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Marshall v. University of Maryland Medical Center

United States District Court, D. Maryland

December 12, 2018



          Stephanie A. Gallagher United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter has been referred to me for discovery disputes and related scheduling matters. ECF 16. This Report and Recommendations addresses Plaintiff Sheila M. Marshall's (“Marshall”) failure to comply with this Court's August 6, 2018 Order, granting in part Defendant University of Maryland Medical Center's (“UMMC”) Motion to Compel. ECF 20. I have reviewed Marshall's Response to this Court's Show Cause Order, UMMC's Status Report, Marshall's Amended Response to this Court's November 15, 2018 Order, and UMMC's Reply. ECF 35, 37, 40, 41. In its Reply, in accordance with the stated intent in the Show Cause Order, ECF 34, and the November 15, 2018 Order, ECF 38, UMMC requests that Marshall be precluded from presenting evidence relating to any mental health conditions at trial. ECF 41. I will construe UMMC's Reply as a Motion for Sanctions and, because UMMC seeks a dispositive sanction as to one component of Plaintiff's claims, will address the request in the form of a Report and Recommendations to Judge Chuang. No. hearing is deemed necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the reasons stated below, I recommend that Judge Chuang preclude Ms. Marshall from presenting evidence relating to any mental health conditions at trial.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On September 19, 2017, Marshall filed suit against her former employer, UMMC, alleging disability discrimination, failure to accommodate, retaliation, and wrongful discharge, in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended 42 U.S.C. § 12101 et seq. (ADA), Maryland's Fair Employment Practices Act, Md. Ann. Code (1957, 2003 Repl. Vol.) Art. 49B §§ 7, 16, and Maryland's common law of wrongful discharge. ECF 1 ¶ 1. Marshall worked as a Senior Clinical Nurse I at UMMC from September 10, 2009, through her termination on April 12, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 5, 7, 10. According to Marshall, on July 8, 2014, she “sustained an on the job injury to her back while she was restraining a combative patient[, ] causing her to become physically impaired.” Id. ¶ 11. As a result of her injury, Marshall filed a worker's compensation claim, and also alleges that she developed: (1) depression due to the pain and suffering and subsequent lifestyle changes; and (2) psychiatric trauma stemming from UMMC's “harassment, increase [sic] manipulation, and retaliatory behavior . . . .” Id. ¶ 11.

         According to Marshall, after a “few weeks of absence, ” she returned to work in the Medical Intermediate Care Unit, subject to light duty work restrictions ordered by her doctor. Id. ¶ 12. The Unit's Nurse Manager, Ruth Borkoski, however, informed Marshall that “she did not had [sic] a continuous light duty position on the unit, ” and Marshall was transferred to the Bariatric Surgical Office in a non-nurse position. Id. Marshall alleges that after “complaining of unwelcoming behavior by one of her coworkers, ” she was then reassigned to the Liver Transplant Department (“LTD”). Id. Marshall alleges that UMMC subjected her to a hostile work environment upon returning to work, failed to properly train her for work in the LTD, and failed to accommodate her medical restrictions. Id. ¶ 13. For instance, Marshall alleges that, despite being aware that cold temperatures “interfered with [her] injuries, ” the LTD Manager moved Marshall's work station “where the air conditioner would blow directly on [her]” and “intentionally ignored [Marshall's] request to adjust the temperature. Id. ¶ 15. Moreover, Marshall contends that, in September 2015, her orthopedic surgeon prescribed her a standing desk, ergonomic chair, and a headphone set, but UMMC failed to provide said equipment for more than six months. Id. ¶ 16.

         Thereafter, on September 28, 2015, Marshall was transferred to a Case Management Department/Utilization Review position, where Marshall alleges she continued to be subjected to a hostile work environment. Id. ¶ 17. According to Marshall, on May 27, 2016, she was involuntarily placed on leave until January 13, 2017, when she was cleared to return to a Nurse Audit position, beginning on February 6, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 18-19. Prior to returning, however, Marshall contends that UMMC: (1) informed her that the Nurse Audit position was no longer available; (2) failed to identify any other positions that accommodated her medical restrictions; and (3) involuntarily terminated her on April 12, 2017. Id. ¶ 19. In addition to injunctive relief, reinstatement, economic losses resulting from unlawful termination, attorneys' fees and costs, and punitive damages, Marshall seeks damages as a result of “mental anguish” allegedly caused by UMMC, in the amount of $300, 000. Id. at 9-10.

