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James v. Benjamin

United States District Court, D. South Carolina, Columbia Division

June 26, 2019

Regan T. James, Plaintiff,
Stephen Benjamin; Daniel Hood; Jeffery Kraft; Robert Webb; G.M. Gates; Rafael Rodriguez; Rueben Santiago; Melron Kelly; Skip Holbrooke; W. Mike Hemlepp, Jr.; Teresa Wilson; City of Columbia, South Carolina; Walmart Corporation; David Fultz; Robert Allman; Jarod D. Glover, Defendants.



         The plaintiff, Regan T. James, a self-represented litigant filed this civil rights action in forma pauperis under 28 U.S.C. § 1915 against the named defendants.[1] This matter is before the court pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and Local Civil Rule 73.02(B)(2) (D.S.C.) on motions filed by Defendants Allman, Benjamin, Gates, Glover, Hemlepp, Holbrooke, Hood, Kelly, Kraft, Santiago, Webb, Wilson, the City of Columbia (the “City of Columbia defendants”), and Defendant Walmart Corporation seeking dismissal of the complaint as a sanction for James's failure to cooperate in discovery. (ECF Nos. 322 & 345.) Pursuant to Roseboro v. Garrison, 528 F.2d 309 (4th Cir. 1975), the court advised James of the summary judgment and dismissal procedures and the possible consequences if he failed to respond adequately to the defendants' motions. (ECF Nos. 323 & 347.) James filed responses in opposition to the motions (ECF Nos. 342 & 361), and Defendant Walmart replied (ECF No. 362). Having reviewed the record presented and the applicable law, the defendants' motions should be denied.


         The following background is relevant for resolving the defendants' motions. Plaintiff's claims stem from an incident that occurred on February 20, 2014 in a Walmart shopping center in Columbia, South Carolina. (Am. Compl., ECF No. 143 at 8.) Plaintiff alleges he was gathering items in his BMW in the parking lot of the shopping center in the late morning, preparing to walk into a gym, when several police cars drove up to him. (Id.) The officers, including Defendants Kraft and Hood of the City of Columbia Police Department (“CPD”), told him they had received a complaint that someone was selling drugs out of a BMW in the same parking lot. (Id.) The officers checked Plaintiff's identification by looking at his driver's license and military identification, and based on a discrepancy between the forms of identification, handcuffed Plaintiff and put him the back seat of a police car for providing false information. (Id. at 11.) The officers asked to search Plaintiff's car, and Plaintiff refused, but the officers searched the car anyway. (Id. at 11-12.) The officers did not find any drugs or other contraband in Plaintiff's car. (Id. at 13.) The officers released Plaintiff and issued him a trespass notice for the shopping center. (Id. at 13-14.)

         After the February 20th incident, Plaintiff made several formal and informal complaints to the City of Columbia and CPD. Plaintiff met with Defendant Rafael Rodriguez from CPD Internal Affairs to discuss the incident and complain about the way he was treated. (Id. at 17.) Rodriguez referred Plaintiff to a CPD regional headquarters where Plaintiff met with Defendant Gates of the CPD to raise the same complaints. (Id. at 19.)

         On March 21, 2014, several items were stolen from Plaintiff's BMW by Defendant John Doe 6 in a Walmart parking lot in Columbia. (Id.) Plaintiff called CPD to report the theft. (Id. at 25.) Plaintiff spoke with Defendant Sutton of the CPD who drafted a police report. (Id.) Plaintiff alleges Sutton conspired with the on-duty Walmart loss prevention officer to conceal the fact of the theft and the identity of John Doe 6 by filing a “false police report.” (Id.) Plaintiff alleges he made various requests of Walmart and its employee, Defendant David Fultz, to obtain the security video footage of the store's parking lot, but he was never provided the video. (Id. at 25-29.)

         On March 10, 2015, Plaintiff submitted a formal complaint to CPD about Walmart's refusal to provide Plaintiff with the security video, and requested assistance in obtaining it. (Id. at 29.) Defendant Hemlepp of the CPD sent Plaintiff correspondence that was “factually incorrect” and “impossible to believe.” (Id. at 30.) On January 14, 2016, Plaintiff sent correspondence to Defendant City Manager Teresa Wilson, Defendant City of Columbia Mayor Steve Benjamin, and the rest of the city council recounting the complaints he had sent to various city employees and requesting assistance. (Id. at 30-31.) Plaintiff filed this action on February 21, 2017.

