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Board of Trustees of Washington Meat Industry Pension Trust v. Hammond Food

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

May 15, 2014

BOARD OF TRUSTEES OF WASHINGTON MEAT INDUSTRY PENSION TRUST, Plaintiff,
v.
HAMMOND FOOD, et al., Defendants.

ORDER GRANTING DEFAULT JUDGMENT

JAMES L. ROBART, District Judge.

I. INTRODUCTION

This matter comes before the court on Plaintiff Board of Trustees of the Washington Meat Industry Pension Trust's ("Board") motion for default judgment and summary judgment against Defendant Hammer's Outdoor World, LLC ("Hammer's"). ( See Mot. (Dkt. 18).) Hammer's has not responded to the motion. ( See generally Dkt.) Having reviewed the Board's motion, all submissions filed in support thereof, the balance of the record, and the applicable law, the court GRANTS Plaintiff's motion for default judgment.[1]

II. BACKGROUND

The Board brought suit against Hammer's and Hammond Food, Inc. ("Hammond Food") for withdrawal liability under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 ("ERISA"). ( See generally Compl. (Dkt. # 1).) The Board alleged that Hammer's and Hammond Food are jointly and severally liable because they share common ownership and are in the same controlled group entity. ( Id. ¶ 5.)

Hammond Food failed to appear or file a responsive pleading. ( See generally Dkt.) Accordingly, the court granted default judgment against Hammond. ( See 6/17/13 Order (Dkt. # 10).)

Hammer's filed an answer to the complaint. ( See Ans. (Dkt. # 11).) The Board served Hammer's with requests for production on August 5, 2013. ( See Dwarzski Decl. (Dkt. # 20) ¶ 2.) Hammer's failed to respond to the Board's discovery requests for seven months. ( See id. ¶¶ 3-10.) In February, the court granted the Board's unopposed motion to compel a response to these requests. ( See 2/14/14 Order (Dkt. # 17).) The court also awarded the Board its attorney's fees as a sanction. ( Id. at 2.)

Hammer's, however, still has not responded to the Board's discovery requests. ( See Dwarzski Decl. ¶ 10.) The Board now brings this motion for default judgment or, in the alternative, summary judgment. ( See Mot.) Hammer's has not responded to the motion. ( See generally Dkt.)

III. DEFAULT JUDGMENT

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(b)(2), a court may exercise its discretion to impose sanctions on a party for failure to "to obey an order to provide or permit discovery, " including "prohibiting the disobedient party from supporting or opposing designated claims or defenses... striking pleadings in whole or in part... [or] rendering a default judgment against the disobedient party." Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A)(ii), (iii), (vi). Default judgment is available as a sanction in appropriate cases "not merely to penalize those whose conduct may be deemed to warrant such a sanction, but to deter those who might be tempted to such conduct in the absence of such a deterrent." Nat'l Hockey League v. Metro. Hockey Club, Inc., 427 U.S. 639, 643 (1976) (per curiam).[2]

To justify case-dispositive sanctions under Rule 37(b)(2), the court must find that the discovery violations were due to "willfulness, bad faith, or fault of the party." See Commodity Futures Trading Comm'n v. Noble Metals Int'l, Inc., 67 F.3d 766, 770-71 (9th Cir. 1995) (citations and internal quotations omitted). Disobedient conduct not outside the control of the litigant is all that is required to demonstrate willfulness, bad faith or fault. Henry v. Gill Indus., Inc., 983 F.2d 943, 948-49 (9th Cir. 1993).

In exercising their discretion under Rule 37, courts consider five factors to determine whether case-dispositive sanctions are appropriate: "(1) the public's interest in expeditious resolution of litigation; (2) the court's need to manage its dockets; (3) the risk of prejudice to the party seeking sanctions; (4) the public policy favoring disposition of cases on their merits; and (5) the availability of less drastic sanctions." Conn. Gen. Life Ins. v. New Images of Beverly Hills, 482 F.3d 1091, 1096 (9th Cir. 2007). This five-part "test" is not mechanical; rather, it provides "the district court with a way to think about what to do, not... a script that the district court must follow." Id. at 1096.

The court has little difficulty finding that Hammer's failure to comply with the court's discovery order was willful or consisted of disobedient conduct not outside the control of Hammer's. There is no indication that Hammer's was unaware of the discovery order: the order was posted on the docket, and, in addition, the Board's counsel sent Hammer's counsel a letter attaching the order. ( See Dwarzski Letter (Dkt. # 20-4).) In response, Hammer's counsel represented that Hammer's intended to comply with the requests. (Bailey Email (Dkt. # 20-5).) Although the order required Hammer's to respond to the requests within one week ( see 2/14/14 Order), over three months have passed, and Hammer's has shown no indication that it intends to comply. Moreover, Hammer's has not provided any explanation or reason why it failed to comply with the discovery requests. Therefore, the court concludes that Hammer's failure to comply with the court's discovery order is willful.

Having found willfulness, the court next considers the five factors regarding whether the imposition of ...


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