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Stile v. Cumberland County Sheriff

United States District Court, D. Maine

June 27, 2016

JAMES STILE, Plaintiff
v.
CUMBERLAND COUNTY SHERIFF, et al., Defendants

          RECOMMENDED DECISION ON DEFENDANTS’ MOTION FOR SANCTIONS

          JOHN C. NIVISON U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants’ motion for sanctions. (ECF No. 69.) Through their motion, Defendants ask the Court to dismiss Plaintiff’s claim principally because, according to Defendants, Plaintiff failed to participate in his deposition as required by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. Plaintiff contends that Defendants’ counsel never intended to conduct a legitimate deposition, but attempted to exploit Plaintiff’s psychological vulnerabilities in order to support the instant motion for sanctions. (Response, ECF No. 106.)

         After review of the parties’ submissions, I recommend the Court deny the Defendants’ request for dismissal.[1]

         Factual Background

         On November 18, 2015, the Court ordered Plaintiff to provide Defendants, on or before December 4, 2015, answers to Defendants’ interrogatories and documents responsive to Defendants’ requests for production. (ECF No. 61.) The Court further ordered Plaintiff’s deposition to proceed on December 11, 2015. (Id.)

         Defense counsel traveled to the Fort Dix, New Jersey Federal Correctional Facility to conduct Plaintiff’s deposition on December 11. The deposition lasted approximately one hour. (Transcript, ECF No. 70.) At the beginning of the deposition, Plaintiff read a statement in which he asserted that he objected to all questions because he was “unable to make a comprehensive examination of discovery materials” and his “personal notes, ” and that authorities at FCI Fort Dix had denied him access to a computer to review discovery materials. (Transcript at 9 - 10.) “On another note, ” Plaintiff stated that recent events at FCI Fort Dix had exacerbated his post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder and had compromised his ability to act pro se. (Id. at 10.) Plaintiff stated that he would “endeavor to answer … questions … to the best of his ability.” (Id.)

         Following a series of preliminary questions and instructions, defense counsel acknowledged receipt of some documents from Plaintiff, but had not received Plaintiff’s responses to the interrogatories the Court ordered Plaintiff to provide on or before December 5, 2015. (Transcript at 19.) Plaintiff maintained that the responses were sent in the same package as the other materials. Counsel maintained they were not included. (Id. at 20 - 22.) Plaintiff had in his possession a copy of his answers, unsworn, but did not allow counsel to take them, because he had only one copy. (Id. at 22.) Plaintiff did not permit counsel to ask anyone at FCI Fort Dix to make another copy. (Id. at 25 - 27.) Defense counsel then stated:

I was supposed to have them no later than December 4. They’ve not been received and I will simply indicate on the record my - the fact that this deposition will be suspended and not completed today pending my receipt and review of these answers.
These are some lengthy handwritten answers that it’s not possible for me to properly review in the context of this deposition ….

(Id. at 27.)

         Counsel then asked about Plaintiff’s PTSD diagnosis and the matters that Plaintiff reported had upset him at Fort Dix. Plaintiff stated that the facility’s requirement that he work in the kitchen interfered with his ability to manage and participate in his civil lawsuits, and as a result, he initiated grievance activity, and ultimately suffered a “meltdown.” (Id. at 30 - 38.) When counsel asked more specifically about the events that led to the meltdown, Plaintiff became noncompliant and asserted that counsel was harassing him. Plaintiff, at times using vulgarity, maintained that counsel’s questions were irrelevant and were intended to exploit Plaintiff’s psychological vulnerabilities. Eventually, Plaintiff told counsel to “pack up, ” and counsel concluded the deposition for the day. (Id. at 38 - 62.)

         Following the deposition, Plaintiff filed a motion requesting, inter alia, an order protecting him from any further questioning and striking his deposition from the record. (ECF No. 89.) The Court denied the motion. In its order, the Court noted:

A review of the transcript of Plaintiff’s deposition reveals that Defendants’ counsel concluded the deposition as the result of Plaintiff’s refusal to respond appropriately to questions regarding an incident at the Fort Dix Federal Correctional Institute. Plaintiff represented that the incident was the culmination of a conflict he had with Fort Dix officials, which incident caused him to decompensate mentally and experience emotional distress. Contrary to Plaintiff’s argument, the ...

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