         During the course of this litigation, James was initially noticed for a deposition for February 23, 2018. James failed to appear for his deposition and did not make any attempt to communicate with the defendants' counsel regarding his failure to appear or to reschedule the deposition. Accordingly, the defendants subsequently moved to dismiss this matter for James's failure to attend his deposition. (ECF No. 204.) The court ruled on June 29, 2018 that the sanction of dismissal was not warranted at that time, but ordered James to appear for a deposition no later than July 31, 2018. (ECF No. 229.) James subsequently appear to testify at his deposition scheduled on July 23, 2018. Following his deposition, James filed multiple extensions of time in which to file a motion for a protective order and to review the deposition transcript. Ultimately, James untimely filed an errata sheet and a privilege log. The defendants then filed the instant motions to dismiss, primarily arguing that James had not complied with the court's order regarding his deposition because James did not answer questions in compliance with Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure.


         A. Applicable Standards

         Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes the court to enter orders compelling discovery and to impose an array of sanctions for a party's failure to comply with such orders. If a party fails to obey an order to provide or permit discovery, the court may issue an order “dismissing the action or proceeding in whole or in part.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A). Similarly, Rule 41(b) provides that a complaint may be dismissed for failure to prosecute or failure to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure or an order of the court. Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b); see Ballard v. Carlson, 882 F.2d 93, 95 (4th Cir. 1989).

         When exercising its discretion to impose sanctions under Rule 37, a court should consider: “(1) whether the noncomplying party acted in bad faith; (2) the amount of prejudice his noncompliance caused his adversary, which necessarily includes an inquiry into the materiality of the evidence he failed to produce; (3) the need for deterrence of the particular sort of noncompliance; and (4) the effectiveness of less drastic sanctions.” Mut. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n v. Richards & Assocs. Inc., 872 F.2d 88, 92 (4th Cir. 1989). In considering whether to dismiss an action pursuant to Rule 41(b), the court is required to apply four factors: (1) the degree of personal responsibility on the part of the plaintiff; (2) the amount of prejudice to the defendant due to the delay; (3) the history of the plaintiff in proceeding in a dilatory manner; and (4) the effectiveness of sanctions less drastic sanctions than dismissal. Davis v. Williams, 588 F.2d 69, 70 (4th Cir. 1978). “Courts have held that because the standard for dismissals under Fed.R.Civ.P. 37 is virtually identical to that for dismissal for failure to prosecute under Fed.R.Civ.P. 41, ‘the Court can combine its analysis of the question whether dismissal is appropriate under' both Rules.” Woods v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., C/A No. 3:10-3160-SVH, 2012 WL 601872, at *3 (D.S.C. Feb. 23, 2012) (citation omitted).

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 11, a litigant presenting a pleading to the court certifies that “to the best of the person's knowledge, information, and belief, formed after an inquiry reasonable under the circumstances, ” the pleading is not presented for any improper purpose, the legal contentions are “warranted by existing law, ” and the factual allegations and denials of factual contentions are supported by the evidence. Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(b); see Morris v. Wachovia Sec., Inc., 448 F.3d 268, 277 (4th Cir. 2006) (“Factual allegations violate Rule 11(b)(3) when they are unsupported by any information obtained prior to filing.”) (internal quotation mark omitted). “If, after notice and a reasonable opportunity to respond, the court determines that Rule 11(b) has been violated, the court may impose an appropriate sanction on any attorney, law firm, or party that violated the rule or is responsible for the violation.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c). Available sanctions include “nonmonetary directives; an order to pay a penalty into court; or, if imposed on motion and warranted for effective deterrence, an order directing payment to the movant of part or all of the reasonable attorney's fees and other expenses directly resulting from the violation.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(4). In imposing Rule 11 sanctions, a court must describe the sanctioned conduct and explain the basis for imposing the sanction. Fed.R.Civ.P. 11(c)(6).

         B. Defendants' ...

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