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Gebrehawariat v. Seattle City Light

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

July 26, 2019

BETHEAL HABTE GEBREHAWARIAT, Plaintiff,
v.
SEATTLE CITY LIGHT, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING DEFENDANT SEATTLE CITY LIGHT'S MOTION FOR SANCTIONS AND DISMISSING CASE

          RICARDO S. MARTINEZ, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         This matter is before the Court on Defendant Seattle City Light's Motion for Sanctions. Dkt. #40. Due to Plaintiff's repeated failures to provide responses to interrogatories and requests for production, Defendant City Light (“City Light”) brought a motion to compel responses. Dkt. #36. This Court granted the motion and ordered Plaintiff to respond. Dkt. #39. Plaintiff did not comply with the Court's order and City Light now asks the Court to dismiss Plaintiff's action as a sanction for his failure to respond. Dkt. #40. Plaintiff does not oppose the request. For the following reasons, the Court grants City Light's Motion for Sanctions and dismisses the case.

         II. BACKGROUND

         This case has not significantly advanced since it was first removed to this Court on January 26, 2018. Instead, it has limped and stumbled toward the mirage of an ever-shifting trial date. Plaintiff's has been represented by two different attorneys, with each ultimately seeking to withdraw to avoid violation of the Rules of Professional Conduct. Dkts. #13 and #33. Other than joint submissions and motions to withdraw, Plaintiff has not filed any motion with this Court. Since April 18, 2019, when Plaintiff last went pro se, he has not filed anything with the Court including a response to City Light's Motion to Compel Discovery and Extend Deadlines (Dkt. #36) or this Motion for Sanctions (Dkt. #40). In short, Plaintiff has given this Court no indication that he intends to pursue this matter.

         For its part, City Light has had some continued interactions with Plaintiff but has not fared much better. City Light served a first set of interrogatories and requests for production on Plaintiff on, or about, May 16, 2018. Dkt. #41 at 5-18. Despite Plaintiff being represented for some portion of that time, City Light has never received responses to any of its discovery requests. See Dkt. #37. Facing approaching discovery deadlines, City Light sought to compel Plaintiff's compliance with its discovery requests. Dkt. #36. As noted, Plaintiff did not oppose the motion and the Court required Plaintiff to “serve on Defendants, by no later than May 31, 2019, his complete responses to Defendant City Light's First Interrogatories and Requests for Production” and to “appear for a videotaped deposition on June 7, 2019.” Dkt. #39 at 5 (emphasis omitted). Plaintiff was specifically warned that failure to respond to the discovery requests “may result in sanctions, including dismissal of his case.” Id. (emphasis omitted).

         City Light indicates that on May 30, 2019, Plaintiff requested another extension of time to comply with the Court's order, a request that City Light denied. Dkt. #41 at ¶¶ 4-8. Plaintiff did not provide any responses by May 31, 2019. Id. at ¶ 7. Plaintiff did appear for his deposition on June 7, 2019 but did not provide any documents other than a “two-page document listing names of other engineers that he said the union had provided him” earlier that day. Id. at ¶ 8. Throughout his deposition, Plaintiff “testified repeatedly that he could not answer questions without reviewing documents” in his possession but which he has never provided to City Light. Id.; see also Dkt. #41 at 28-52.

         III. DISCUSSION

         A. Legal Standards

         The scope of discovery under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is broad. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).[1] Parties are required to respond to both interrogatories and requests to produce documents within 30 days of being served with the requests. Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(2) (“responding party must serve its answers and any objections within 30 days after being served with the interrogatories”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 34 (b)(2)(A) (responding party must “respond in writing within 30 days after being served”). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure also provide for sanctions for failing to comply with a court order and for failing to respond to interrogatories or document requests. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2), (d)(3). Under Rule 37, the court have broad discretion in the crafting of appropriate sanctions, up to and including dismissal. Id.; Liew v. Breen, 640 F.2d 1046, 1050 (9th Cir. 1981).

         Where a court considers dismissal as a remedy for failure to comply with a court order, the court is to consider: “(1) the public's interest in expeditious resolution of litigation; (2) the court's need to manage its docket; (3) the risk of prejudice to the defendants; (4) the public policy favoring disposition of cases on their merits; and (5) the availability of less drastic sanctions.” In re Phenylpropanolamine (PPA) Prod. Liab. Litig., 460 F.3d 1217, 1226 (9th Cir. 2006) (quoting Malone v. U.S. Postal Serv., 833 F.2d 128, 130 (9th Cir. 1987). The “factors are ‘not a series of conditions precedent before the judge can do anything,' but a ‘way for a district judge to think about what to do.'” Id. (quoting Valley Eng'rs Inc. v. Elec. Eng'g Co., 158 F.3d 1051, 1057 (9th Cir. 1998)). Additionally, the Court should consider the willfulness of the conduct. Henry v Gill Indus., Inc., 983 F.2d 943, 948 (9th Cir. 1995) (“‘disobedient conduct not shown to be outside the control of the litigant' is all that is required to demonstrate willfulness, bad faith, or fault”) (citations omitted).

         B. Dismissal Is Appropriate

         Here, consideration of the five relevant factors leads the Court to conclude that dismissal is the appropriate sanction. Plaintiff has not indicated any interest in seriously pursuing this matter. A sanction short of dismissal would necessitate yet another continuance of the trial date-currently November 18, 2019.[2] Despite not being heavily litigated, this case has cluttered the Court's docket for long enough and should be concluded. While the Court notes the strong preference for resolution of cases on their merits, Plaintiff appears unlikely to pursue this matter to the merits and his failure to provide relevant documentation or testimony casts serious doubt on the merits of his action.

         Perhaps most seriously, a remedy short of dismissal would appear to prejudice City Light. Litigation depends on access to relevant evidence. Nixon v. Adm'r of Gen. Servs.,433 U.S. 425, 477 (1977) (noting that “the functioning of our adversary legal system [] depends upon the availability of relevant evidence in carrying out its commitments both to fair play and to the discovery of truth within the bounds set by law”) (citations omitted). Without access to evidence, City Light would certainly be prejudiced in defending itself at trial. But City Light is also unable to determine whether this case can be resolved short of trial or on summary ...


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