Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Breadth of Court’s Discretion in Deciding Whether to Adjourn Trial until Party Can Make Personal Appearance — Both Arbitrariness and Prejudice Must Be Shown to Reverse

Koch v. Pechota, 2015 U.S. App. LEXIS 175 (2d Cir. Jan. 7, 2015):

"A party's demand for an adjournment of a civil trial until the party can make a personal [*2]  appearance is entrusted to the sound discretion of the trial judge." Payne v. Jones, 711 F.3d 85, 90-91 (2d Cir. 2013) (internal quotation marks omitted). "This Court will affirm orders denying continuances unless there is a showing both of arbitrariness and of prejudice to the defendant." Id. at 91 (internal quotation marks omitted). The district court in this case held the trial overmultiple times, and the district court's decision not to permit further continuances was not an abuse of discretion. As we stated in Payne:

Trial courts necessarily require a great deal of latitude in scheduling trials because trials are difficult to administer from a logistical and organizational standpoint. Not the least of their problems is that of assembling the witnesses, lawyers, and jurors at the same place at the same time. . . . The Supreme Court has recognized that the existence of all these complexities counsels against continuances except for compelling reasons. Because continuances can be highly disruptive to the courts and the parties, especially when granted close to the start of trial, trial courts are entrusted with broad discretion to decide whether the stated purpose of a continuance warrants the disruption and delay of granting one. And [*3]  when we review the denial of a continuance, we ask not what we ourselves might have done, but whether the district judge abused his discretion in deciding to act as he did.

711 F.3d at 92-93 (internal quotation marks and citation omitted).

Here, on the morning of trial, plaintiffs' counsel represented to the district court that it was unable to put on a case. Despite multiple continuances and multiple orders from the district court that plaintiff Koch complete her deposition or be precluded from testifying, Koch represented-without the submission of any sworn testimony- that she was unable to complete her deposition or to testify, in person or in any other way. The district court therefore properly precluded her testimony. Plaintiffs' offers with respect to various purported alternative methods of proving the case provided no basis for the district court to believe that plaintiff could provide admissible evidence sufficient to establish any of her causes of action. The district court thus properly rejected them, and when plaintiff conceded that, in light of the district court's evidentiary rulings, she was unable to put forward a prima facie case, the district court properly entered judgment [*4]  for the defendant on all remaining causes of action. To the extent that plaintiff objects to the earlier dismissal of the corporate plaintiffs, that issue is moot, as plaintiff's inability to put on a case would have required judgment against those plaintiffs in any event.

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