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Eberle v. Wilkinson

January 29, 2007

JEFFREY EBERLE, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
REGINALD WILKINSON, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Norah McCann King

OPINION AND ORDER

Plaintiffs, inmates in the custody of the State of Ohio, bring this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Religious Land Use and Incarcerated Persons Act, 42 U.S.C. § 2000cc et seq., alleging various violations of their Constitutional rights. With the consent of the parties, 28 U.S.C. § 636(c), this matter is before the Court on four motions filed by various plaintiffs. Doc. Nos. 151, 156, 160, 166. The Court addresses each below.

I. STANDARD

All four of the motions presently before this Court ask that sanctions be imposed upon defendants for their alleged bad faith in discovery and/or their failure to comply with this Court's discovery orders.

Rule 37(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a court to enter such orders "as are just" when a party fails to obey an order to provide discovery. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(b). The decision to impose sanctions, and the type of sanctions to be imposed, fall within the sound discretion of the trial court based on the facts of each particular case. Nat'l Hockey League v. Metropolitan Hockey Club, 427 U.S. 639 (1976); Regional Refuse Sys. v. Inland Reclamation Co., 842 F.2d 150, 154 (6th Cir. 1988). Further, it is well settled that federal trial courts have the inherent power to manage their own dockets, Link v. Wabash Railroad Co., 370 U.S. 626 (1961), and to sanction bad faith conduct, even if the court has not expressly considered whether such conduct could be sanctioned under all potentially applicable rules or statutes, First Bank of Marietta v. Hartford Underwriters Ins. Co., 307 F.3d 501, 511 (6th Cir. 2002).

II. DISCUSSION

A. Plaintiff Blankenship's Motion for Sanctions Against Mockabee and King, Doc. No. 151

On April 28, 2006, plaintiff Darryl Blankenship filed Plaintiff Blankenship's Motion for Sanctions against Defendant Mockabee and Attorney King for Falsification and Frustration of the Discovery Process ("Blankenship's Motion for Sanctions against Defendant Mockabee and Attorney King"). Doc. No. 151. That motion is fully at issue. See Doc. Nos. 151, 154, 155.

In this motion, plaintiff Blankenship alleges that defendant Major C.R. Mockabee and defense counsel Phillip A. King should be sanctioned "for tampering with evidence by way of falsifying claims that STG [security threat group] interview tapes of April 11, 2000, and April 18, 2000, do not exist." Id at 1. Plaintiff Blankenship asks this Court to impose sanctions in the form of compensation for the "expenses entailed in attempts to obtain the records sought via discovery." Id. Specifically, this plaintiff contends that he requested certain audiotapes from defendant Mockabee, and that Mockabee, through his attorney Phillip King, represented that Mockabee was unaware that any such audiotapes currently existed. Plaintiff Blankenship offers two unauthenticated documents to establish that defendant Mockabee and Attorney King were in fact aware that the audiotapes existed, but that they lied about the existence of those tapes. Plaintiff Blankenship's argument is without merit.

Setting aside the fact that the proffered documents are unauthenticated, the documents simply do not establish that defendant Mockabee and/or Attorney King were deliberately untruthful on this issue. The first document, purportedly an interoffice memorandum to J. Chris Dehart from Greg Bucholtz, makes reference to "tapes of interview by STG officers, Major and inmate Blankenship . . . ." This reference, which is itself somewhat ambiguous, is contained in a document which on its face does not appear to have been made available to defendant Mockabee. It simply does not establish that defendant Mockabee was aware of the audiotapes about which plaintiff complains.

The second unauthenticated document appears to be an interoffice communication from defendant Mockabee, dated April 25, 2000, in which defendant Mockabee describes a meeting between himself and plaintiff Blankenship: "Blankenship said that he had said all he was going to say on tape and would not write a statement." This brief communication is insufficient to establish that defendant Mockabee and his counsel lied to this Court years later about the existence of the particular audiotapes at issue.

Accordingly, Blankenship's Motion for Sanctions against Defendant Mockabee and Attorney King, Doc. No. 151, is DENIED.

B. Plaintiffs' Motion for Sanctions, Doc. No. 156

On May 31, 2006, plaintiffs filed Plaintiffs' Motion for Sanctions against Defendants and Counsel for Repeated Failure to Comply with Discovery as Ordered by this Court on August 17, 2005 (Doc. 129) and March 31, 2006 (Doc. 147) ("Plaintiffs' Motion for Sanctions"). Doc. ...


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