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Walls v. Paulson

June 3, 2008


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Ricardo M. Urbina United States District Judge

Document Nos. 16, 19, 24




This case comes before the court on the defendant's motion to dismiss the plaintiff's claims for lack of prosecution. The defendant also has two pending motions requesting that the court impose sanctions against the plaintiff for purported failures to comply with discovery requests. Specifically, the defendant requests that the court, as an appropriate sanction, dismiss the plaintiff's claims and order the plaintiff to pay the defendant's attorneys' fees. The plaintiff stays her hand with respect to the defendant's motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute, but insists that she has complied in good faith with all of the defendant's discovery requests except for her and her attorney's failure to supply signed responses. Reviewing the plaintiff's responses, the court observes that they are deficient in multiple respects. But, the plaintiff's recalcitrance does not justify dismissal at this stage. Accordingly, the court imposes lesser sanctions and orders the plaintiff to serve the defendant signed copies of all discovery responses.


A. Factual History

The plaintiff is a black female who has been employed at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing, Office of Procurement, a subsection to the Department of the Treasury ("Treasury" or "the defendant"), since 1989. Compl. ¶¶ 6, 13. In 1995, the plaintiff initially complained to the Equal Employment Office ("EEO") of discrimination in the workplace. Id. ¶ 8. She renewed this complaint in 2001, filing a formal complaint on October 15, 2001. Id. The plaintiff contends that management officials, Merry Lynn Lackey and Teresa Brooks, knew about her EEO activity and that although she was assigned duties outside of her job classification, Brooks denied her requests for a desk audit between June 30, 2001 and August 23, 2001 in retaliation for the EEO activity. Id. ¶¶ 8-9, 23. She alleges that management then reduced her job responsibilities and that Brooks told others that the plaintiff was not qualified for a promotion. Id. ¶¶ 8-9. The plaintiff asserts that Lackey then "wrongfully accused [her] of violating regulations [by] working beyond her duty hours" and deliberately gave her a negative and inaccurate performance rating on November 2, 2001. Id. ¶¶ 8-9, 22, 28. The plaintiff adds that on December 12, 2001, Lackey and Brooks did not select her for a Contract Specialist position. Id. ¶¶ 8-9, 35. These acts, the plaintiff concludes, constitute a hostile work environment, retaliation and discrimination in violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq.

B. Procedural History

The plaintiff filed suit against the Department of the Treasury on February 5, 2003. See generally Compl. The defendant filed its answer on October 9, 2003, and the court held an initial status conference on January 22, 2004, at which time the court set deadlines for discovery. Except where noted, the plaintiffs do not quibble with the following facts underlying the parties' discovery dispute. On May 24, 2004, the defendant propounded requests for admissions, interrogatories and requests for documents. Def.'s First Mot. for Sanctions ("Def.'s First Mot."), Exs. 1-3. The defendant unilaterally extended the deadline for responding to these requests twice -- once until July 16, 2004 and then again until July 21, 2004. Id., Ex. 4. The certificate of service attached to the plaintiff's response to the defendant's discovery requests indicate that the plaintiff met the July 21, 2004 deadline, although the defendant insists that it did not receive the responses until after July 21, 2004. Id. at 4.

Regardless of when the plaintiff served the responses, the defendant claims that they were deficient in several respects: (1) the plaintiff failed to sign the interrogatories under oath; (2) she failed to respond to interrogatory No. 7; (3) she improperly invoked Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 33(d) in response to interrogatory Nos. 5 and 13; and (4) she claimed certain documents did not exist when at her deposition she admitted they were available and relevant to her claims. Id. at 4-5 & Exs. 5-6. Indeed, at her deposition, the plaintiff identified four sets of documents relevant to her claims that were not previously disclosed: "(1) a journal or diary documenting the events related to her allegations; (2) documents the plaintiff believes are 'negative write-ups' in her personnel file; (3) daily harassing e-mails; and (4) doctor's reports and other medical records relevant to damages." Id. at 5.

After this disclosure, the defendant extended the deadline once more until September 24, 2004, so that "the defects [would] be cured, and complete, non-evasive responses provided." Id., Ex. 10. The plaintiff provided supplemental responses on November 22, 2004, which included medical records, but otherwise "ignored this stipulated deadline and failed to comply with her discovery obligation to supplement discovery responses known to be incomplete." Id. at 6; Def.'s Second Mot. for Sanctions ("Def.'s Second Mot.") at 3. This precipitated the defendant's first motion for sanctions and motion to exclude evidence, filed December 8, 2005.*fn3

Rather than rule on the defendant's motion for sanctions, the court stayed the case so that the plaintiff could amend her discovery responses on or before September 16, 2005. Min. Order (Aug. 2, 2005). The plaintiff disregarded this order and allegedly submitted supplemental materials on or around October 16, 2005. Joint Status Report (Apr. 20, 2007); see Pl.'s Opp'n at 8 & Ex. 1 at 17. The defendant insists that it received no such supplement, Def.'s Second Mot. at 4, and after the parties filed a joint status report on April 20, 2007, the defendant filed a second motion for sanctions on May 3, 2007, id. Attached to the plaintiff's opposition to the defendant's second motion for sanctions is a copy of the supplemental responses the plaintiff allegedly served the defendant in October 2005. Pl.'s Opp'n, Ex. 1. In its reply, the defendant maintains that it first received ...

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