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Steel v. ARI Mutual Insurance Co.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

June 26, 2015

JUANITA STEEL
v.
ARI MUTUAL INSURANCE COMPANY, ET AL., SECTION:

ORDER

KAREN WELLS ROBY, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is a Motion for Contempt (R. Docs. 29) filed by the Plaintiff, Juanita Steel, against the Defendants, ARI Mutual Insurance Company ("ARI"), Wecontinue Auto Transport, LLC ("Wecontinue"), and Roberto Arroyo. In the instant motion the Plaintiff seeks a court order striking the Defendants' affirmative defense of comparative fault and third party fault, as well as an order striking Roberto Arroyo frofcm the Defendants' witness list pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37. The motion is opposed. See R. Doc. 37. The motion was heard for oral argument on Wednesday, May 27, 2015.

I. Background

This action arises out of a three car collision on July 24, 2013 involving the Plaintiff and Robery Arroyo, Jr., who was driving a Wecontinue vehicle and was allegedly acting within the scope of his employment for Wecontinue at the time of the collision. See R. Doc. 1-2, at 4. Plaintiff alleges that she was stopped in her vehicle waiting to enter the impound lot on the property of Insurance Auto Auction when the 18-wheeler truck, driven by Arroyo, collided into the back of her car and pushed her car into the car in front of her. Id. Plaintiff alleges that the impact caused her to be thrown about the car resulting in her suffering multiple personal, psychological and emotional injuries. Id.

On September 11, 2013, the Plaintiff filed this action against the Defendants in the Civil District Court for the Parish of Orleans alleging negligence and gross negligence. On January 3, 2014 the action was subsequently removed to this Court on diversity grounds.

In the instant motion, the Plaintiff seeks sanctions for the Defendants' failure to honor the terms of the Consent Judgment entered into the record on March 30, 2015 (R. Doc. 25)[1] by failing to produce Arroyo and a Wecontinue corporate representative for depositions. See R. Doc. 29. Plaintiff represents that months before the parties agreed to the Consent Judgment, they participated in a pre-trial conference with the District Judge-which occurred on December 18, 2014- and during the pre-trial conference counsel for the Plaintiff made an issue of the fact that Arroyo was listed as a will call witness but had not been made available for deposition. See R. Doc. 28-2, at 1. Plaintiff represents that the District Judge instructed defense counsel to make Arroyo available for deposition within the next ten days, however, the deposition never occurred due to the parties' mutual agreement to continue the trial to July 27, 2015. See id.

Plaintiff contends that after the trial was continued, she was forced to file a Motion to Compel (R. Doc. 22) due to the Defendants' failure to produce Arroyo and Wecontinue for depositions. See R. Doc. 29-1, at 2. Plaintiff represents that the Defendants filed no opposition to the Motion to Compel and agreed to produce the deponents pursuant to the terms of the Consent Judgment, which was filed by the parties on March 30, 2015. Id. Plaintiff contends that despite the entry of the Consent Judgment, no apparent efforts were made by defense counsel to make the deponents available on the agreed upon date of May 6, 2015 in Newark, New Jersey. Id. at 3. Plaintiff now seeks the entry of an order striking the Defendants' affirmative defenses of comparative fault and third-party fault and striking Arroyo from the Defendants' witness list. Id. at 4.

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 ...

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