Commercial Litigation and Arbitration

Rule 37(b) Sanctions Not Imposable in Absence of Court Order That Was Violated

Williams v. Alabama Dept. of Corrections, 2016 U.S. App. LEXIS 9070 (11th Cir. May 18, 2016):

Orlando Williams, proceeding pro se, appeals the district court's grant of summary judgment and judgment as a matter of law in favor of the defendants in his employment discrimination and retaliation suit. In his second amended complaint, Williams named six defendants: (1) the Alabama Department of Corrections; (2) Carter Davenport, Warden of St. Clair Correctional Facility; (3) Kimberley Weary, Departmental Grievance Officer; (4) James Marsh, Correctional Sergeant; (5) Robert Simmons, Correctional Captain; and (6) William Northcutt, Correctional Lieutenant (collectively, "the Department"). Williams claimed that the Department: (i) intentionally discriminated against him on the basis of his disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act ("ADA"), 42 U.S.C. §§ 12101-12213; (ii) failed to reasonably accommodate [*2]  his disability; and (iii) discriminated against him on the basis of his race in violation of Title VII, 42 U.S.C. § 2000e-2, and 42 U.S.C. § 1983.1 The district court granted the Department's cross-motion for summary judgment as to all of Williams's claims except his claim for failure to accommodate under the ADA.

1   Williams's complaint also included claims for ADA retaliation, § 1983 retaliation, and § 1983 disability discrimination. The district court granted summary judgment to the Department on those claims. Because Williams does not raise them on appeal, he has abandoned them. Timson v. Sampson, 518 F.3d 870, 874 (11th Cir. 2008) (per curiam).

On appeal, Williams first argues that the district court erred in granting the Department's motion for reconsideration, reversing the court's earlier grant of Williams's motion to compel disclosures or discovery. Second, he argues that the district court erred in concluding that the Department could not be sanctioned under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37 because it had not violated a court order. Third, Williams argues that the district court misapplied the summary judgment standard and did not consider evidence he presented showing he was disabled due to his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder ("PTSD") diagnosis and substantially limited in his ability to work. Fourth, he argues [*3]  that the district court erred in holding that he had not established a genuine issue of material fact as to his Title VII and § 1983 race discrimination claims. Finally, Williams argues that the district court erred in granting the Department's motion for judgment as a matter of law for his failure-to-accommodate claim and in denying his motion for a new trial.2

2   The Department argues that the district court lacked subject matter jurisdiction to adjudicate Williams's claims due to his failure to timely file suit within 90 days of receiving his right-to-sue letter from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. We conclude that even if Williams missed the 90 day deadline, this failure was not jurisdictional. See Zipes v. Trans World Airlines, Inc., 455 U.S. 385, 393, 102 S. Ct. 1127, 1132 (1982) (holding that filing a timely charge of discrimination with the EEOC is not a jurisdictional prerequisite to suit). We therefore proceed to the merits of Williams's claims.


We review a district court's discovery decisions for an abuse of discretion. See Holloman v. Mail-Well Corp., 443 F.3d 832, 837 (11th Cir. 2006). A district court is allowed a range of choice in such matters, and we will not second-guess the district court's actions unless they reflect a "clear of error judgment." United States v. Kelly, 888 F.2d 732, 745 (11th Cir. 1989).

The district court did not abuse its discretion in reconsidering its order [*4]  to compel the Department to produce discovery. The district court's scheduling order stated that it would automatically deny any motions related to a discovery dispute if the parties did not first attempt to resolve the dispute by communicating with each other in meaningful way. The grant of the motion to reconsider and denial of Williams's motion to compel reflected the court's determination that Williams had not properly attempted to resolve the dispute before filing his motion. As to Williams's argument that he had a right to respond to the Department's motion for reconsideration, the record demonstrates that Williams had in fact responded to the motion. Nothing in the record shows clear error on the part of the district court regarding its handling of this discovery dispute.


In considering an appeal of Rule 37 sanctions, we are "limited to a search for an abuse of discretion and a determination that the findings of the trial court are fully supported by the record." Serra Chevrolet, Inc. v. Gen. Motors Corp., 446 F.3d 1137, 1146-47 (11th Cir. 2006) (quotation omitted). Under Rule 37(b)(2)(A), "[i]f a party or a party's officer, director, or managing agent--or a witness . . . fails to obey an order to provide or permit discovery," the court may impose sanctions. Rule 37(c)(1) further states that, " [*5] [i]f a party fails to provide information or identify a witness as required . . . , the party is not allowed to use that information or witness to supply evidence on a motion, at a hearing, or at a trial." Id.

The district court did not abuse its discretion in denying Williams's request for Rule 37 sanctions. There was no court order regarding discovery, so Rule 37(b) sanctions do not come into play. Similarly under Rule 37(c), nothing in the record shows the Department failed to disclose or supplement its disclosures as necessary. The court did not abuse its discretion in denying sanctions.


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