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Stile v. Cumberland County Sheriff

United States District Court, D. Maine

March 6, 2017

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

          ORDER ON OBJECTION TO ORDER ON MOTION FOR SANCTIONS

          JOHN A. WOODCOCK, JR. UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         The Court concludes that the Magistrate Judge's sanction of precluding the Plaintiff from asserting an emotional injury claim after a certain period is neither clearly erroneous nor contrary to law based on the Plaintiff's deplorable misconduct during his deposition.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Genesis of the Controversy

         The genesis of this controversy can be traced to a deposition of the Plaintiff that took place on December 11, 2015, at Federal Correctional Institution (FCI) Fort Dix in Fort Dix, New Jersey. The Defendants were taking Mr. Stile's deposition pursuant to a court order that allowed them to do so. Report of Tel. Conf. and Order at 1 (ECF No. 61) (Tel. Conf. Report) (“The deposition of the Plaintiff shall proceed as scheduled on December 11, 2015”). The deposition was not completed. See Dep. Under Oral Exam. of James Stile 62:9-63:1 (ECF No. 70) (Stile Dep.).

         Following the aborted deposition, on December 30, 2016, the Defendants filed a motion for sanctions in which they requested that the Court dismiss Mr. Stile's Complaint with prejudice for his failure to participate in his deposition. Mot. for Sanctions (ECF No. 69) (Sanctions Mot.). On April 25, 2016, Mr. Stile objected. Pl.'s Resp. to Def[s.'] Mot. for Sanctions (ECF No. 106). On June 27, 2016, the Magistrate Judge issued a recommended decision on the Defendants' motion for sanctions and, after finding that Mr. Stile's conduct was not only disrespectful but also failed to comply with the court order, the Magistrate Judge declined to dismiss his Complaint, yet raised the possibility that some other less drastic form of sanction would be appropriate. Recommended Decision on Defs.' Mot. for Sanctions (ECF No. 131) (Recommended Decision).

         On July 25, 2016, both Mr. Stile and the Defendants objected to the Recommended Decision. Pl.'s Obj. to Magistrate Judge's R. & R. as Pertains to (ECF No. 131) in the Above-Docketed Case (ECF No. 141); Defs.' Obj. to Magistrate's Recommended Decision on Defs.' Mot. for Sanctions, Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 (ECF No. 139). On August 23, 2016, this Court affirmed the recommended decision. Order Affirming Recommended Decision of the Magistrate Judge (ECF No. 155) (Order Affirming).

         In his Recommended Decision, the Magistrate Judge left open the possibility that he would impose alternative sanctions for Mr. Stile's obstructive misconduct. Recommended Decision at 1, n.1, 5; Order Affirming at 4. On December 4, 2016, the Defendants requested a telephone conference to discuss the imposition of alternative sanctions with the Magistrate Judge. Order on Defs.' Req. for Sanctions at 1 (ECF No. 180) (Sanctions Order). The Magistrate Judge held a telephonic hearing on January 6, 2017. Id. On January 23, 2017, the Magistrate Judge issued the following Order:

An appropriate sanction, therefore, is to preclude Plaintiff from recovering in this action for any emotional distress he believes he suffered following his transfer to Fort Dix. In other words, Plaintiff will be prohibited from asserting or otherwise claiming at trial that Defendants are responsible for any emotional distress Plaintiff might have suffered after he become incarcerated at Fort Dix.

Id. at 5.

         On February 6, 2017, Mr. Stile objected to the Magistrate Judge's Order. Pl.'s Obj. to Magistrate's Order (ECF No. 180) Filed in Accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 72 (ECF No. 181) (Pl.'s Obj.). On February 16, 2017, the Defendants responded, noting that while none of the parties has been fully satisfied with the sanction issued by the Magistrate Judge, his decision falls within the Court's discretion. Defs.' Resp. to Pl.'s Obj. to Magistrate's Order on Def[s.'] Req. for Sanctions (Document No. 180) (ECF No. 182).

         B. The December 10, 2015 Stile Deposition

         As earlier noted, the Defendants sought and obtained court permission to depose Mr. Stile, who was incarcerated at FCI Fort Dix in New Jersey. Tel. Conf. Report at 1. Defense counsel had traveled to Fort Dix to conduct Mr. Stile's deposition. Sanctions Mot. at 3. At the outset of the deposition, Mr. Stile read into the record a statement, a portion of which reads:

On another note, the plaintiff does suffer from PTSD and a panic disorder which has been exacerbated by Federal Bureau of Prison's discriminatory actions against the plaintiff, as of recent, and the court has been advised of such by motion for injunctive relief and/or assignment of counsel in light of the plaintiff's obvious difficulty in continuing as pro se counsel in this pending litigation.
Plaintiff will endeavor to answer the questions of this deposition today to the best of his ability, keeping in mind counsel is questioning a plaintiff who, at present, is at a mental disadvantage due to a recent episode experienced at FCI Fort Dix that can best be described as a decompensation, a meltdown due to failure of FCI Fort Dix to accommodate the plaintiff's court-ordered compliance with deadlines.

Stile Dep. at 10:5-24. Later in the deposition, defense counsel questioned Mr. Stile about the episode at FCI Fort Dix, but Mr. Stile refused to answer questions about the Fort Dix event:

Q. What happened? What everyone described it as, what were the events that took place?
A. I would recommend you get the files from here and explore that.
Q. I may not be able to do that, but I'm asking you to ...

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