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Dufrene v. American Tugs, Inc.

United States District Court, E.D. Louisiana

January 31, 2019


         SECTION: "S" (3)



         IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that the Motion for Appeal/Review of Magistrate's Judge's Order (Rec. Doc. 69) is DENIED, and the Order of the Magistrate Judge (Rec. Doc. 65) is AFFIRMED.


         This matter arises out of the death of plaintiff's husband, Carey Dufrene, aboard the M/V AMAZING GRACE, an inland river towing vessel operated by American Tugs.[1] Defendant, American Tugs, Inc., appeals the magistrate judge's order awarding a sanction of attorneys' fees to plaintiff's counsel, following her successful second Motion to Compel.

         The record reflects that plaintiff served her first set of Requests for Production of Documents on defendant on June 19, 2018. Defendant provided responses to this request on July 31, 2018, and supplemental responses on August 7, 2018 and August 20, 2018. Plaintiff's counsel deemed the responses incomplete, and made several attempts to obtain complete responses. On August 9, 2018, plaintiff filed her first Motion to Compel (Rec. Doc. 18) regarding several of defendant's responses to the first round of discovery requests, for which responses were either incomplete or for which defendant had withheld responsive information and documents.

         Plaintiff served second and third sets of Requests for Production of Documents upon defendant on July 18, 2018 and September 6, 2018. As of September 6, defendant had failed to supplement discovery requests included in plaintiff's first set of discovery, which had not been included in the initial Motion to Compel. Defendant provided responses to the second and third sets of discovery on September 28, 2018, which were also deficient. Beginning September 6, 2018, plaintiff's counsel made numerous attempts to obtain supplemental discovery responses, including a letter dated September 6, 2018, emails dated September 25 and September 28, 2018, an October 1, 2018 telephone conversation (in which she extended defense counsel more time to respond), and an email on October 15, 2018. These attempts were fruitless. Accordingly, on November 15, 2018, plaintiff filed her second Motion to Compel Defendant to Respond to Discovery and for Sanctions. Rec. Doc. 51.

         Two weeks later, on November 27, 2018, defendant finally produced supplemental responses to plaintiff's first, second, and third sets of discovery. One of the discovery responses was still incomplete.

         On December 10, 2018, former U.S. Magistrate Judge Knowles granted in part plaintiff's first Motion to Compel. Rec. Doc. 62. Plaintiff did not seek an award of sanctions in connection with that motion.

         On December 18, 2018 the magistrate judge granted in part plaintiff's second Motion to Compel and for Sanctions, and ordered defendant to provide discovery which was still outstanding, within seven days from the order. The magistrate judge specifically noted that plaintiff's counsel had attempted to obtain discovery from defendant before involving the court, that defendant provided plaintiff with the majority of the requested documents only after plaintiff filed her second Motion to Compel, that there was no evidence that defendant's failure to provide supplemental discovery responses was substantially justified, and that there was no evidence that an award of sanctions against defendant would be unjust in this circumstance. Rec. Doc. 65.


         A. Standard of Review

         “The Federal Magistrates Act grants district courts authority to assign magistrates certain described functions as well as such additional duties as are not inconsistent with the Constitution and laws of the United States.” Peretz v. United States, 501 U.S. 923 (1991) (internal quotation and footnote citation omitted). Pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A), a district judge may designate a magistrate judge to hear any pretrial matter pending before the court, with a few exceptions. The district judge reviews the magistrate judge's orders on non-dispositive pretrial matters assigned under subparagraph A on a clearly erroneous or contrary to law standard. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); see Perales v. Sasilla, 950 F.2d 1066, 1070 (5th Cir.1992). This highly deferential standard requires the court to affirm the decision of the magistrate judge unless “on the entire evidence [the court] is left with a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948).

         B. Rule 37 of the Federal ...

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