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Lonewolf v. Garrett

United States District Court, W.D. Virginia, Harrisonburg Division

May 7, 2019

JOHN E. LONEWOLF, Plaintiff,
v.
SGT. STEVE GARRETT, Defendant

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          HON. MICHAEL F. URBANSKI CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Pending in this case are Defendant Steve Garrett's motions for sanctions, for summary judgment, and to deem the requests for admissions admitted. ECF Nos. 26, 28, 50. Plaintiff John Lonewolf has responded and a hearing was held in the matter on April 10, 2019. As discussed more fully below, the court (1) denies the motion for summary judgment because of the existence of disputed issues of material fact; (2) grants the motion for sanctions to the extent that any evidence requested and not provided will not be admitted at trial; (3) awards monetary sanctions; and (4) grants in part and denies in part the request to deem the admissions admitted.

         BACKGROUND

         I. Plaintiffs Allegations

         Lonewolf filed this lawsuit on January 5, 2018, alleging deliberate indifference to his health and safety by defendants Steve Garrett and John Higgins. Plaintiff entered Rockbridge Regional Jail ("Rockbridge") on October 30, 2012 to serve a sentence for a drug offense. He had been convicted in 1991 of aggravated sexual assault of a child and was required to register as a sex offender.

         Lonewolf was processed into custody by defendant Garrett, who used Lonewolf s birth name of Earl William Giger. When Lonewolf protested that he had changed his name to John Earl Lonewolf in April 2012, Garrett became angry and refused to use Lonewolf s new name. Lonewolf asserts that Garrett, in the presence of two "Trusty" inmates, stated that Lonewolf was a sex offender.

         Lonewolf protested that he was afraid for his safety because the "Trusty" inmates overheard Garrett mention his sex offender status and asked that Garrett not place him in general population. Garrett refused the request, stating that Lonewolf had been incarcerated in the Rockbridge general population before without any problems.

         Lonewolf was assigned to the same cell block as Joel Copper. In July 2010, while incarcerated at Rockbridge, Copper had viciously assaulted inmate Fabian Schlegel because he believed Schlegel was a child rapist. Defendant Garrett's wife, also an employee at Rockbridge, witnessed the assault and filed a report.

         Copper asserts he told defendant Garrett in August 2012 that he did not want to be housed with a child sexual offender because of his violent reaction to them. Three days before Lonewolf was transferred to Rockbridge, Copper asked that a presumed child sex offender be moved and again told defendant Garrett of his violent disposition towards them.

         Within hours of Lonewolf being processed into Rockbridge, Copper learned of Lonewolf s sex offender history from other inmates. Shortly after 8:00 p.m., Copper entered Lonewolf s cell and brutally assaulted him. During die assault, Copper called Lonewolf by the name "Hinger," "Hanger," or "Giger," and accused him of being a child sex offender.

         At approximately 9:50 p.m., guards, on duty, including defendant Garrett's wife, discovered Lonewolf barely conscious in his cell. He told them that Copper had beaten him and he was transported to the hospital emergency department. Lonewolf suffered multiple injuries to his left eye, left ocular ridge, left parietal skull, mandible, palate, spleen, two ribs, left lung, and intestines. He was hospitalized from the date of the assault, October 30, 2012, until February 2013. Lonewolf claims ongoing physical and mental injuries.

         II. Procedural History

         Lonewolf initially filed this action on October 31, 2013 and the parties consented to the magistrate judge's jurisdiction on February 24, 2014. See Lonewolf v. Garrett, No. 7:13-CV-00519 (W.D. Va.'2017) (the "first suit"). Following a motion for summary judgment and an evidentiary hearing on the motion, United States Magistrate Judge Robert Ballou entered an order granting summary judgment on the claims against Higgins and denying summary judgment as to Garrett.

         At the evidentiary hearing in the first suit, Copper admitted to beating Lonewolf after finding out he had been convicted of sexually assaulting a child. Copper corroborated Lonewolf s version of events, including beating inmate Schlegel in 2010, asking Garrett not to house him around child sex offenders, having Garrett imply to him that Lonewolf was a child sex offender, having other inmates confirm Lonewolf s conviction, and beating Lonewolf. Garrett, Lonewolf, Higgins, and Candice Bane, a major at Rockbridge, also testified at the hearing.

         Shortly before the trial date, Garrett filed a motion for sanctions asking to exclude certain evidence because Lonewolf had not responded to discovery requests. Lonewolf then voluntarily dismissed the lawsuit without prejudice via joint stipulation dated July 6, 2017. He filed the instant action on January 5, 2018, within the six-month period allowed by Va. Code § 8.01-229(E)(3).

         Defendants Garrett and Higgins filed a motion to dismiss in this current suit on May 5, 2018, to which Lonewolf did not respond. A hearing was held on June 26, 2018. The court dismissed the claims against Higgins on res judicata and collateral estoppel grounds, and dismissed claims against the defendants in their official capacities. The case was set for trial against Garrett in his individual capacity.

