United States District Court, M.D. Florida, Tampa Division
S. SNEED, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.
MATTER is before the Court on the United States' Motion
for Sanctions (“Motion”). (Dkt. 25.) For the
foregoing reasons, the Motion is granted in part and denied
September 28, 2017, the Government filed its Verified
Complaint for Forfeiture in Rem for $42, 118.13
seized from MB Financial Bank, N.A. and $18, 864.81 seized
from Beverly Bank and Trust, N.A. pursuant to 18 U.S.C.
§ 981(a)(1)(C). (Dkt. 1.) On December 12, 2017, Claimant
Chicagoland Motorsports Group, Inc.
(“Chicagoland”) filed its Amended Verified Claim
for Seized Property for the $60, 982.94 seized funds. (Dkt.
17.) On December 14, 2017, the Government served its First
Set of Interrogatories, First Request for Production, and
Request for Admissions on Chicagoland. (Dkt. 21-1.) On
January 22, 2018, the Government contacted counsel for
Chicagoland to inquire as to the overdue discovery responses.
(Dkt. 21-2.) On March 5, 2018, after Chicagoland failed to
respond to the discovery requests, the Government filed its
Motion to Compel. (Dkt. 21.) On March 8, 2018, counsel for
Chicagoland withdrew. (Dotes. 20, 22.) Chicagoland
subsequently failed to respond to the Motion to Compel. (See
Dkt. 23.) Consequently, on April 5, 2018, the Court granted
the Government's Motion to Compel and ordered Chicagoland
to serve its discovery responses and produce all responsive
documents by April 19, 2017 (“April 5 Order”).
(Dkt. 24.) On May 2, 2018, the Government filed its Motion,
stating Chicagoland failed to comply with the Court's
April 5 Order and has yet to respond to the discovery
requests. (Dkt. 25.) The Government now seeks sanctions
against Chicagoland for its violation of the April 5 Order.
(Id.) Specifically, the Government requests the
Court strike Chicagoland's claim for the seized funds.
Rule of Civil Procedure 37(b)(2) grants the court broad
authority in sanctioning a party for failure to comply with a
court order to provide discovery, including striking
pleadings and dismissing an action in whole or in part.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A); Gratton v. Great Am.
Commc'n, 178 F.3d 1373, 1374 (11th Cir. 1999). The
Court may also treat “as contempt of court the failure
to obey any order except an order to submit to a physical or
mental examination.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A)(vii).
District courts have broad discretion to fashion appropriate
sanctions for violations of discovery orders. Malautea v.
Suzuki Motor Co., Ltd., 987 F.2d 1536, 1542 (11th Cir.
1993). However, because dismissal of an action is a drastic
sanction, a district court may implement it only as a last
resort, when a party's failure to comply with a court
order is a result of willfulness or bad faith and lesser
sanctions would not suffice. United States v. One 32'
Scorpion Go-Fast Vessel, 339 Fed.Appx. 903, 905 (11th
Cir. 2009); Malautea, 987 F.2d at 1542. These
principles apply with equal force to pro se parties. Zow
v. Regions Fin. Corp., 595 Fed.Appx. 887, 889 (11th Cir.
2014); see also Smith v. Atlanta Postal Credit
Union, 350 Fed.Appx. 347, 350-51 (11th Cir. 2009)
(finding that district court did not abuse its discretion in
dismissing pro se plaintiff's case with prejudice for
failure to comply with her discovery obligation, the
procedural rules applicable to her case, and the court's
discovery order, pursuant to Rule 37(b)(2)(A) and Rule
under Rule 37(b)(2)(C), if a party “fails to obey an
order to provide or permit discovery, ” “the
court must order the disobedient party, the attorney advising
that party, or both to pay the reasonable expenses, including
attorney's fees, caused by the failure, unless the
failure was substantially justified or other circumstances
make an award of expenses unjust.” Fed.R.Civ.P.
37(b)(2)(C); see Phipps v. Blakeney, 8 F.3d 788, 790
(11th Cir. 1993) (citing Rule 37(b)(2)(C) and explaining that
the “district court has broad discretion to control
discovery, ” including “the ability to impose
sanctions on uncooperative litigants”). However,
sanctions are not generally warranted where a party has shown
that it made all reasonable efforts to comply with the
court's order. BankAtlantic v. Blythe Eastman Paine
Webber, Inc., 12 F.3d 1045, 1050 (11th Cir. 1994).
