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Savage v. City of Lewisburg

United States District Court, M.D. Tennessee, Nashville

October 6, 2014

DENISE SAVAGE, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF LEWISBURG, TENNESSEE, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

MARVIN E. ASPEN, District Judge.

Plaintiff Denise Savage filed this Title VII employment discrimination and sexual harassment case on December 29, 2010. The case is set for trial on December 8, 2014. Presently before us is Plaintiff's Second Motion for Sanctions against Defendant City of Lewisburg. For the reasons discussed below, we deny Plaintiff's motion for sanctions, but we grant her request for an order compelling certain discovery.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff alleges that she suffered employment discrimination, sexual harassment, and retaliation from her former co-workers and superiors while working as a patrol officer for the City of Lewisburg Police Department ("the police department"). She brings her claims under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. 42 U.S.C. § 2000(e)(2)(a), (3)(a). Plaintiff alleges that from the beginning of her employment at the police department she was subject to lewd and sexually harassing comments and gestures from her co-workers. (Compl. ¶¶ 8-9, 14-16.) After reporting this conduct to her superiors, Plaintiff claims that she suffered retaliation from her fellow officers and supervisors who ignored and/or delayed responding to her calls for backup in the field. ( Id. ¶¶ 10-11.) Plaintiff continued to complain about this conduct, but she claims that her superiors offered no assistance or solutions. ( Id. ¶¶ 12-13, 17-20.) Instead, Defendant told Plaintiff to continue working her normal shift, without any assurance that she would receive the necessary backup or that Defendant would address the alleged sexual harassment and retaliation. ( Id. ¶ 22.) According to Plaintiff, as a result of the dangerous and hostile work environment that she faced, she was forced to resign from the police department on June 24, 2009. ( Id. ¶ 23.)

In addition to sexual harassment and retaliation, Plaintiff claims that Defendant discriminated against her by disciplining her more severely and paying her less than male officers, and by denying her promotions and other employment opportunities because of her gender. ( Id. ¶¶ 26-27.)

Plaintiff filed her first discovery requests in July 2011. After some back-and-forth between the parties, Plaintiff filed a motion to compel discovery on January 26, 2012. District Judge Sharp accepted and approved Magistrate Judge Knowles's order denying the motion to compel in its entirety. (Dkt. 43, 5/14/12 Order; Dkt. 50, 7/11/12 Order.) Subsequently, Plaintiff deposed Defendant's employees for three days. Plaintiff claims that during the depositions she discovered that Defendant submitted false and incomplete discovery responses and made false statements to the court in response to the motion to compel. (Dkt. 74, 2d Mot. for Sanctions at 1, 3-4.) In light of the new information, Plaintiff filed her first motion for sanctions on January 10, 2013. On September 11, 2013, the Magistrate Judge denied the motion without reaching the merits because Plaintiff failed to comply with Local Rule 37.01.[1] (Dkt. 70, 9/11/13 Order; see Dkt. 75, 11/20/13 Order.) Plaintiff filed her Second Motion for Sanctions on November 18, 2013. This second sanctions motion is largely premised on the same substantive arguments as the first, but Plaintiff resolved her earlier procedural defects by submitting a Proposed Joint Written Statement and a sufficient Certificate of Consultation.

Plaintiff's current motion raises six discovery issues: (1) police department audio recordings; (2) Police Chief Chuck Forbis's ("Chief Forbis's") handwritten investigation notes; (3) information related to other discrimination and retaliation complaints, including Captain Rebekah Mitchell's ("Captain Mitchell's") personnel file; (4) copies of documents that Plaintiff requested while visiting the Lewisburg police department; (5) the police department's policy on administrative leave; and (6) police department pay raise and promotion data. Plaintiff claims that Defendant acted in bad faith by producing this discovery either late or not at all, fraudulently stating or implying that the information or documents do not exist, and otherwise abusing the discovery process. (2d Mot. for Sanctions at 1.) Plaintiff asks us to enter a default judgment against Defendant or, in the alternative, to issue adverse jury inferences and strike Defendant's affirmative defenses. In addition, Plaintiff seeks monetary sanctions and an order compelling Defendant to produce certain discovery. Defendant argues that it is under no obligation to produce the information sought, and further contends that Plaintiff's entire motion is precluded by the Magistrate Judge's order denying the first sanctions motion.

LEGAL STANDARD

Plaintiff brings her motion for sanctions pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37(c) and the court's inherent authority. Rule 37(c) provides that a party who fails to disclose information required by Rule 26(a) or fails to supplement a discovery response pursuant to Rule 26(e) is not permitted to use such information at trial unless the failure was substantially justified or is harmless. Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 37(c)(1). Rule 37(c) also permits the court to impose other sanctions for Rule 26 violations, such as those listed in Rule 37(b)(2)(A). Rule 26(e) requires a party to timely supplement earlier discovery responses "if the party learns that in some material respect the disclosure or response is incomplete or incorrect, and if the additional or corrective information has not otherwise been made known to the other parties during the discovery process or in writing." Fed. R. Civ. Proc. 26(e).

The district court also has the inherent power to sanction a party for bad faith conduct at any point during the litigation. First Bank of Marietta v. Hartford Underwriters Ins. Co. , 307 F.3d 501, 511 (6th Cir. 2002) (citing Chambers v. NASCO, Inc. , 501 U.S. 32, 50, 111 S.Ct. 2123, 2123 (1991)). However, "a court must exercise caution in invoking its inherent power and comply with the mandates of due process." Dell, Inc. v. Elles , No. 07 C 2082, 2008 WL 4613978, at *2 (6th Cir. June 10, 2008) (citing Chambers , 501 U.S. at 50, 111 S.Ct. at 2123). "[I]n order for a court to find bad faith sufficient for imposing sanctions under its inherent powers, the court must find something more than that a party knowingly pursued a meritless claim or action at any stage of the proceedings." BDT Prods., Inc. v. Lexmark Intern., Inc. , 602 F.3d 742, 753 (6th Cir. 2010). "Harassing the opposing party, delaying or disrupting litigation, hampering the enforcement of a court order, or making improper use of the courts are all examples of the sorts of conduct that will support a finding of bad faith or improper purpose." Id. at 754. "Because the court's inherent power to impose sanctions is discretionary, the court is not required to sanction a party or attorney even if it has determined that some wrongdoing has occurred." Murray v. City of Columbus, Ohio , 534 F.Appx. 479, 485 (6th Cir. 2013). This is particularly true where the wrongdoing did not prejudice the other party. See id.

MERITS

I. Impact of First Sanctions Motion

Defendant argues that Plaintiff's current motion is redundant and frivolous because it raises the same issues argued in Plaintiff's first motion for sanctions. (Dkt. 87, Resp. at 1-4.) The Magistrate Judge, however, denied the first motion because Plaintiff failed to comply with the procedural requirements of Local Rule 37. (Dkt. 70, 9/11/13 Order.) The cases that Defendant cites to support its argument are not analogous here. Unlike in this case where the court has never addressed the merits of Plaintiff's arguments as currently framed, the courts in those cases had already ruled on the substantive issues when the movant sought reconsideration.

Having resolved her procedural shortfalls by filing a Proposed Joint Statement of Issues and Certificate of Consultation, we will now reach the merits of Plaintiff's arguments for the first time . See Holder v. AT&T Servs., Inc. , No. 11 C 0076, 2013 WL 5817575, at *4 (M.D. Tenn. Oct. 29, 2013) (permitting a party to refile its motion in compliance with Local Rule 37); Emmerick ...


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