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Sanchez v. Williams

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

November 9, 2018

MARK SANCHEZ, and PATRICK MARQUEZ, on behalf of themselves and a class of similarly situated individuals, Plaintiffs,
v.
DEREK WILLIAMS, et al., Defendants.

          PROPOSED FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDED DISPOSITION RELATED TO DEFENDANTS' MOTIONS TO DISMISS

         The Court must decide if the time has come to dismiss the final defendants from this lawsuit due to Plaintiffs' failure to prosecute their case. Because the Court has repeatedly warned Plaintiffs that it will dismiss this case unless they make an effort to prosecute the case, because Plaintiffs have failed to heed such warnings, and because no indication exists that Plaintiffs will attempt to prosecute the case in the future, I recommend that the Court enter an Order dismissing this case for failure to prosecute.

         Defendants Williams and Chavez (“County Defendants”) squarely placed this issue before the Court in their Motion to Dismiss filed July 30, 2018. Doc. 92. The remaining Defendants (“Bosque Farms and Los Lunas Defendants”) request dismissal through a Motion for Reconsideration filed July 17, 2018. Doc. 91. I recommend that the Court deny this motion for reconsideration because the Court did not misapprehend a party's position, the facts, or the controlling law. Nonetheless, for the same reasons I recommend dismissal of the County Defendants for failure to prosecute, I recommend sua sponte dismissal of the remaining Defendants.

         I. Factual Background

         Plaintiffs Mark Sanchez and Patrick Marquez (Plaintiffs), together with former plaintiffs Oscar Leyva and Dustin Sarrett[1], commenced this lawsuit against the Village of Los Lunas and Bosque Farms Defendants, and against the County Defendants, in 2011. Doc. 1. In early 2012, the Court consolidated this case with Wilson v. Montano et al., Civ. No. 11-658 KG/SCY and Ortiz v. Benavidez et al., Civ. No. 11-951 KG/SCY. Doc. 36.

         Plaintiff Sanchez alleges that Bosque Farms police officer Steven Roberts arrested him without a warrant on July 1, 2010. Doc. 5 at 4, 11. Further, he alleges Officer Roberts booked him into the Valencia County Detention Center (VCDC) and then failed to file a criminal complaint against him. Id. at 11. As a result, Plaintiff Sanchez claims that he unnecessarily remained in custody at the VCDC for approximately eight days. Id. With regard to the VCDC, Plaintiff Sanchez asserts that the booking officer (referred to as “John Doe”) never arranged to have him appear before a magistrate judge and did not release him when it became apparent no charges were filed. Id. at 6, 11-12.

         Plaintiff Marquez alleges that Los Lunas Officer Delinda Chavez arrested him without a warrant on or about June 15, 2010. Doc. 5 at 5, 12. According to Plaintiff Marquez, Officer Chavez booked him into the VCDC following his arrest but waited until June 28, 2010 to file a criminal complaint against him. Id. at 13. When Plaintiff Marquez was then brought before a magistrate judge on June 28, 2010, the magistrate judge released him. Id. Further, Plaintiff Marquez alleges that the VCDC booking officer (referred to as “John Doe”) neither arranged to have him brought before a magistrate judge nor released him even though he was being kept in custody without charges having been brought against him. Id. at 14.

         II. Procedural History

         Discovery stays have been in place throughout much of this litigation. In December 2016, the Court ruled on a number of motions that had been pending. See Civ. No. 11-658 KG/SCY, Docs. 158-166. I held a status conference on January 24, 2017 and lifted the discovery stay in place at the time. Civ. No. 11-658 KG/SCY, Docs. 172-73. Although the cases remained consolidated, discovery in this case and Wilson largely diverged, primarily because this case involved class certification discovery while Wilson did not. To allow the parties to focus on class certification discovery, I delayed merits discovery. Id. Subsequently, over the course of multiple follow-up status conferences with the parties, I modified the discovery process to allow for a phased pre-certification discovery approach. Civ. No. 11-658 KG/SCY, Doc. 178. First, I allowed a period of “Phase 1” discovery, designed to provide Plaintiffs an opportunity to obtain the information they would need to support their motion for class certification. “Phase 2” discovery was designed to provide Defendants an opportunity to obtain the information they would need to respond to Plaintiffs' motion for class certification. Unfortunately, due to the volume of discovery involved and various disputes regarding the production of this discovery, the Phase 1 discovery process took longer than the parties initially anticipated. Civ. No. 11-658 KG/SCY, Docs. 188, 196, 207, 208, 211, 215.

