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Young v. Office of the United States Senate Sergeant at Arms

August 22, 2003

RENEE YOUNG, PLAINTIFF,
v.
OFFICE OF THE UNITED STATES SENATE SERGEANT AT ARMS, DEFENDANT.



OPINION

This case is before the Court on defendant's motion to dismiss as a sanction for plaintiff's abuse of the litigation process, specifically her willful and repeated failure to comply with discovery obligations and her efforts to tamper with and/or bribe witnesses. Defendant asks the Court to dismiss this lawsuit pursuant to Rules 16(f), 37(b) and 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and pursuant to the inherent power of the Court to preserve the integrity of the judicial system. Upon consideration of the entire record in this case, particularly the testimony offered at the evidentiary hearing on October 25, 2000, the Court finds that there is clear and convincing evidence of misconduct by the plaintiff and that any sanction short of dismissal would be inadequate. For these reasons, the Court grants defendant's motion to dismiss.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Renee Young was employed as a bindery specialist at the Office of the Senate Sergeant at Arms ("SAA") from October 1979 until her termination on December 19, 1997. Plaintiff alleges that she was subjected to a hostile work environment at the SAA, which caused her to suffer a nervous breakdown and post-traumatic stress disorder. See Third Amended Complaint ¶¶ 24, 25 ("Am. Compl."). More specifically, Ms. Young alleges that starting in 1989 and continuing through 1996, two of her supervisors subjected her to numerous unsolicited and unwelcome sexual actions. See id. at ¶¶ 10, 11. Ms. Young also alleges that several co-workers participated in the sexual harassment by subjecting her to sexual jokes and spreading rumors that Ms. Young and another one of her supervisors were involved in a sexual relationship. See id. at ¶ 13. Ms. Young claims that she complained on several occasions to management personnel, but that no disciplinary action was ever taken. See id. at ¶12.

Ms. Young took leave from her job in August 1997 to address a medical disability, namely, post-traumatic stress disorder, a condition that plaintiff alleges was caused by the hostile work environment to which she was subjected. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 24, 25. Before her termination on December 19, 1997, Ms. Young participated in three counseling and mediation sessions through the Office of Compliance, a step required by the Congressional Accountability Act, 2 U.S.C. §§ 1301 et seq. ("CAA"), before congressional employees can file an employment discrimination suit against Congress. See Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 6, 7, 8, 27; 2 U.S.C. § 1402(a). Ms. Young filed this action on March 27, 1998, three months after her termination.

In her Third Amended Complaint, plaintiff alleges that: (1) defendant created a hostile work environment, which included repeated sexual harassment of plaintiff; (2) she was terminated without due process;*fn1 (3) defendant retaliated against plaintiff for making sexual harassment complaints; (4) defendant engaged in disability discrimination; (5) defendant violated the Family Medical Leave Act; and 6) defendant retaliated against plaintiff by misrepresenting the facts concerning Ms. Young's termination, which caused Ms. Young's unemployment benefits to be delayed and then denied. See Am. Compl. ¶¶ 34, 40, 42, 48, 51, 57. Ms. Young has been proceeding pro se since her lawyers withdrew from the case in October 1999.

Defendant has moved to dismiss plaintiff's case in its entirety as a sanction for plaintiff's bad faith abuse of the litigation process. Specifically, defendant alleges that plaintiff willfully refused to comply with discovery obligations and participated in two incidents of witness tampering. In light of this severe misconduct, defendant argues, plaintiff's case should be dismissed. The Court concludes that the severity of plaintiff's misconduct and the inadequacy of lesser sanctions justify dismissal of this case in its entirety.

II. DISCUSSION

A. The Court's Power to Sanction

1. Sanctions Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure

A court may impose a range of sanctions based on several of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, including in some instances dismissal. First, Rule 37(b)(2) permits a court to issue such orders "as are just" to sanction a party who fails to obey an order to provide or permit discovery, including a discovery order under Rule 26, governing discovery generally, and Rule 35, governing orders for independent physical or mental examinations. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(1). Such sanctions may include taking certain facts as established, prohibiting the introduction of certain evidence, striking pleadings or parts thereof, staying further proceedings until the order is obeyed, or dismissing the action or proceeding or any part thereof and/or rendering a judgment by default against the disobedient party. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2); Bonds v. District of Columbia, 93 F.3d 801, 807-08 (D.C. Cir. 1996); Shepherd v. American Broadcasting Co., 62 F.3d. 1469, 1474 (D.C. Cir. 1995).*fn2 In addition, Rule 16 of the Federal Rules authorizes a court to sanction a party for failure to follow a scheduling or pretrial order, by imposing any of the sanctions authorized by Rule 37(b) as appropriate. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 16(f). Finally, Rule 41 authorizes a court to dismiss a case for failure to prosecute or to comply with the Federal Rules or any order of the court. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(b).

