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Anthony Wayne Johnson, Jr v. M. Gains et al

March 23, 2012

ANTHONY WAYNE JOHNSON, JR.,
PLAINTIFF,
v.
M. GAINS ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Louisa S Porter United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR SANCTIONS AND GRANTING IN PART PLAINTIFF'S MOTION FOR REIMBURSEMENT OF LEGAL FEES [ECF No. 184] [ECF No. 212]

I. INTRODUCTION

On February 6, 2012, Plaintiff Anthony Wayne Johnson, Jr., a state prisoner proceeding pro se on a civil rights complaint pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983, filed a Motion for Sanctions. (ECF No. 184.) Plaintiff requests the Court impose sanctions because Defendants failed to produce documents in response to the Court's previous discovery orders. Defendants filed a Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion for Sanctions on February 10, 2012. (ECF No. 190.)

The Court held a Discovery Conference on February 14, 2012. Based on the discussion with the parties, this Court had grave concerns that Calipatria State Prison personnel have not cooperated with Counsel and failed to comply with the Court's discovery orders in this case. Accordingly, the Court ordered the person or persons most knowledgeable about the search protocol for documents at Calipatria State Prison to appear before the Court to provide testimony under oath concerning the search protocol, and procedures which were conducted in response to Plaintiff's requests and the Court's orders, and with what results. (ECF No. 198.)

On February 22, 2012, the Court held an Evidentiary Hearing. Appearing were: Plaintiff Anthony Wayne Johnson, Jr.; Terrence Sheehy, Esq. and Michelle DesJardins, Esq., counsel for Defendants; Gabriela Nunez, Litigation Coordinator for Calipatria State Prison; and Irma Moreno, Associate Litigation Coordinator for Calipatria State Prison.

Following the Evidentiary Hearing and at the Court's direction, Plaintiff filed a Motion for Reimbursement of Legal Fees, detailing the legal expenses incurred as a result of Defendants' failure to respond to Plaintiff's discovery requests. (ECF No. 212.) Plaintiff requests $101.70 in reimbursement of his legal expenses, as well as $500 for the infliction of emotional distress.

Based on the testimony of Ms. Nunez and for the reasons set forth below, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Plaintiff's Motion for Sanctions and Plaintiff's Motion for Reimbursement be GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

II. DISCUSSION

Federal courts may impose monetary sanctions on parties failing to comply with court orders under both the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Local Rules of Court. Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that where a party fails to comply with a court order, "the court must order the disobedient party, the attorney advising that party, or both to pay the reasonable expenses, including attorney's fees, caused by the failure, unless the failure was substantially justified or other circumstances make an award of expenses unjust." FED. R. CIV. P. 37(b)(2)(c) (emphasis added). Furthermore, "[f]ailure of counsel or of any party to comply . . . with any order of the court may be grounds for imposition by the court of any and all sanctions authorized by statute or rule or within the inherent power of the court, including, without limitation, . . . imposition of monetary sanctions or attorneys' fees and costs." S.D. Cal. Civ. R. 83.1(a).

The lack of bad faith does not immunize a party or its attorney from sanctions; however, a finding of good or bad faith may be a consideration in determining whether imposition of sanctions would be unjust. Hyde & Drath v. Baker, 24 F.3d 1162, 1171 (9th Cir. 1994); see also Fjelstad v. American Honda Motor Co., Inc., 762 F.2d 1334, 1343 (9th Cir. 1985) ("We consistently have held that sanctions may be imposed even for negligent failures to provide discovery."). Moreover, "[b]elated compliance with discovery orders does not preclude the imposition of sanctions" as the "[l]ast-minute tender of documents does not cure the prejudice to opponents." North American Watch Corp. v. Princess Ermine Jewels, 786 F.2d 1447, 1451 (9th Cir. 1986), citing G-K Properties

v. Redevelopment Agency of City of San Jose, 577 F.2d 645, 647-48 (9th Cir. 1978).

In this case, Plaintiff made Requests for Production of Documents as early as July 2011.

However, as of February 2012, and only after repeated motions by Plaintiff, orders by the Court, and defense counsel's inquiring of various state officers and traveling to Calipatria State Prison to conduct his own review of records, documents are still dribbling into the Court for review. The discovery cutoff date is past and Plaintiff is now precluded from follow-up discovery in response to any documents now produced. This obviously prejudices Plaintiff from case preparation. Based on the testimony provided at the February 22, 2012 Evidentiary Hearing, it is apparent that Calipatria maintains an abysmal record keeping system. Calipatria officials do not adequately work with the very attorneys charged with representing Calipatria personnel and the prison itself, nor has Calipatria been forthcoming with documents in response to Mr. Johnson's requests or Court orders. Plaintiff, Mr. Johnson, is the extraordinary prisoner who has diligently pursued his right to discovery through numerous motions to the Court, which resulted in the Court holding an evidentiary hearing in this matter. It is unclear whether Calipatria's failures are an intentional withholding of documents and cooperation or the result of an extremely antiquated, ineffectual and inefficient system for creating, storing and maintaining the preservation of records, and accessing records and documents. The record keeping system resembles the final scene of The Raiders of the Lost Ark. Simple cooperation and candor between Calipatria officials with the Attorney General Office's lawyers representing its personnel would have avoided untold hours of labor by Plaintiff, the Attorney General's Office and the Court in this case.

Based on a thorough review of the testimony of Ms. Gabriela Nunez, Litigation Coordinator for Calipatria State ...


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