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Shields v. The Fresh Market, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. Florida

October 23, 2019

INDERIA SHIELDS, Plaintiff,
v.
THE FRESH MARKET, INC., Defendant.

          VALLE JUDGE

          OMNIBUS ORDER

          BETH BLOOM UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         THIS CAUSE is before the Court upon Defendant The Fresh Market, Inc.'s (“Defendant” or “Fresh Market”) Motion to Dismiss or for Sanctions for Failure to Comply with Court Orders and to Compel, ECF No. [56] (“Defendant's Motion”), and Plaintiff Inderia Shields' (“Plaintiff”) Motion to Compel Defendant Interrogatories, Admissions, Request for Production and Motion to Sanction, ECF No. [69] (“Motion to Compel”). The Court has reviewed the Motions, the supporting and opposing briefs and is otherwise fully advised. For the reasons that follow Defendant's Motion is granted in part and denied in part and the Motion to Compel is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff initiated the above-styled lawsuit in the Circuit Court of the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit in and for Broward County, Florida. ECF No. [1-2]. In the Complaint, Plaintiff alleges that she sustained injuries after she slipped and fell while at the Fresh Market store located at 12171 W. Sunrise Blvd., Plantation, Florida. Id. at 2. At the time of the filing of the Complaint, Plaintiff was represented by counsel, Michael W. Wallace, Esq., of the Law Offices of Robert J. Fenstersheib & Associates, P.A. Counsel has since withdrawn, and the Plaintiff has elected to proceed in this action pro se. See ECF Nos. [18], [21], [23].

         On June 26, 2019, Defendant propounded written discovery upon Plaintiff. On August 8, 2019, Defendant filed a motion to compel Plaintiff's responses to its requests for discovery. See ECF No. [19]. In the motion to compel, Defendant sought to compel Plaintiff's discovery responses, to deem its requests for admissions admitted, and for its attorneys' fees and costs associated with the time and preparation of drafting and filing the motion. See generally Id. On September 12, 2019, the Court granted in part and denied in part Defendant's motion to compel and ordered the Plaintiff to provide her responses to Defendant's discovery requests no later than September 25, 2019. ECF No. [38]. Plaintiff then apparently timely responded to the Defendant's discovery requests. Defendant has now moved to dismiss this action, arguing that the Plaintiff has failed to adequately respond to its Request for Admissions and Interrogatories. See generally ECF No. [56].

         On October 7, 2019, the Plaintiff filed her Motion to Compel, seeking an order from the Court compelling the Defendant to respond to her Interrogatories, Requests for Admissions and Request for Production. ECF No. [69]. Plaintiff also requested an order of sanctions be imposed against the Defendant for its alleged failure to respond to her requests for discovery. Id.

         II. DISCUSSION

         a. Defendant's Motion

         In its Motion, Defendant argues that the instant action should be dismissed for the Plaintiff's failure to adequately respond to its discovery requests. See generally ECF No. [56]. Specifically, Defendant contends that while Plaintiff has produced documents, she has not submitted written responses to the Defendant's Request for Admissions. Id. at 2. Thus, Defendant argues that Plaintiff should be required to submit a document confirming that the documents she produced are intended to be her responses to the Defendant's Request for Admissions. Id. Defendant also argues that many of Plaintiff's responses to its Interrogatories are insufficient. Id. Therefore, Defendant argues that Plaintiff's failure to adequately respond to its discovery requests warrants the dismissal of this action. Id. Alternatively, Defendant seeks to compel proper answers to its Interrogatories. Id. at 9. Plaintiff opposes the relief sought in the Defendant's Motion. ECF No. [59].

         The Eleventh Circuit has “articulated a two-part analysis for determining when an action should be dismissed as a sanction: There must be both (1) a clear record of willful conduct and (2) a finding that lesser sanctions are inadequate. Zocaras v. Castro, 465 F.3d 479, 483 (11th Cir. 2006) (citing Betty K Agencies, Ltd. v. M/V MONADA, 432 F.3d 1333, 1339 (11th Cir. 2005) (“dismissal with prejudice is plainly improper unless and until the district court finds a clear record of delay or willful conduct and that lesser sanctions are inadequate to correct such conduct”)); see also Boazman v. Econ. Lab., Inc., 537 F.2d 210, 212 (5th Cir. 1976) (“[D]ismissal with prejudice is such a severe sanction that it is to be used only in extreme circumstances, where there is a clear record of delay or contumacious conduct, and where lesser sanctions would not serve the best interests of justice.”) (quotations omitted). When considering alternative sanctions, the Eleventh Circuit has counseled that “[d]ismissal of a case with prejudice is considered a sanction of last resort, applicable only in extreme circumstances.” Zocaras, 465 F.3d at 483; see also Boazman, 537 F.2d at 212 (explaining “that lesser sanctions would suffice in all but the most flagrant circumstances”).