2. The Court's Inherent Power

When the Federal Rules do not provide courts with sufficient authority to protect the integrity of the judicial system and prevent abuses of the judicial process, courts have the inherent power to impose sanctions for abusive litigation practices undertaken in bad faith. See Shepherd v. American Broadcasting Co., 62 F.3d at 1472. "These powers are 'governed not by rule or statute but by the control necessarily vested in courts to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases.'" Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43 (1991) (quoting Link v. Wabash R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-31 (1962)). Because its inherent judicial power "must be exercised with restraint and discretion," Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. at 44, a district court may use such power to enter a sanction as severe as dismissal or default judgment only if it finds, first, that there is clear and convincing evidence that the fraudulent or bad faith misconduct occurred, and second, that a lesser sanction "would not sufficiently punish and deter the abusive conduct while allowing a full and fair trial on the merits." Shepherd v. American Broadcasting Co., 62 F.3d at 1472 (default judgment reversed because district court had made neither of these findings). Furthermore, a "district court must not only find the misconduct by clear and convincing evidence, but must also provide a specific, reasoned explanation for rejecting lesser sanctions." Id. at 1480.

Our court of appeals has provided further guidance on the limits of the sanction of dismissal or default judgment by articulating three possible (although not mandatory) justifications for dismissal as a sanction for misconduct, regardless of whether the court bases its decision on the Federal Rules or its inherent power. See Webb v. District of Columbia, 146 F.3d 964, 971 (D.C. Cir. 1998). Under Webb, such sanctions are justified when: (1) the other party has been "so prejudiced by the misconduct that it would be unfair to require [the party] to proceed further in the case," (2) the party's misconduct has put "an intolerable burden" on the court by requiring the court to modify its own docket and operations in order to accommodate the delay, or (3) the court finds it necessary "to sanction conduct that is disrespectful to the court and to deter similar misconduct in the future." Id. at 971; see also Butera v. District of Columbia, 235 F.3d 637, 661 (D.D. Cir. 2001). In this case, the Court finds that plaintiff willfully failed to comply with two separate court orders requiring production of her medical records, failed to cooperate with the independent medical exam, and abused the litigation process by tampering with two witnesses. Where a party's "entire course of conduct throughout the lawsuit evidence[s] bad faith and an attempt to perpetrate a fraud on the court," the conduct is sanctionable under the inherent power of the court. Chambers v. NASCO, 501 U.S. at 50-51. Because the Court concludes that no sanction short of dismissal would suffice to properly sanction plaintiff's misconduct, the Court will grant defendant's motion to dismiss.

B. Plaintiff's Misconduct Justifying Sanction

1. Discovery Abuses

Defendant asserts that plaintiff has abused the litigation process by repeatedly refusing to comply with discovery requests despite two court orders mandating compliance. As a result, defendant argues, plaintiff has delayed the progress of her own case, interfered with the SAA's ability to defend itself, wasted judicial resources and demonstrated disrespect for the judicial process. See Defendant's Motion to Dismiss ("Def.'s Mot.") at 8. Based on the evidence presented by the parties, and particularly the testimony heard in court at the evidentiary hearing, the Court concludes that plaintiff has committed numerous abuses of the discovery process that justify the sanction of dismissal.

Plaintiff's noncompliance with discovery obligations began with her failure to produce any of her medical records in response to defendant's discovery requests. See Defendant's Reply Memorandum, Exhibit 2, Affidavit of Diana Embrey ¶¶ 35, 36 ("Embrey Aff."). Weeks after Ms. Young's discovery responses were due and only a week before her scheduled deposition, she had produced a total of only six pages of medical records, none of which contained information from any of the many doctors whom she had consulted before and after the alleged harassment. See id. at ¶ 53. Even after the Court issued two orders requiring plaintiff to produce such records, plaintiff produced only incomplete records. See Orders of August 4 and August 6, 1999; Embrey Aff. ¶¶ 63-70. In fact, in an August 6, 1999 session with one of her doctors -- only two days after the Court ordered plaintiff to produce her medical records -- Ms. Young specifically asked the psychiatrist not to send any of her medical records to her lawyers. See Def.'s Mot., Exhibit A, Progress Note dated August 6, 1999. At the October 25, 2000 hearing on defendant's motion to dismiss, plaintiff did not deny that she had asked her doctor to withhold her records in defiance of the Court's order. When asked whether it was true that "at one point you did ask Dr. Campbell not to send your records," plaintiff replied: "I'm not going to say yes to that.... [b]ecause I don't recognize -- I don't, you know, remember saying that." Plaintiff also testified in response that she later "went back and told him to send the papers[.]" Transcript of October 25, 2000 Motions Hearing ("Tr.") at 97-98.

