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Robinson v. Mecham

United States District Court, D. Utah, Central Division

July 17, 2019

TAD MECHAM, ET AL., Defendants.

          Dee Benson District Judge



         District Judge Benson referred this matter to Magistrate Judge Pead pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(B). (ECF No. 5.) The matter is before the court on Plaintiff's Motion for Default Judgement as Sanction (“Motion”). (ECF No. 58.) Briefing has concluded. The court has carefully reviewed the moving papers submitted by the parties. Pursuant DUCivR 7-1(f), oral argument is unnecessary and the court will determine the motions on the basis of the written papers.


         On June 2, 2016, the court granted pro se Plaintiff Harold Robinson (“Plaintiff”) leave to proceed in forma pauperis. (ECF No. 2.) Plaintiff filed his Complaint on the same date. (ECF No. 3.) Defendants, in 2016 and 2017, filed several motions to either enlarge the time to answer or to stay the time in which to answer for various reasons from potentially consolidating this matter with a companion matter (Denise Robinson v. Tad Mecham and Jared Hammon, Case 2:15-cv-738-CW-BCW, “Companion Case”[1]) to adjusting the due date to accommodate a holiday. (ECF Nos. 6, 10, 12, 15.) The court granted these requests (ECF Nos. 7, 13, 16), with the exception of the request to stay the time in which to answer because Defendants withdrew their motion. (ECF No. 14.)

         On March 3, 2017, Plaintiff filed a Verified First Amended Complaint (“Amended Complaint”). (ECF No. 21.) Plaintiff's Amended Complaint seeks declaratory relief, injunctive relief, damages, and attorney fees for alleged violations of his civil rights during an inspection of Plaintiff's truck at the point of entry located in Kanab, Utah. (ECF No. 21.) On October 14, 2017, Defendants filed a Motion to Dismiss the Amended Complaint (ECF No. 27), which the court denied on August 20, 2018. (ECF No. 44.) On September 6, 2018, the District Judge adopted the order denying the Motion to Dismiss. (ECF No. 45.)

         Instead of lodging a timely answer to the Amended Complaint, as required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, Defendants moved to enlarge the time in which to answer or otherwise respond. (ECF No. 46.) Despite opposition, the court granted the motion and instructed Defendants to file an answer no later than October 22, 2019. (ECF No. 49.) Currently, Plaintiff, or his successor[2], moves for a default judgment against the Defendants as a sanction for allegedly abusive litigation practices. (ECF No. 58.)


         Federal courts possess inherent powers to punish a litigant's misconduct that abuses the judicial process. Chambers v Nasco, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43 (1991). One sanction available is dismissal. Dismissal as a sanction, however, is appropriate only in extreme circumstances amounting to “willfulness, bad faith, or fault.” See Ehrenhaus v. Reynolds, 965 F.2d 916, 920 (10th Cir. 1992); see also Meade v. Grubbs, 841 F.2d 1512, 1521 (10th Cir. 1988) (stating dismissal with prejudice is a severe sanction reserved for extreme circumstances).

         Willful conduct that delays or disrupts the litigation can be enough, when establish by clear and convincing evidence, to serve as a bases for dismissal. See Arnold v. County of El Dorado, 2012 EL 3276979, *4 (E.D. Cal. 2012). Furthermore, “[b]efore choosing dismissal as a just sanction, a court should ordinarily consider a number of factors, including: (1) the degree of actual prejudice to the defendant; (2) the amount of interference with the judicial process; (3) the culpability of the litigant; (4) whether the court warned the party in advance that dismissal of the action would be a likely sanction for noncompliance; and (5) the efficacy of lesser sanctions.” Ehrenhaus at 920 (internal quotations omitted).

         Here, Plaintiff fails to establish, by clear and convincing evidence, that Defendants have abused the litigation process by engaging in tactics that amount to willfulness, bad faith, or fault. Plaintiff argues Defendants have impermissibly delayed these proceedings by “engaging in a scheme that included manipulating the proceedings between” this case and the Companion Case, which prejudicially caused a lengthy delay.[3] See Motion at 5. The court agrees with Plaintiff that there have delays in this case, however, those delays are attributable to each party and to the court.

         It was the court, not Defendants, who authorized Defendants to file “an answer or other response to Plaintiff's Complaint within fourteen (14) days” of the ruling in the Companion Case. (ECF No. 16.) The Companion Case was dismissed on January 24, 2017. Within fourteen days, Defendants timely and properly filed their Motion to Dismiss (“First MTD”). (ECF No. 20.) While the Motion to Dismiss was pending, Plaintiff amended his original complaint by adding Meb Anderson as a party to the action, while, at that time, he was the Utah Assistant Attorney General representing the Defendants. (ECF No. 21.) Plaintiff's maneuver necessitated Defendants filing a second Motion to Dismiss (“Second MTD”) requesting the court terminate Meb Anderson as a party. (ECF No. 23.)

         Plaintiff did not oppose the First MTD or Second MTD. Whereas, the Defendants submitted a request to submit in an effort to prompt the court to rule on the pending motions. (ECF No. 24.) After several months, the court determined the First MTD was moot and granted the Second MTD. (ECF Nos. 25, 26.) Therefore, any delay rests with the court.

         Separately, under the Ehrenhaus factors, a default judgment against Defendants is not warranted. As addressed herein, Defendants were not the source of the delay in this case. To the contrary, Defendants have sought reasonable extensions of time and properly employed local and federal procedural rules to move this case forward. Furthermore, even though this court denied Defendants' third Motion to Dismiss (“Third MTD”, ECF No. 27), Plaintiff should not interpret this to suggest that the court considers Defendants' Third MTD to be filed in bad faith. Rather, the court is of the opinion that Defendants appear to be moving this case along, as best as possible, in the face of legally ...

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