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Young v. Furniture Discounters Inc.

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

January 7, 2020

PHILIMINGO LAMONT YOUNG, Plaintiff,
v.
FURNITURE DISCOUNTERS, INC., Defendant.

          ORDER DENYING PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO SET ASIDE/VACATE JUDGMENT [DKT. 44]

          SARAH EVANS BARKER, JUDGE

         On May 6, 2019, this Court adopted Magistrate Judge Baker's Report and Recommendation, [Dkt. 41], on Defendant's Motion for Sanctions, [Dkt. 26.] Plaintiff was ordered to reimburse Defendant for attorney fees and to supplement his responses to interrogatories and requests for production. [Dkt. 42]. This cause is now before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Set Aside/Vacate Judgment, [Dkt. 44], in which Plaintiff seeks to vacate the sanctions against him

         For the reasons set forth herein, Plaintiff's motion is denied.

         Discussion

         Plaintiff pro se initiated this civil rights action on January 19, 2018, alleging that his employer, Furniture Discounters, Inc., had discriminated against him on the basis of his race. [Dkt. 1]. On January 29, 2019, Defendant filed its First Motion for Sanctions (or in the Alternative to Compel Production). [Dkt. 26.] Defendant argued that Plaintiff was untimely in his litigation and discovery duties. For example, Plaintiff had not provided his initial disclosures nor filed his preliminary witness and exhibit lists in the timeframe contemplated by the Case Management Plan. Defendant also argued that Plaintiff's responses to Defendant's interrogatories and requests for production were “severely lacking” because he had failed to identify if there were any relevant documents that had once been in his possession but no longer were; provide copies of all exhibits he intended to produce as trial; produce communications between Plaintiff and Defendant's representatives; and more [Dkt. 27].

         Additionally, Plaintiff was evasive in his deposition on December 29, 2018, which was also the final day for fact discovery. At his deposition, Plaintiff proclaimed he had “a thousand” emails between himself and representatives of Defendant that had been withheld despite specific discovery-based interrogatories aimed at eliciting such information. Plaintiff also stated that he had failed to provide relevant evidence to the Indiana Civil Rights Commission. However, Plaintiff refused to identify or discuss the details of this information. Plaintiff then stated that he had also withheld this same information in the present case. Again, he refused to discuss what the information entailed and began to grow hostile, informing defense counsel that he was “about finished” and counsel would “be asking questions to an empty chair.” When questioned if he had intentionally concealed the information, Plaintiff attempted to explain that he “just came across it.”

         Upon further questioning, Plaintiff declared he “was done.” Defense counsel informed Plaintiff that Defendant would seek sanctions for attorney fees if he terminated the deposition before the completion of questions, to which Plaintiff replied, “Have a good day.” Following the deposition, Plaintiff (untimely) produced twenty-four pages of documents.

         Plaintiff's noncompliance prompted Defendant to file its Motion for Sanctions on January 29, 2019, in which it requested that Plaintiff's complaint be dismissed. In the alternative, Defendant sought an order requiring Plaintiff to fully respond to its discovery requests, to sit for a deposition after the documents had been produced, and pay for Defendant's fees incurred in preparing for the deposition and filing the Motion for Sanctions.

         On April 15, 2019, following a hearing on Defendant's Motion for Sanctions in which Plaintiff failed to appear, Magistrate Judge Baker issued his Report and Recommendation on Defendant's motion. [Dkt. 41]. Magistrate Judge Baker found that Plaintiff had either failed to file/serve items required by the Case Management Plan or filed/served them late, and had provided incomplete responses to Defendant' requests for production and interrogatories. “Most troubling, ” said Magistrate Judge Baker, was Plaintiff's unilateral termination of his deposition.

         Magistrate Judge Baker concluded it “would be within the Court's discretion to dismiss the action, ” but, because Plaintiff is proceeding pro se and had not wholly ignored his discovery obligations, lesser sanctions would be the more appropriate remedy. Accordingly, he recommended that the Court order Plaintiff to reimburse Defendant its costs ($2250) incurred as a result of Plaintiff's misconduct. He also recommended ordering Plaintiff to supplement his inadequate responses to Defendant's discovery requests; specifically, interrogatory nos. 3 and 13, and requests for production nos. 2 and 6. Judge Baker recommended that the matter be dismissed should Plaintiff fail to comply with these terms.

         The parties were afforded due opportunity pursuant to statute and the rules of this Court to file objections to Magistrate Judge Baker's Report and Recommendation; none were filed. On May 6, 2019, having carefully considered Magistrate Judge Baker's findings and recommendations, we adopted his Report and Recommendation. Plaintiff was ordered to reimburse Defendant $2250 and supplement his responses to Defendant's interrogatories and requests for production within 30 days. We warned Plaintiff that his failure to comply with the terms of the Order would result in his case being dismissed with prejudice. Still, Plaintiff failed to comply, and, on June 11, 2019, Defendant filed its Notice of Non-Compliance. Defendant stated that the 30-day timeframe had expired, but that Plaintiff had not reimbursed Defendant or supplemented the discovery responses. [Dkt. 43]. Accordingly, Defendant sought dismissal of this action.

         The next day, June 12, 2019, Plaintiff filed his Motion to Set Aside/Vacate Judgment. [Dkt. 42]. Plaintiff states that he moved in January 2019 following a separation with his spouse, resulting in a delay of his receipt of Defendant's Motion for Sanctions that prevented him from timely objecting. Plaintiff also argues that Defendant improperly moved for sanctions without making reasonable efforts to resolve the issues with Plaintiff, per our local rule 7.1(g)(1). Plaintiff claims that Defendant did not contact him to reschedule the deposition, and that he had no indication that his discovery responses were lacking until Magistrate Judge Baker's Report and Recommendation. Finally, Plaintiff reminds the Court he is proceeding in forma pauperis and asserts that he does not have the means to reimburse Plaintiff.[1]

         However, as argued by Defendant, the record does not reflect Plaintiff's rendition of the litigation, and importantly, the record does not support his contention that he was not afforded an ample opportunity to object to Defendant's Motion for Sanctions. Defendant's motion was filed on January 29, 2019. The parties, including Plaintiff, attended a telephonic settlement conference on February 1, 2019, where the motion, and specifically Plaintiff's alleged failure to produce his discovery and complete his deposition, was discussed. In the conference, Plaintiff was advised that he was to respond to the Motion for Sanctions by February 15, 2019, should he wish to object to the allegations therein. The deadline came and went without a response from Plaintiff until February 19, 2019, when he requested a seven-day extension. [Dkt. 34]. Magistrate Judge Baker granted the request and then some, providing Plaintiff an additional twenty-one days to respond. [Dkt. 38]. Still, no response was filed.

         The record before us clearly undermines Plaintiff's assertion that he was unaware of the grounds for Defendant's Motion for Sanctions as well as his argument that he was not afforded an ample opportunity to respond. As Magistrate Judge Baker stated in his Report and Recommendation, while Plaintiff was not obligated to object to the Motion for Sanctions, his failure to respond or appear at the hearing on the motion ...


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