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June 10, 1993


Appeal from the Superior Court of the District of Columbia; (Hon. John R. Doyle, Motions Judge), (Hon. John H. Suda, Motions Judge)

Before Farrell, Associate Judge, and Pryor and Belson, Senior Judges.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Per Curiam

PER CURIAM: The trial court dismissed appellant's pro se complaint with prejudice for failure to comply with an order compelling discovery. Because the trial court failed to furnish any indication that it exercised its discretion in deciding to apply the ultimate sanction of dismissal, we reverse the order from which this appeal is taken and remand for further proceedings.


On May 29, 1990, appellant, Helen Bussell, a resident of 4201 Massachusetts Ave., N.W. since 1974, filed a pro se complaint suing appellees, Berkshire Associates and Smithy Braedon Property Co., Inc. -- managers and owners of her apartment building -- for injuries arising out of alleged disruptive noisemaking and other abuses. In particular, appellant alleges that she suffers from the mentally adverse effects of acute sleep deprivation.

On June 20, 1990, appellees answered the complaint and served Interrogatories and a Bequest for Production of Documents. On August 10, 1990, appellant filed an "Objection to Interrogatories," alleging a "fail to comply with the rules of this court pertaining to the compilation of interrogatories." By letter dated August 31, 1990, appellees extracted and cited forty interrogatories from their initial list that they wished answered. *fn1 On January 24, 1991, appellees filed a motion to compel interrogatory answers and a request for production of documents. On January 25, 1991, a scheduling conference was held, at which time the trial court ordered appellant to provide answers to appellees' discovery request on or before March 15, 1991, or face potential dismissal of her complaint. On April 25, 1991, at pretrial, the court entered an order compelling appellant to provide her answers to appellees' discovery within thirty days of the date of the order. Specifically, defendants sought an answer to Interrogatory No. 28 which requested that plaintiff "state the date, time and precise location of the incident, and additionally give a factual statement as to how she contended the incident in the case occurred."

On May 24,1991, appellant served her interrogatory answers on appellees. By letter dated July 7, 1991, appellees' counsel wrote to appellant informing her that several of her answers were non-responsive and requested a meeting pursuant to Super. Ct. Civ. R. 37 (a). *fn2 That meeting was held on June 12, 1991, and after it counsel for appellees wrote appellant a letter in which he stated: "As I told you, your answer [to Interrogatory No. 28] should reflect all facts which form the basis of your complaint against the owner and management company which you've sued." (Emphasis in original.) On July 11, 1991, appellant filed a supplemental answer to Interrogatory No. 28. *fn3 On July 18, 1991, appellees filed a Motion to Dismiss Plaintiffs Complaint and for Sanctions pursuant to Super. Ct. Civ. R. 37 (b)(2). The ground asserted was that appellant's answer to Interrogatory 28 was still unresponsive. In her opposition to appellees' motion to dismiss, appellant stated that

Interrogatory No. 28 asks me to explain how the incident occurred, just as tho this protracted harassment case was a single incident or an isolated occurrence. Quite the contrary, in the opening paragraph of my revised answer thereto, [focused on the inappropriateness of interrogatory No. 28, inasmuch as it is intended to apply to an accident case, not unlike previous interrogatories. I accordingly exercised my right to object to an inapropriate interrogatory by stating my reasons. . . .

On August 27, 1991, the trial court granted appellees' motion to dismiss and ordered appellant's complaint dismissed with prejudice. Appellant's subsequent motion for reconsideration was denied on April 2, 1992.


Super. Ct. Civ. R. 37 empowers the trial court to impose sanctions for failure to comply with the discovery process. Vernell v. Gould, 495 A.2d 306, 311 (D.C. 1985). In particular, Rule 37 provides, in part:


(2) SANCTIONS BY THIS COURT. If a party . . . fails to obey an order to provide or permit discovery . . . the Court may make such orders in regard to the failure as are just, and among others the following:

(C) An order striking out pleadings or parts thereof, or staying further proceedings until the order is obeyed, or dismissing the action or proceeding or any part thereof, or rendering a ...

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