Ms. Young also refused to submit to an independent medical examination pursuant to Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, despite repeated requests that she meet with the SAA's psychiatrist, Dr. Glenn Miller. Similar to her response to requests for her medical records, Ms. Young did not comply with this discovery request until the SAA threatened to seek further court intervention. See Def.'s Mot., Exhibit B, Letter from Diane Embrey to Kevin Finnegan, August 20, 1999 at 2 ("Embrey Letter, Aug. 20, 1999"). Even when she finally agreed to meet with Dr. Miller, Ms. Young arrived 30 minutes late for the appointment, insisted that her cousin remain in the room during the interview and refused to schedule another appointment. See Tr. at 57-58, 68 (Testimony of Dr. Glenn Miller); Embrey Aff. ¶¶ 25, 29; Def.'s Mot., Exhibit C, Letter from Diane Embrey to Kevin Finnegan, September 7, 1999 at 1 ("Embrey Letter, Sept. 7, 1999"). Once again, defense counsel threatened to contact the Court to compel plaintiff's attendance; once again, Ms. Young relented. See Embrey Letter, Sept. 7, 1999 at 2.

During the second interview with Dr. Miller, Ms. Young was "much more hostile and much more resistant" than in the first session and refused to answer basic questions. See Tr. at 69-70, 74 (Testimony of Dr. Miller). Plaintiff told Dr. Miller "flat-out that she didn't want to talk about her mother" and would not discuss her father or her children. See id. at 72. Ms. Young also indicated that she felt she had complied with the requirement of meeting with Dr. Miller simply by showing up. Dr. Miller recalled plaintiff's statement at the second interview: "I did it, I came here, I did it." Id. at 73. At that interview, plaintiff also told Dr. Miller that "she was not under oath here.... She was here and she could answer questions if she wanted to or [not] if she didn't want to." Id. Ultimately, Dr. Miller concluded that Ms. Young's resistance was so intense that he "wasn't going to get any information" from her, so he requested that she leave early. Id. at 74-75.

In her own testimony at the October 25, 2000 hearing, plaintiff characterized her sessions with Dr. Miller differently:

I did answer some of his questions. He stated that I gave him a hard time. That's not true. I also questioned him. And the reason for questioning him was because I was trying to figure out what this man really was, was he really a psychiatrist.... And I did not just sit in a chair. We were talking back and forth. And because I questioned him, he got upset and said, "Leave, now." So I got up.

Tr. at 106-08. Plaintiff also testified that she "responded the way I did" to Dr. Miller because she was uncomfortable at his office because of its location in the basement of his house, causing her to insist that her cousin stay in the room for the first interview. See id. at 106-07.

Based on the evidence before the Court and the testimony of both Dr. Miller and Ms. Young, the Court finds that there is clear and convincing evidence that Ms. Young abused the discovery process by initially refusing to meet with Dr. Miller and later refusing to answer the basic questions necessary for Dr. Miller to evaluate her mental state in connection with her claims in this action. See Tr. at 76 (Testimony of Dr. Miller); Shepherd v. American Broadcasting Co., 62 F.3d at 1472. As a direct result of her refusal to submit to examination by Dr. Miller, plaintiff has delayed her own case and significantly prejudiced the SAA by frustrating its efforts at discovery and preventing it from obtaining an independent medical examination necessary to defend itself against plaintiff's claims of emotional harm. See Embrey Aff. ΒΆΒΆ4-29; Def.'s Motion at 8-9; Tr. at 76 (Testimony of Dr. Miller). In addition, plaintiff has directly violated two court orders requiring her to comply with discovery requests by her failure to provide relevant medical records and directing her psychiatrist not to provide the records. Such conduct precluded defendant from preparing for and taking plaintiff's deposition, required the unnecessary expenditure of judicial resources and ...


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