-1 at 4. This failure prompted the County to move for additional time to complete discovery and disclose the likelihood that it would move to dismiss the Complaint “based on the complete lack of cooperation and discovery responses.” ECF No. 13. The County made clear that it sought further extension only “out of an abundance of caution.” Id. at ¶ 13. On the same day, the County submitted a separate status report pursuant to the Court's Scheduling Order. In it, the County chronicled its repeated good-faith attempts to complete discovery and that the parties had agreed to conduct Williams' the next morning. ECF No. 14. Although once again the Court's Scheduling Order made clear that the parties were to collaborate on a joint status report, Payne did not contribute or submit a separate status report on Williams' behalf.

         On the same day, after the County had filed its motion and status report - and shortly before close of business - Payne informed counsel for the County that Williams' deposition was cancelled because Williams conveyed that he was “not quite ready.” Payne also informed counsel that the promised written discovery would not be forthcoming. See ECF Nos. 25-1 at 4, 25-9; see also ECF No. 31. At its understandable wits end, the County then withdrew its motion to extend discovery. ECF No. 15. Discovery therefore closed by Court order as of October 5, 2017. Five days after the close of discovery, on October 10, 2017, Payne forwarded to counsel for the County Williams' incomplete answers to interrogatories and responses to document production. ECF No. 25-10.[1] The discovery responses were both deficient and highly prejudicial to the County, identifying scores of previously undisclosed medical providers, witnesses, and allegedly similarly situated comparators. See ECF No. 25-10.

         The Court thereafter held a recorded status conference on November 16, 2017, during which Payne did not deny that Williams' deposition was cancelled at the client's request and less than twenty-four hours before it was to take place. Nor did Payne deny that he had failed to respond to the County's discovery requests before October 5 . ECF No. 20. Payne rather asked to reopen discovery, citing as grounds in support the same health and other personal issues on which he relied to support his previous continuance request last June. Id. The Court declined to reopen discovery and directed the County to file its motion to dismiss as sanction. Id.

         The County filed its motion by the dispositive motions deadline. ECF No. 25. Williams, through counsel, requested an extension of time to file his response to the motion, and the response was filed on January 22, 2018. ECF Nos. 26 & 27. During the ensuing months, Plaintiff did not supplement discovery responses or offer additional deposition dates in an effort to cure any prejudice visited on the County by his dilatory approach to discovery. Rather, in response to the County's dismissal motion, Williams simply reiterated that Payne's status as “a sole legal practitioner with a large caseload, ” as well as the loss of his brother and his back condition requiring “strong over the counter medication, ” ...


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