         UMMC sought discovery regarding Marshall's medical history. On July 19, 2018, UMMC moved to compel Responses to its Requests for the Production of Documents, including all medical records from the date of Marshall's eighteenth birthday through the present. ECF 12. On August 6, 2018, this Court granted UMMC's motion to compel in part, ordering Marshall to produce medical records from every health care provider from whom she has sought medical treatment of any type, for the limited time period of July 8, 2009, to the present. ECF 19, 20. Marshall refused to sign the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) release forms for some of the compelled records, leaving UMMC unable to obtain certain mental health records it requested. ECF 32, 33, 37. As a result, on October 23, 2018, this Court ordered Marshall to show good cause why she had not signed the HIPAA release forms. ECF 34. The Show Cause Order stated that a “[f]ailure to show cause may result in a recommendation to the district judge to preclude Plaintiff from presenting certain categories of damages at trial.” Id. Marshall responded that the HIPAA releases “seek[] inadmissible evidence, private/privileged/confidential information involving another active Worker's Compensation court case with University of Maryland Medical Center, ” and that Marshall “is concerned with breach of protective and confidential order from the Defendants due to another consecutive court case with University of Maryland Medical Center (University of Maryland Medical System) and bad faith of history from Defendant's legal representatives.” ECF 35-1.

         On November 15, 2018, this Court noted Marshall's refusal to sign a HIPAA release for the mental health records, and warned Marshall that her continued refusal to authorize release would cause this Court to recommend to Judge Chuang that Marshall be precluded from presenting evidence relating to any mental health conditions at trial. ECF 38. While UMMC acknowledged that Marshall had requested some records from the medical provider in question, Marshall had “strictly limited her document request from August 2014 to May 2016.” ECF 41 ¶ 7; ECF 42. On November 27, 2018, Marshall maintained her position that she would not sign the HIPAA release forms “because she believes she produced all of her mental health records through counsel, ” and that she “believes she has substantially complied with [UMMC's] discovery requests.” ECF 40 ¶¶ 9-10. As a result, UMMC requests that this Court recommend to Judge Chuang that Marshall be precluded from presenting evidence relating to any mental health conditions at trial, in accordance with the intent stated in the October 23, 2018 Show Cause Order and the November 15, 2018 Letter to Counsel. ECF 41 ¶ 16.


         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(b)(2)(A), “[i]f a party . . . fails to obey an order to provide or permit discovery, including an order under Rule 26(f), 35, or 37(a), the court where the action is pending may issue further just orders.” The Court has broad discretion to select any of the sanctions listed in Federal Rule 37(b)(2)(A), including “prohibiting the disobedient party from supporting or opposing designated claims or defenses, or from introducing designated matters in evidence.” “Rule 37(b)(2) gives the court a broad discretion to make whatever disposition is just in the light of the facts of the particular case.” 8B Charles Alan Wright, et al., Federal Practice & Procedure § 2289 (3d ed. 2018).

         When determining which of the Rule 37 sanctions is appropriate, courts in the Fourth Circuit consider four factors: “(1) whether the non-complying party acted in bad faith, (2) the amount of prejudice that noncompliance caused the adversary, (3) the need for deterrence of the particular sort of non-compliance, and (4) whether less drastic sanctions would have been effective.” S. States Rack and Fixture, Inc. v. Sherwin-Williams, Co., 318 F.3d 592, 597 (4th Cir. 2003) (quoting Anderson v. Found. for Advancement, Educ. and Emp't of Am. Indians, 155 F.3d 500, 504 (4th Cir. 1998)) (internal quotation marks omitted). The presence or absence of any one of these factors is not dispositive. See Victor Stanley, Inc. v. Creative Pipe, Inc., 269 F.R.D. 497, 533 (D. Md. 2010).

         III. ANALYSIS

         UMMC asks this Court to preclude Marshall from offering evidence relating to any mental health conditions at trial, in accordance with this Court's October 23, 2018 Show Cause Order and November 15, 2018 Letter to Counsel. ECF 41 ¶ 16. UMMC maintains that it is “substantially prejudiced by Ms. Marshall's discovery failures, because it is left without information reasonably necessary to challenge Ms. Marshall's claim for damages related to alleged mental distress.” Id. ¶ 13. I agree.

         Precluding evidence typically requires some strong evidence of prejudice. Bethesda Softworks LLC v. Interplay Entm't Corp., No. DKC-09-2357, 2011 WL 1559308, at *6 (D. Md. Apr. 25, 2011). “Preclusion is a harsh sanction preserved for exceptional cases where . . . a party's failure to provide the requested discovery results in prejudice to the resulting party.” Passlogix, Inc. v. 2FA Tech., LLC, 708 F.Supp.2d 378, 421 (S.D.N.Y. 2010). Here, UMMC will undoubtedly face prejudice as a result of Marshall's non-compliance with this Court's discovery Order. UMMC cannot fully defend against ...

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