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Sixth Circuit Upholds Bench-Slapping Dismissal for Discovery Delays

By William Peacock, Esq. on January 04, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

"To recite the facts of this case is nearly to decide it."

Rarely does the first sentence of an opinion so glaringly declare a state of hopelessness for the appellant party. But in this case, the first sentence was just the beginning.

Universal Health Group demanded payment from Allstate Insurance Company for services allegedly rendered to 36 insured persons. Allstate maintained that the services were never rendered, denied payments to Universal, and in exchange, received a summons and complaint.

Of course, with lawsuits come discovery requests. In November 2009, Allstate demanded proof that the services were actually rendered. Months later, Allstate filed a motion to compel. That motion was granted in May 2010 and "full and complete responses" to Allstate's requests were demanded by June 7, 2010.

Instead, Universal requested an extension, which was agreed to by Allstate and and granted by the magistrate judge. Still nothing though, and on July 12, they asked for another extension, which was granted over Allstate's objection.

On October 6, 2010, the newest deadline, Universal finally responded - with half-baked answers. Allstate asked for a dismissal of the lawsuit as a Rule 37 sanction. Instead, other sanctions were ordered on May 3, 2011 which limited Universal to the use of those same half-baked documents at trial. The judge also granted Allstate 45 days for depositions.

More delays and non-responses ensued, Universal refused to produce witnesses for depositions, and when the judge called counsel to court, Universal's attorney stated that he thought there had been another extension "by sort of unspoken consent[.]"

The magistrate and district court judges kicked the case. Universal appealed.

Four factors are used to review a district court's dismissal as a sanction:

  1. Whether the party's failures were due to willfulness, bad faith, or fault;
  2. Whether the adversary was prejudiced by the conduct;
  3. Whether the dismissed party was warned that dismissal could be coming; and
  4. Whether less drastic measures were taken first.

This is basic black letter law and, as you've probably guessed, all four factors were met here. Universal's conduct was so ridiculous that the court found that it had to be willful, prejudice is obvious when one gets discovery delayed for years and then gets incomplete responses, and Universal knew that dismissal was coming as such an extreme measure had already been denied once when less drastic measures were taken.

As the court said, the facts alone decide the case.

On the bright side, the court did introduce us to a new phrase: contumacious conduct. Try using that at the next bar association mixer.

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