         On July 24, 2017, I set settlement conferences which, at the request of the parties, I later vacated and reset to the end of November 2017. Civ. No. 11-658 KG/SCY, Docs. 219, 221, 226-228. At a status conference on September 12, 2017, the parties requested that the commencement of Phase 2 discovery be delayed until after the November settlement conferences. Civ. No. 11-658 KG/SCY, Doc. 225. I then ordered the parties to file a joint status report (JSR) regarding proposed parameters and deadlines for Phase 2 discovery. Id. The parties filed this JSR on October 2, 2017. Civ. No. 11-658 KG/SCY, Doc. 231. Even though the Court had not yet entered a Phase 2 discovery order, the Bosque Farms and Los Lunas Defendants propounded discovery on October 19, 2017. Civ. No. 11-658 KG/SCY, Doc. 259-1, 259-2. On October 24, 2017, I vacated the settlement conference in this case and I then entered an order setting a deadline for Phase 2 discovery to be completed by January 26, 2018. Civ. No. 11-658 KG/SCY, Doc. 236. I also set a deadline of February 16, 2018 for Plaintiffs to file their motion for class certification. Id.

         On December 14, 2017, the Bosque Farms and Los Lunas Defendants filed a motion to compel, arguing that Plaintiffs had been completely unresponsive to their attempts to obtain discovery. Civ. No. 11-658 KG/SCY, Doc. 259. The Court denied this motion because the Bosque Farms and Los Lunas Defendants propounded their discovery requests prior to the commencement of Phase 2 discovery and because the scope of discovery requested exceeded the amount the Court allowed. Civ. No. 11-658 KG/SCY, Doc. 280. The Court then directed the Bosque Farms and Los Lunas Defendants to serve written discovery that complied with its order regarding Phase 2 discovery no later than January 31, 2018 and allowed Plaintiffs two weeks thereafter to respond to the discovery. Id. The Court advised Plaintiffs “that the failure to comply with discovery obligations or Court orders may result in the imposition of sanctions, up to and including dismissal of their claims.” Id. at 2. The Court further reiterated in bold lettering that the “February 16, 2018 deadline for Plaintiffs to file a motion for class certification remains unchanged.” Id. at 2. The Bosque Farms and Los Lunas Defendants represent, and Plaintiffs do not dispute, that they complied with this order by serving their written discovery on January 24, 2018. Doc. 59 at 3. Thus, Plaintiffs' response to this discovery was due no later than February 8, 2018. Having received no response, the Bosque Farms and Los Lunas Defendants filed a motion to dismiss Plaintiffs' claims on February 14, 2018. Doc. 59. Plaintiffs, however, did not timely respond.

         On March 8, 2018, I scheduled a hearing on all Defendants' motion to dismiss to take place on April 5, 2018. Doc. 65. On March 19, 2018, the Office of Disciplinary Counsel for the Disciplinary Board of the New Mexico Supreme Court notified this Court of a pending Petition for Administrative Suspension of Plaintiffs' counsel. Doc. 68. On March 29, 2018, Plaintiffs filed a motion to extend the deadline to respond to, among other things, the Bosque Farms and Los Lunas Defendants' motion to dismiss. Doc. 69. In this motion, Plaintiffs' counsel represented that he “was unable to respond in a timely manner . . . because he experienced significant medical difficulties and a condition that rendered it impossible for him to respond by the deadline.” Doc. 69 at 2. I denied this motion with leave to renew it at the April 5, 2018 hearing. Doc. 70.

         For a portion of the April 5, 2018 hearing, I sealed the courtroom so that I could hear details from Plaintiffs' counsel about his medical condition. Plaintiffs' counsel represented that his medical condition had existed for the past six to eight months and that his condition declined rapidly during the previous three to four months. Doc. 85 at 4-5, 9-10. He stated that from late December 2017 into January 2018, his medical condition severely affected his ability to represent his clients. Doc. 85 at 4-5, 9-10. Plaintiffs' counsel indicated that, through the help of investigators, he was able to locate his clients and so their failure to appear at the hearing as well as their recent unresponsiveness was the fault of counsel, not the fault of Plaintiffs themselves. Id. at 6. Based on the representations of Plaintiffs' counsel, I am convinced that Plaintiffs' counsel did suffer from a medical condition that significantly impaired his ability to respond to discovery and meet Court imposed deadlines.

         During the open portion of the April 5, 2018 hearing, I pointed out that, while Plaintiffs had moved to extend the time to respond to the Bosque Farms and Los Lunas Defendants' motion to dismiss, Plaintiffs had not filed a motion to extend the February 16, 2018 class certification deadline. Doc. 75 at 9. Plaintiffs' counsel responded that he would be filing a motion for a new scheduling order but that he first needed to verify with his clients that they continued to be willing to pursue the class claims as class representatives. Id. at 10, 13. Plaintiffs' counsel stated that he could ascertain his clients' willingness to remain as class representatives within seven to fourteen days. Id. at 13.

         At the conclusion of the hearing, I granted Plaintiffs' counsel's request for an opportunity to file late written responses to the Bosque Farms and Los Lunas Defendants' motion to dismiss (Doc. 59) and the County Defendants' motions for summary judgment (Docs. ...


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