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Sanction of Dismissal with Prejudice Approved for Repeated Discovery Violations

ABSTRACT: A Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District ruling affirmed the dismissal of an action as a discovery sanction based on a “contumacious and deliberate disregard for the authority of the trial court.”

In Noble v. L.D. Enterprises, Inc. the Missouri Court of Appeals, Western District affirmed a dismissal with prejudice for Plaintiff’s repeated refusal to engage in discovery.

Plaintiff Brandie Noble fell in a parking lot that was controlled by Defendant L.D. Enterprises on July 14, 2014, purportedly sustaining injuries that required medical treatment. Over four years later, Noble filed a lawsuit seeking damages for her injuries. This lawsuit was voluntarily dismissed by Noble on November 2, 2020 and refiled on October 18, 2021, shortly before the expiration of the statute of limitations.

On May 25, 2022, L.D. Enterprises served their Opening Interrogatories and First Request for Production of Documents to Plaintiff. Noble, who was represented by counsel, failed to respond within the time allotted, and L.D. filed a motion to compel. Noble also failed to respond to the motion to compel and the trial court ordered Noble to respond to the discovery requests within 30 days. Noble did not, however, answer the defendant’s discovery.

On December 13, 2022, L.D. filed a motion to dismiss Noble’s petition with prejudice as a sanction for her failure to respond to outstanding discovery. Again, Noble failed to respond. At the hearing for the motion, Noble delivered a “box of documents” to L.D., including incomplete responses to interrogatories. Neither the responses to the interrogatories nor requests for production were signed and no certificates of service were provided. The motion to dismiss was taken under advisement by the trial court.

L.D filed a renewed motion to dismiss Noble’s petition with prejudice alleging the discovery responses remained unverified, unsigned, and deficient in violation of the court’s earlier order. L.D. further noted the claim was now nearly nine years old and L.D. had been forced on three different occasions to file motions to obtain relief. Again, Noble failed to respond to the motion.

The trial court sustained the motion to dismiss, noting the failure of Noble to properly respond to court ordered discovery even while her claim faced dismissal with prejudice. Noble filed a motion for reconsideration arguing, among other things, that dismissal of her petition with prejudice was an excessive sanction. Noble stated such sanctions are reserved for when an "offending party exhibits repeated and protracted failure to comply with the rules of discovery."  The trial court denied Noble’s motion to reconsider.

Noble appealed. The appellate court ruled that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing Noble’s complaint with prejudice. The court held trial courts have an obligation to ensure discovery rules are followed and approved the discretion to impose sanctions that are “just.”  The appellate court noted Noble repeatedly failed to comply with the rules of discovery constituting a “contumacious and deliberate disregard for the authority of the trial court.”  As a result, the appellate court upheld the dismissal of Noble’s petition with prejudice.

Key Takeaways

The court’s opinion illustrates several key points for consideration by companies and their advisors alike:

  • A circuit court is vested with broad discretion in administering the rules of discovery and in determining the proper remedy—including dismissal with prejudice—for a party's non-compliance with court-ordered discovery.
  • Appellate courts will only review such decisions to determine whether the trial court abused its discretion in ordering such sanctions.
  • A “contumacious and deliberate disregard for the authority of the trial court” by either party is sufficient to uphold a decision to dismiss a claim with prejudice.