         The new suit was set for trial on March 3-4, 2019. Lonewolf again stonewalled discovery, leading Garrett to file a motion for sanctions and motion for summary judgment on December 19, 2018.

         On January 7, 2019, a stipulation of dismissal with prejudice, signed by counsel for both Lonewolf and Garrett, was filed. Lonewolf contacted the clerk on January 11, 2019 by telephone, stating that he did not agree to the stipulation of dismissal. The court attempted a conference call on the issue on January 18, 2019, but Lonewolf did not join the call. The court then set a show cause hearing for January 24, 2019 in open court to address the stipulation of dismissal with prejudice.

         Lonewolf and his counsel testified at die January 24, 2019 hearing, and die court determined to vacate the stipulation of dismissal with prejudice, based on a misunderstanding between Lonewolf and his counsel. The court set new deadlines to respond to the motion for sanctions and summary judgment and provide responses to the requests for admissions. The parties appeared and argued die present motions on April 10, 2019.

         DISCUSSION

         III. Motion for Sanctions

         Rule 37(d) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that a court may sanction a party for failure to respond to requests for discovery. Sanctions may include directing that the matters embraced in the discovery or other designated facts be taken as established for purposes of the action as the prevailing party claims; prohibiting the non-responsive party from supporting or opposing designated claims or defenses, or from introducing designated matters into evidence; striking pleadings in whole or in part; staying further proceedings until the order is obeyed; dismissing the action in whole or in part; or rendering a default judgment against the non-responsive party. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b) and (d). In addition, if a party fails to provide Rule 26 disclosures, including die identification of witnesses, the party is not allowed to use that information or witnesses to supply evidence at subsequent proceedings, unless the failure was substantially justified or is harmless. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(c).

         Garrett filed a motion for sanctions on December 19, 2018, alleging that Lonewolf never provided answers to the first set of interrogatories and failed to provide his Rule 26 disclosures. Garrett asks that the case be dismissed, or, in the alternative, that all evidence requested but not produced be excluded. After the motion for sanctions was filed, Lonewolf responded at least in part to the request for admissions, requests for production, and interrogatories.

         Where dismissal is a potential sanction, courts have more narrow discretion because "the district court's desire to enforce its discovery orders is confronted head-on by the party's rights to a trial by jury and a fair day in court."[1] Mutual Federal Sav. And Loan Ass'n v. Richards & Associates. Inc.. 872 F.2d 88, 92 (4th Cir. 1989) (citing Wilson v. Volkswagen of America. Inc., 561 F.2d 494, 503-04 (4th Cir. 1977)). In deciding a motion for sanctions, courts use a four-part test: (1) whether the noncomplying party acted in bad faith; (2) the amount of prejudice his noncompliance caused his adversary, which necessarily includes an inquiry into the materiality of the evidence he failed to produce; (3) the need for deterrence of the particular sort of noncompliance; and (4) the effectiveness of less drastic sanctions. Wilson. 561 F.2d at 503-506. The test ensures "only the most flagrant case, where the party's noncompliance represents bad faith and callous disregard for the authority of the district court and the Rules, will result in the extreme sanction of dismissal or judgment by default." Mutual Federal Sav., 872 F.2d at 92.

         (A) Bad Faith

         Bad faith includes willful conduct, where a party clearly understands its duty to the court but nevertheless deliberately disregards it. Opportunities Dev. Group, LLC v. Andruss. No. 1:14-cv-62, 2015 WL 2089841 at * 6 (E.D. Va. 2015). For example, in Belk v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Bd. Of Educ. 269 F.3d 305, 348 (4th Cir. 2001), the Fourth Circuit found ample evidence of bad faith when a party was told to supplement its answers to interrogatories when such information became known, but failed to do so. As an excuse for untimely disclosure of fact witnesses, the party relied on the district court's pretrial order that parties were to provide a witness list to the court on the first day of trial. The district court found that the provision of the pretrial order was clearly for the convenience of the court and could not reasonably have been interpreted to apply to disclosures to the other parties.

         Lonewolf argues that he did not act in bad faith because he did eventually respond and has not sought to frustrate this litigation or the discovery process, and, except for medical records, the vast majority of what he tendered to Garrett was information already in Garrett's possession. Garrett points out that Lonewolf was silent after being served with discovery requests and was silent in response to the motion for sanctions and motion for summary judgment until the court ordered him to respond.

         The court finds evidence of bad faith on Lonewolf s part in failing to respond to the discovery requests and only doing so after he faced the threat of sanctions. However, he did provide the discovery in response to the threat of sanctions and has since complied with this court's orders, appeared at scheduled hearings, and has not otherwise frustrated the proceedings.

         (B) ...


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