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Jarvis v. Gliottone

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

December 17, 2018

WILLIE JARVIS, Plaintiff,
v.
HENRY GLIOTTONE, et al. Defendants.

          ORDER

          DOUGLAS E. ARPERT UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Letter Application to Strike Defendants' Answer. ECF No. 88. Defendants oppose the Application. ECF No. 91. The Court has fully reviewed the submissions of the parties and considers same without oral argument pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 78. For the reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Letter Application to Strike Defendants' Answer is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         The facts of the litigation are well known to the Parties and were laid out fully in the November 14, 2017 Opinion of U.S. District Judge Freda L. Wolfson. Briefly, Plaintiff is a prisoner who contends his Fourth Amendment and 42 U.S.C. § 1983 rights were violated by a warrantless search and arrest carried out by Defendant New Brunswick police officers Kevin Conway and Vincent Monaghan. ECF No. 68.

         As to Plaintiff's Application, Plaintiff contends Defendants' Answer should be struck because Defendants failed to comply with Rules 33(b)(2), 34(2)(A) and 36(a)(3) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. ECF No. 88. Each governs various discovery issues and timelines. Plaintiff argues that because Defendants failed to comply with the timeframes prescribed by these rules, the Court should strike Defendants' Answer to the Complaint. Id. Plaintiff does not say on what authority the Court can grant his request.

         Defendants concede they missed certain discovery deadlines but contend that all relevant discovery has since been produced to Plaintiff. See Def. Letter Dated December 3, 2018 at ECF No. 91 at p.1. As a result, Defendants say, Plaintiff has not been prejudiced by the untimely production. Id. Defendants' counsel further accepts personal responsibility for this discovery issue, stating that “the delay was due to my actions and not those of my clients.” Id. More specifically, counsel states that “this singular delay was caused by my own personal circumstances.” Id.

         More substantively, Defendants urge denial of Plaintiff's request because it was made improperly, as a letter application rather than as a motion pursuant to L.Civ.R. 16.1(g). Id. at pp.1-2. Finally, Defendants contend:

“[T]he extreme sanction of dismissal, or striking an Answer, is not warranted here where the Plaintiff has been provided all requested and available discovery, where the Plaintiff had all of the essential discovery in his possession from the associated criminal matter already, where Defendants' delay in providing formal discovery responses was due only to their counsel's…personal circumstances, and where there has been a complete lack of contentious conduct or prejudice.” Id. at pp.2-3.

         II. LEGAL STANDARD

         The Court begins its inquiry pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 37, which provides for sanctions due to a failure to obey discovery orders. This rule states that if a party “fails to obey an order to provide or permit discovery…the court where the action is pending may issue further just orders.” R. 37(b)(2)(A). The Rule provides that just orders “may include the following: (i) directing that the matters embraced in the order or other designated facts be taken as established for purposes of the action, as the prevailing party claims; (ii) prohibiting the disobedient party from supporting or opposing designated claims or defenses, or from introducing designated matters in evidence; (iii) striking pleadings in whole or in part.” Id. Pursuant to this rule, a Court “may sanction a lawyer or a litigant for failure to obey any order to provide or permit discovery.” Wachtel v. Health Net, Inc., 239 F.R.D. 81, 99 (D.N.J. 2006). The “purpose of this rule is to: (1) penalize the culpable party or attorney; (2) deter others from engaging in similar conduct; (3) compensate the court and other parties for the expense caused by the abusive conduct; and (4) compel discovery and disclosure.” Id.

         As set out in Wachtel, when asked to “sanction a party by depriving that party of the right to proceed with or defend against a claim, the court applies the analysis established in Poulis v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co., 747 F.2d 863 (3d Cir.1984). Wachtel, 239 F.R.D. at 101; see also Comdyne I, Inc. v. Corbin, 908 F.2d 1142, 1148 (3d Cir.1990); Hoxworth v. Blinder, Robinson & Co., Inc., 980 F.2d 912, 919 (3d Cir.1992). “Under Poulis, a court considers:

(1) the extent of the party's personal responsibility;
(2) the prejudice to the adversary caused by the failure to meet scheduling orders and ...

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