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Kuberski v. Allied Recreation Group, Inc.

United States District Court, N.D. Indiana, Fort Wayne Division

May 29, 2019




         This matter is before the Court on Plaintiff Joseph Kuberski's Objections to the August 3, 2017, Magistrate Judge's Opinion and Order [ECF No. 62]. The Objection challenges Magistrate Judge Susan L. Collins's Opinion and Order granting in part and denying in part Defendant Allied Recreational Group, Inc.'s, Motion for Sanctions Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(d).

         The Magistrate Judge's Order [ECF No. 61] awarded Defendant $8, 247.00 in attorney fees and travel expenses for Plaintiff's failure to attend his December 1, 2016, deposition, but denied all other requested relief. The fees were to be paid by Plaintiff's counsel. Plaintiff contends that this was clearly erroneous and that the Court should set aside, or in the alternative, modify the Magistrate Judge's Order. Defendant has filed a response to the objections [ECF No. 64], and Plaintiff has filed a reply [ECF No. 65].

         For the reasons stated in this Opinion and Order, the Court overrules Plaintiff's Objections.


         Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a), a party may serve and file objections to a magistrate judge's order pertaining to a non-dispositive pretrial matter within 14 days after being served with a copy of the order. Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). “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.” Id.; see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) (providing for reconsideration by district court judge of any pretrial matter designated to a magistrate “where it has been shown that the magistrate judge's order is clearly erroneous or contrary to law”).

         Rule 72(a) grants magistrate judges great latitude in resolving non-dispositive matters, like the one at issue here. “The clear error standard means that the district court can overturn the magistrate judge's ruling only if the district court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made.” Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Indus. Co., 126 F.3d 926, 943 (7th Cir. 1997); see also Pinkston v. Madry, 440 F.3d 879, 888 (7th Cir. 2006) (referring to the clear error standard as “extremely deferential”).

         “Under the ‘contrary to law' standard, the district court conducts a plenary review of the magistrate judge's purely legal determinations, setting aside the magistrate judge's order only if it applied an incorrect legal standard, ” Jensen v. Solvay Chems., Inc., 520 F.Supp.2d 1349, 1351 (D. Wyo. 2007), or if it “misapplie[d] relevant statutes, case law, or rules of procedure, ” DeFazio v. Wallis, 459 F.Supp.2d 159, 163 (E.D.N.Y. 2006) (quoting Catskill Dev., L.L.C. v. Park Place Entm't Corp., 206 F.R.D. 78, 86 (S.D.N.Y. 2002)).

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(d) authorizes a court to impose sanctions on a party who fails to appear at his own deposition after being served with proper notice. In such a case, the spectrum of permissible sanctions ranges from the imposition of attorney fees and expenses to the dismissal of the party's case. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2), (d)(3). The type of sanction imposed must be proportionate to the objectionable conduct. Sherrod v. Lingle, 223 F.3d 605, 612-13 (7th Cir. 2000).


         A. Background and Order for Sanctions

          Plaintiff sued Defendant for breach of warranty, alleging that the recreational vehicle (RV) he purchased from Defendant's dealer was defective, and that Defendant failed to reasonably repair the defects. During discovery, Defendant scheduled the deposition of Plaintiff to take place in St. George, Utah, on December 1, 2016. Plaintiff did not appear for the deposition. Defendant also arranged to inspect the subject RV, which was parked in North Carolina. However, when Defendant's corporate representative, counsel, and expert arrived in North Carolina on August 22, 2016, they were unable to drive the RV because Plaintiff had allowed the RV's license plates and registration to expire.

         Defendant sought sanctions against Plaintiff for failing to appear for his December 1, 2016, deposition, and for failing to produce the subject RV for a meaningful inspection on August 22, 2016. Defendant sought its reasonable attorney fees and travel expenses in relation to the two events, plus its attorney fees in preparing the motion for sanctions.

         The Magistrate Judge's August 3, 2017, Opinion and Order granted the imposition of sanctions for Plaintiff's failure to appear at the December 1, 2016, deposition because his non-appearance was not substantially justified and no other circumstances made an award ...

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