Motion, the Government argues that Chicagoland failed to
comply with the April 5 Order because it did not provide its
discovery responses by the Court's April 19, 2018
deadline. (Dkt. 25 at 5.) The Government asserts that
dismissal of Chicagoland's claim is appropriate because
Chicagoland's actions were willful and in bad faith.
(Id. at 6.) Specifically, the Government contends
that Chicagoland's former counsel confirmed that
Chicagoland was aware of its discovery obligations, yet
refused to comply with its obligations. (Id.) The
Government further argues that it is prejudiced by
Chicagoland's actions because the discovery deadline is
June 29, 2018, and the Government planned to conduct
additional discovery after receiving Chicagoland's
initial discovery responses. (Id.) Chicagoland has
failed to respond to the Motion.
the Court finds that striking Chicagoland's claim is not
warranted at this time under the circumstances, as the
parties are still within the discovery period designated by
the Case Management and Scheduling Order (Dkt. 19) and lesser
sanctions are sufficient to address Chicagoland's conduct
and the resulting prejudice to the Government. First, because
Chicagoland failed to respond to the Government's
Requests for Admissions, the unanswered requests are deemed
admitted pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 36(a).
Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(a)(3); see Perez v. Miami-Dade
County, 297 F.3d 1255, 1264 (11th Cir. 2002) (finding if
a party fails to respond to a request for admission within
thirty days, the matter is admitted and conclusively
established). Second, pursuant to Rule 37(b)(2)(C), if a
party “fails to obey an order to provide or permit
discovery, ” “the court must order the
disobedient party, the attorney advising that party, or both
to pay the reasonable expenses, including attorney's
fees, caused by the failure, unless the failure was
substantially justified or other circumstances make an award
of expenses unjust.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(C); see
Phipps, 8 F.3d at 790 (citing Rule 37(b)(2)(C) and
explaining that the “district court has broad
discretion to control discovery, ” including “the
ability to impose sanctions on uncooperative
litigants”). Without a response to the Motion from
Chicagoland, it appears that Chicagoland's failure to
comply with the April 5 Order was not substantially
justified, nor are there other circumstances making an award
of the Government's reasonable expenses, including
attorney's fees, unjust. Thus, an award of attorney's
fees is warranted.
is reminded that if it fails to participate in the
litigation, further sanctions may be warranted. Rule 37
outlines numerous sanctions the court may impose against
uncooperative parties for the failure to comply with a court
order or the failure to provide responses to discovery. Fed.
R .Civ. P. 37(b)(2)(A)(i-vii); see also In re Sunshine
Jr. Stores, Inc., 456 F.3d 1291, 1304 (11th Cir. 2006)
(providing that “[f]ederal courts have the inherent
power to impose sanctions on parties, lawyers, or both”
when a party delays or disrupts the litigation). Possible
sanctions include striking pleadings, dismissing the action,
prohibiting the disobedient party from supporting or opposing
designated claims or defenses, or from introducing designated
matters into evidence, or awarding attorney's fees and
costs to the moving party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2), (d);
Goodman-Gable-Gould Co. v. Tiara Condo. Ass'n,
Inc., 595 F.3d 1203, 1211 (11th Cir. 2010) (finding that
district court did not abuse its discretion in excluding
evidence a party sought to introduce at trial based on
party's discovery violations); Smith, 350
Fed.Appx. at 350-51 (11th Cir. 2009) (affirming dismissal of
pro se plaintiff's case with prejudice as “Rule 37
permits the district court to dismiss an action for failure
to cooperate during discovery or failure to comply with a
court order”); Aztec Steel Co. v. Florida Steel
Corp., 691 F.2d 480, 481 (11th Cir. 1982) (“When a
party demonstrates a flagrant disregard for the court and the
discovery process, however, dismissal is not an abuse of
discretion.”); McDaniel v. Bradshaw, No.
10-81082-CIV, 2011 WL 2470519, at *3 (S.D. Fla. June 20,
2011), aff'd sub nom., McDaniel v. Sheriff
of Palm Beach Cty., 491 Fed.Appx. 981 (11th Cir. 2012)
(precluding plaintiff from introducing any documents that the
Court required him to produce and which were not produced by
the court-ordered date for production).
it is ORDERED:
1. The United States' Motion for Sanctions (Dkt. 25) is
GRANTED in part and DENIED
2. The United States' Requests for Admissions served upon
Claimant Chicagoland Motorsports Group, Inc. on December 14,