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Aura Lamp & Lighting Inc. v. International Trading Corp.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    Plaintiff brought suit against Defendant. Plaintiff failed to respond to Defendant’s discovery documents within the thirty-day period, as required under the FRCP. Defendant motioned to compel Plaintiff to comply with the discovery request and for the court to issue sanctions. The court allowed Plaintiff to make a new deadline to satisfy the discovery request. Thereafter, Plaintiff failed to meet the deadline. The district court dismissed the case for the failure to prosecute.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Under federal law, a complaint may be dismissed involuntarily if the prosecutor fails to prosecute the plaintiff based on missing deadlines, noncompliance with court orders, and court rule violations.

    Facts.

    Plaintiff, Aura Lamp & Lighting Inc., brought suit against International Trading Corp, Defendant, in federal court asserting contract and patent claims. Plaintiff was allowed to amend the complaint’s improper contention of diversity jurisdiction. Nevertheless, Plaintiff failed to amend it until Plaintiff was threatened with dismissal. Defendant motioned for a dismissal or transfer, but the court denied the motion and accepted Plaintiffs brief, even though it was tardy over Defendant’s objection.  Thereafter, Plaintiff did not respond to Defendant’s interrogatories, requests for production, and requests for admission within the thirty day period required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Defendant, subsequently, stipulated to two extensions, which Plaintiff also failed to timely meet the deadline. Defendant motioned to compel discovery and requested that the request for admissions be admitted. Further, Defendant requested the court to impose sanctions on Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s counsel asserted that said he worked alone and Aura Lamp was a “one-man operation,” lacking resources to comply with the requests. Subsequently, the judge permitted Plaintiff’s lawyer to set the discovery deadline, but continuously warned Plaintiff that she would contemplate dismissal if the deadline was missed again. Plaintiff did not produce any documents and served incomplete responses. Defendant motioned for dismissal, based on Plaintiff’s violation of court orders of noncompliance and failure to prosecute. Plaintiff’s counsel asserted that they conduct was not willful or wanton, but rather, this situation occurred due to “unforeseen circumstances beyond his control.” Moreover, the judge held that one does not need to prove willful and wanton misconduct for granting a motion to dismal for failure to prosecute, and the judge dismissed the case. Plaintiff appealed the trial court’s ruling on the grounds that the court failed to apply the correct standard, requiring a showing willful and wanton misconduct, the court failed to warn before dismissing suit, as required, and the court should have considered less severe sanctions.

    Issue.

    Whether a complaint may be dismissed involuntarily if the prosecutor fails to prosecute the plaintiff based on missing deadlines, noncompliance with court orders, and court rule violations, under federal law.

    Held.

    Yes, under federal law, a complaint may be dismissed involuntarily if the prosecutor fails to prosecute the plaintiff based on missing deadlines, noncompliance with court orders, and court rule violations.

    Discussion.

    Under federal law, a complaint may be dismissed involuntarily if the prosecutor fails to prosecute the plaintiff based on missing deadlines, noncompliance with court orders, and court rule violations. An appellate court reviews a district court’s dismissal based on a abuse of discretion standard, which is highly deferential. Thus, the ruling will only be overturned if it is fundamentally wrong based on the following factors: the regularity and seriousness of the plaintiff’s failure to comply, whether plaintiff or counsel caused the failures, the bearing on the judge’s schedule, prejudice to the defendant, the merits of the cause of action, and impact to the social objectives of suit. Ball v. City of Chicago, 2 F.3d 752 (7th Cir. 1993). Additionally, a district court judge is required to give an explicit warning before dismissing the case. However, the judge is not required to offer a “grace period” or enforce lesser sanctions first. In this case, the judge continuously and expressly warned Plaintiff that she was considering dismissing the case. The judge is not required to issue an order to show cause first. While consideration of a less sever sanction may be appropriate, the court is not required to do so nor is does that inaction constitute an abuse of discretion. Plaintiff’s continuous failure to miss her discovery deadlines and failure to comply with court orders, indicate that Plaintiff was responsible for the delays causing the court and Defendant to waste their time and effort in the case. Therefore, the district court’s ruling is affirmed.


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