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Norman v. State

United States District Court, D. Utah

May 2, 2019

JAMES C. NORMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
STATE OF UTAH et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM DECISION AND ORDER DISMISSING COMPLAINT

          Clark Waddoups United States District Judge.

         BACKGROUND

         • August 18, 2017 Plaintiff submitted a pro se prisoner civil-rights complaint, asserting federal civil rights violated, starting in 2010. (ECF No. 3.)

         • October 20, 2017 As ordered, Plaintiff filed a prisoner inmate-account statement. (ECF No. 4.)

         • November 27, 2017 As ordered, Plaintiff filed six-dollar initial partial filing fee and consented to collection of remaining balance of filing fee. (ECF No. 6.)

         • February 22, 2018 Plaintiff moved for service of his complaint. (ECF No. 7.)

         • August 27, 2018 Court denied motion for service and entered order to cure deficient complaint within thirty days. (ECF No. 8.)

         The Court has not heard from Plaintiff since February 22, 2018 (over fourteen months ago).

         ANALYSIS

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b) allows involuntary dismissal of an action “[i]f the plaintiff fails to prosecute or to comply with . . . a court order.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b). The Court may dismiss actions sua sponte for failure to prosecute. Olsen v. Mapes, 333 F.3d 1199, 1204, n. 3 (10th Cir. 2003) (stating though Rule 41(b) requires defendant file motion to dismiss, it has long been construed to let courts dismiss actions sua sponte when plaintiff fails to prosecute or comply with orders); see also Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630 (stating court has inherent authority to clear “calendar[] of cases that have remained dormant because of the inaction or dilatoriness of the parties seeking relief”); Bills v. United States, 857 F.2d 1404, 1405 (10th Cir. 1988) (recognizing dismissal for failure to prosecute as “standard” way to clear “deadwood from the courts' calendars” when prolonged and unexcused delay by plaintiff).

         Generally, “a district court may, without abusing its discretion, [dismiss a case without prejudice] without attention to any particular procedures.” Nasious v. Two Unknown B.I.C.E. Agents at Araphoe County Justice Ctr., 492 F.3d 1158, 1162 (10th Cir. 2007). But, a dismissal without prejudice is effectively a dismissal with prejudice if the statute of limitations has expired on the dismissed claims. Gocolay v. N.M. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n, 968 F.2d 1017, 1021 (10th Cir. 1992). Thus, the Court must determine if the statute of limitations has expired on Plaintiff's claims if he were to refile them after dismissal.

         “Utah's four-year residual statute of limitations . . . governs suits brought under [§] 1983.” Fratus v. Deland, 49 F.3d 673, 675 (10th Cir. 1995). And “[a]ctions under § 1983 normally accrue on the date of the [alleged] constitutional violation, ” Garza v. Burnett, 672 F.3d 1217, 1219 (10th Cir. 2012), as § 1983 claims “accrue when the plaintiff knows or has reason to know of the injury that is the basis of the action.” Workman v. Jordan, 32 F.3d 475, 482 (10th Cir. 1994). The Court notes that “[a] plaintiff need not know the full extent of his injuries before the statute of limitations begins to run, ” Industrial Constructors Corp. v. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, 15 F.3d 963, 969 (10th Cir. 1994); see also Romero v. Lander, 461 Fed.Appx. 661, 669 (2012) (§ 1983 case), and “it is not necessary that a claimant know all of the evidence ultimately relied on for the cause of action to accrue.” Baker v. Bd. of Regents of State of Kan., 991 F.2d 628, 632 (10th Cir. 1993) (emphasis in original).

         Applying the four-year statute of limitations here, the Court concludes that Plaintiff's claims probably would be barred as untimely if refiled after dismissal. Plaintiff's claims arise from alleged events occurring in 2010 and 2011. And it is now May 2019. Thus, a dismissal here would likely operate as a dismissal with prejudice.

         When the dismissal is effectively with prejudice, this Court applies the factors from Ehrenhaus v. Reynolds, 965 F.2d 916 (10th Cir. 1992)--namely, “(1) the degree of actual prejudice to [Defendant]”; (2) “the amount of interference with the judicial process”; (3) the litigant's culpability; (4) whether the court warned the noncomplying litigant that dismissal of the action was a likely sanction; and (5) “the efficacy of lesser sanctions.” Id. at 921 (internal quotation marks omitted). Dismissal with prejudice is proper only when these factors outweigh the judicial system's strong preference to decide cases on the merits. DeBardeleben v. Quinlan, 937 F.2d 502, 504 (10th Cir. 1991). The Ehrenhaus factors are not “a rigid test; rather, they represent criteria for the district court to consider [before] imposing dismissal as a sanction.” Ehrenhaus, 965 F.2d at 921; see also Lee v. Max Int'l, LLC, 638 F.3d 1318, 1323 (10th Cir. 2011) (“The Ehrenhaus factors are simply a non-exclusive list of sometimes-helpful ‘criteria' or guide posts the district court may wish to ‘consider' in the exercise of what must always be a discretionary function.”); Chavez v. City of Albuquerque, 402 F.3d 1039, ...


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