         Dismissal of an action is the most severe of sanctions and should only be implemented when lesser sanctions will not suffice. Here, the Court finds that there are lesser sanctions which will better serve the interests of justice, rather than the dismissal of this action. Specifically, the Court can order the Plaintiff to amend her discovery responses.

         The Court understands that the Plaintiff has provided documents presumed to be her responses to the Defendant's Requests for Admissions. To the extent that the Plaintiff has failed to provide written responses indicating whether she admits or denies Defendant's Requests for Admissions, the Defendant's Motion is granted. The Plaintiff is directed to provide written responses either admitting or denying the Defendant's Requests for Admissions or confirming which documents produced are intended to be responses to the Defendant's First Request for Admissions.

         Further, following review of the responses submitted by the Plaintiff to the Defendant's Interrogatories, the Court agrees with the Defendant that many of the Plaintiff's responses are insufficient or incomplete. The Court makes the following findings:

         i. Interrogatory No. 3:

         Interrogatory No. 3 asks the following:

Did you have any physical infirmity, disability, sickness or consume alcohol/medications at the time of or prior to the incident described in the complaint? If so, what was the nature of the infirmity, disability, sickness, consumption? In answering please state whether you consumed any alcoholic beverages or had taken any drugs or medication within twelve hours before the time of the incident described in the complaint and if so, state the type and amount of alcoholic beverages, drugs or medication which were consumed and when and where you consumed them.

ECF No. [56], at 2-3. Plaintiff's response to Interrogatory No. 3 is simply “no.” Id. at 3. Defendant argues that this answer is insufficient as Plaintiff fails to identify prior injuries, despite acknowledging that she was involved in personal injury claims against other parties. Id. at 3. The Defendant also argues that this information is necessary to permit it to advance fact discovery and develop its defenses to Plaintiff's claim. Id.

         The Court finds that Plaintiff's response to Interrogatory No. 3 is deficient as it relates to the issue of whether Plaintiff consumed alcoholic beverages, drugs or medication within twelve hours before the incident alleged in the Complaint. As it relates to the first question posed in Interrogatory No. 3-whether Plaintiff has “any physical infirmity, disability, sickness or consume alcohol/medications at the time of or prior to the incident described in the complaint“, Plaintiff has sufficiently responded.

         Accordingly, the Defendant's Motion as it relates to Interrogatory No. 3 is GRANTED IN PART. Plaintiff must amend her response to Interrogatory No. 3 to provide the information as to whether she consumed alcoholic beverages, drugs or medication within twelve hours before the incident alleged in the Complaint.

         ii. Interrogatory No. 4:

         Interrogatory No. 4 asks the following:

Have you ever made a claim or filed a lawsuit against anyone on behalf of yourself or any member of your family other than this lawsuit? If so, state the state and county where claim was made, the date thereof and identify all parties to the action or proceeding.

ECF No. [56], at 3. Plaintiff's response to Interrogatory No. 4 was “[y]es, Publix Supermarket. Florida/Broward.” Id. Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to specify the dates of the claims and the number of claims she had and that the requested information is necessary to permit Defendant to conduct discovery to obtain information regarding Plaintiff's prior claims in order to develop its defenses. Id.

         The Court agrees with the Defendant that Plaintiff's response to Interrogatory No. 4 is deficient. Plaintiff has failed to provide the date the claim against Publix was made, nor has she identified the parties to the action referenced in her response.

         Accordingly, the Defendant's Motion as it relates to Interrogatory No. 4 is GRANTED. Plaintiff must amend her response to include the date the action against Publix Supermarket was filed and must identify all parties to the action. The Court also notes that to the extent Plaintiff has filed more than one lawsuit on behalf of herself or any member of her family, she must also provide all details requested in Interrogatory No. 4 for each action filed.

         iii. Interr ...


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