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Sistrunk v. Dake Corporation

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

February 2, 2015



KAREN WELLS ROBY, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is Defendants, Dake Corporation's and JSJ Corporation's (collectively "Defendants") Motion for Discovery Sanctions (R. Docs. 53) seeking a court order dismissing this action with prejudice pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(b)(2). The motion is opposed. See R. Doc. 62. The motion was heard for oral argument on Wednesday, January 14, 2015.

I. Background

Plaintiffs James and Susan Sistrunk (collectively "Plaintiffs") sued the Defendants for the serious injuries Mr. Sistrunk suffered on January 23, 2012 while operating a 150 ton hydraulic press in the course of his employment with Pellerin Milnor. During the incident, Plaintiffs allege that Mr. Sistrunk was attempting to push a shaft through the housing of a hydraulic press when part of the shaft broke loose during the operation hitting him in the head, resulting in serious injuries to his head, neck, back, shoulders, as well as shock and injury to his psyche. See R. Doc. 1-1. On January 15, 2013, the Plaintiffs initiated this action against the Defendants, who are the manufacturer and designers of the hydraulic press that injured Mr. Sistrunk. Id. Plaintiffs allege defective design, manufacturer defect, and failure to warn. Id.

In the instant motion, Defendants seek sanctions dismissing the matter with prejudice because the Plaintiffs allegedly committed perjury. Defendants argue that in Mr. Sistrunk's written discovery and in Mr. Sistrunk's and Mrs. Sistrunk's depositions, they denied that certain medical conditions predated the accident and asserted that the accident caused Mr. Sistrunk's conditions. Defendants argue that contrary to the Plaintiffs' testimonies, Mr. Sistrunk was extensively treated for spinal injuries and sexual dysfunction[1] before the accident and that their statements during discovery were perjury. Thus, Defendants now seek Rule 37 sanctions that dismiss this case with prejudice.

II. Standard of Review

A federal court has the power to sanction a party who has abused the judicial process. The Court's power to sanction derives from two primary sources: (1) the Court's inherent authority and (2) Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 37. Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 44, 46, 50-51 (1991); Natural Gas Pipeline Co. of Am. v. Energy Gathering, Inc., 86 F.3d 464, 467 (5th Cir. 1996).

Rule 37 permits the trial court to issue any "just" orders when a party fails to comply with a prior discovery order. Such Orders can include:

(i) directing that the matters embraced in the order or other designated facts be taken as established for purposes of the action, as the prevailing party claims;
(ii) prohibiting the disobedient party from supporting or opposing designated claims or defenses, or from introducing designated matters in evidence;
(iii) striking pleadings in whole or in part;
(iv) staying further proceedings until the order is obeyed;
(v) dismissing the action or proceeding in whole or in part;
(vi) rendering a default judgment against the disobedient party; or
(vii) treating as contempt of court the failure to obey any order except an order

Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2)(A).

Furthermore, "[i]nstead of or in addition to the orders above, the court must order the disobedient party, the attorney advising that party, or both to pay the reasonable attorney's fees, caused by the failure, unless the failure was substantially justified or other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust." Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(C).

In considering the appropriate sanctions, "[t]he reviewing court may also consider whether the discovery violation prejudiced the opposing party's preparation for trial, and whether the client was blameless in the violation." United States v. $49, 000 Currency, 330 F.3d 371, 376 (5th Cir. 2003); International Transport Workers Federation v. Mi-Das Line SA, No. 13-454, 2013 WL 1403329, at *8 (E.D. La. Apr. 4, 2013). Additionally, the Fifth Circuit requires the imposition of "the least onerous sanction which will address the offensive conduct." Gonzalez v. Trinity Marine Grp., Inc., 117 F.3d 894, 899 (5th Cir. 1997).

A sanction that dismisses a case with prejudice "is an extreme sanction that deprives a litigant of the opportunity to pursue his claim."" Brown v. Oil States Skagit Smatco, 664 F.3d 71, 77 (5th Cir. 2011) (quoting Woodson v. Surgitek, Inc., 57 F.3d 1406, 1418 (5th Cir.1995)). The sanction of dismissal is only appropriate when "(1) there is a clear record of delay or contumacious conduct by the plaintiff, ' and (2) lesser sanctions would not serve the best interests of justice.'" Id. (quoting Sturgeon v. Airborne Freight Corp., 778 F.2d 1154, 1159 (5th Cir. 1985)). Furthermore, "dismissal with prejudice [is] a more appropriate sanction when the objectionable conduct is that of the client, and not the attorney." Id. (citing Brinkmann v. Dallas Cnty. Deputy Sheriff Abner, 813 F.2d 744, 749 (5th Cir. 1987)).

III. Analysis

A. The Alleged Perjury

Defendants argue that the Plaintiffs denied the pre-existence of Mr. Sistrunk's spinal injury and sexual dysfunction. See R. Doc. 53, at 2. Defendants specifically allege that the Plaintiffs committed perjury in Mr. Sistrunk's answers to interrogatories, Mr. Sistrunk's deposition, and Mrs. Sistrunk's deposition. Defendants contend that Mrs. Sistrunk was in concert with her husband to increase recoverable damages, which is why she testified that the two allegedly preexisting conditions did not exist prior to the accident. See R. Doc. 53-3, ...

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