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Westbrook v. Bridges Community Services

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

July 10, 2018




         This matter is before the Court on pro se Plaintiff Curtis L. Westbrook's (“Westbrook”) Objection to this Court's Order Denying Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgment, filed pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72, (Filing No. 48), and Westbrook's Motion for Interlocutory Appeal, filed pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1292(b) (Filing No. 49). Westbrook seeks reversal of the Magistrate Judge's November 29, 2017 Order, which denied Westbrook's Motion for Default Judgment as a discovery sanction (Filing No. 44). He seeks reversal by the District Judge through his Rule 72 Objection or, alternatively by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, through his Motion for Interlocutory Appeal. For the reasons set forth below, the Court overrules the Objection and denies the Motion for Interlocutory Appeal.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On October 26, 2016, Westbrook filed his Complaint against Defendant Bridges Community Services (“Bridges”), asserting claims of employment discrimination (Filing No. 1). By its May 15, 2017 Order, the Court set deadlines for initial disclosures, (Filing No. 18), and subsequently, extensions of time were granted to September 29, 2017, for the parties to serve their initial disclosures (Filing No. 29; Filing No. 36). Bridges failed to timely serve its initial disclosures on Westbrook.

         On October 12, 2017, without first meeting and conferring with Bridges' counsel, Westbrook filed a Motion for Default Judgment because Bridges had failed to serve its initial disclosures (Filing No. 37). Bridges received notice of the Motion on October 13, 2017, and filed a response, opposing the motion for default judgment (Filing No. 39). Bridges explained that it inadvertently overlooked serving its initial disclosures by the September deadline, and when counsel realized his oversight, he promptly mailed the initial disclosures to Westbrook on October 11, 2017, the day before Westbrook's Motion for Default Judgment was filed (Filing No. 39 at 1- 2). Bridges' counsel also pointed out that Westbrook had never contacted him about discovery issues prior to filing the Motion for Default Judgment. Id. at 2.

         On November 29, 2017, the Magistrate Judge denied Westbrook's Motion for Default Judgment (Filing No. 44). In the Order denying default judgment, the Magistrate Judge explained, “Default is an extreme sanction and would be wholly disproportionate to Bridges's offense of belatedly serving its initial disclosures. Default is not warranted. See, e.g., Maynard v. Nygren, 372 F.3d 890, 893 (7th Cir. 2004) (the guiding principle for sanctions is that they must be proportionate to the offense).” Id. at 1-2. Unhappy with the Magistrate Judge's Order denying default judgment, Westbrook filed a Rule 72 Objection and a Motion for Interlocutory Appeal on December 6, 2017, requesting reversal of the Magistrate Judge's Order (Filing No. 48; Filing No. 49).


         A district court may refer for decision a non-dispositive pretrial motion to a magistrate judge under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a). Rule 72(a) provides:

When a pretrial matter not dispositive of a party's claim or defense is referred to a magistrate judge to hear and decide, the magistrate judge must promptly conduct the required proceedings and, when appropriate, issue a written order stating the decision. A party may serve and file objections to the order within 14 days after being served with a copy. A party may not assign as error a defect in the order not timely objected to. The district judge in the case must consider timely objections and modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.

         After reviewing objections to a magistrate judge's order, the district court will modify or set aside the order only if it is clearly erroneous or contrary to law. The clear error standard is highly differential, permitting reversal only when the district court “is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Indus. Co., Ltd., 126 F.3d 926, 943 (7th Cir. 1997). “An order is contrary to law when it fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law, or rules of procedure.” Coley v. Landrum, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 13377, at *3 (S.D. Ind. Feb. 4, 2016) (citation and quotation marks omitted).

         The legal standard for certifying an order for interlocutory appeal is set out in statute:

When a district judge, in making in a civil action an order not otherwise appealable under this section, shall be of the opinion that such order involves a controlling question of law as to which there is substantial ground for difference of opinion and that an immediate appeal from the order may materially advance the ultimate termination of the litigation, he shall so state in writing in such order.

28 U.S.C. § 1292(b).

There are four statutory criteria for the grant of a section 1292(b) petition to guide the district court: there must be a question of law, it must be controlling, it must be contestable, and its resolution must promise to speed up the litigation. There is also a nonstatutory requirement: the petition must be filed in the ...

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