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Pierson v. Provimi Veal Corp.

decided: October 24, 1989.

ARTHUR PIERSON & COMPANY, INC., N/K/A PIERSON & FLYNN, INC., PLAINTIFF-APPELLEE AND CROSS-APPELLANT,
v.
PROVIMI VEAL CORPORATION, DEFENDANT-APPELLANT AND CROSS-APPELLEE



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division. No. 86-C-8872 -- Brian Barnett Duff, Judge.

Cummings, Posner, Circuit Judges, and Myron L. Gordon, Senior District Judge.*fn1

Author: Gordon

GORDON, Senior District Judge,

After a bench trial, the district court, applying Illinois law to the underlying contract dispute, entered a money judgment in favor of the plaintiff. The defendant appeals from that final judgment; the plaintiff has filed a cross-appeal claiming that the district court erred in denying the former's request for prejudgment interest.

Jurisdiction in the district court was pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1332 and § 1441. This court has jurisdiction to entertain the appeals pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 1291. For the reasons stated herein, we affirm the judgment of the district court.

PROVIMI'S APPEAL

The defendant-appellant, Provimi Veal Corporation [Provimi], seeks to have the judgment overturned on the grounds that: (1) the district court abused its discretion in setting the trial dates at times inconvenient to Provimi; (2) the district court denied Provimi a fair trial because the district court disliked Provimi's counsel; and (3) the district court's findings of fact and conclusions of law are clearly erroneous.

The first issue is whether the district court abused its discretion in setting the trial dates. After the plaintiff, Arthur Pierson & Co., Inc. (Pierson), instituted this breach of contract action in the circuit court of Cook County, Illinois, on October 17, 1986, Provimi removed the case to the district court on November 14, 1986; the removal was based on the diversity of the parties' citizenships. The plaintiff is an Illinois corporation; the defendant is a Wisconsin corporation.

On July 22, 1987, the district court dismissed the action for lack of prosecution. See Rule 41, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. On May 24, 1988, the plaintiff learned of the dismissal and thereafter petitioned the district court to reopen the action. After conducting hearings on June 2, 1988, and June 9, 1988, the district court granted Pierson's motion to reopen its action. The district court then scheduled the matter for trial to commence on July 26, 1988, a date convenient for all the parties.

On Thursday, June 16, 1988, the district court granted Pierson's motion to reset the trial date and set the case on for trial on Monday, June 20, 1988. The defendant lodged an objection to the scheduling decision on the ground that its lead counsel could not be present on that date. The record is unclear as to the date on which the defendant's objection was first filed.

On Monday, June 20, 1988, a substitute counsel appeared for the defendant and moved for the rescheduling of the trial to a date when Provimi's lead counsel and witnesses could appear. The case was reset to the following day, at which time the plaintiff's counsel conducted the direct examination of its only witness, Arthur Pierson. Provimi's lead counsel was not present for the direct testimony of Mr. Pierson, but after reviewing the transcript of the direct, lead counsel did appear on June 28, 1988, and conducted the cross-examination of Mr. Pierson. The trial was then suspended until July 26, 1988, to accommodate Provimi's witnesses. Additional scheduling difficulties required the trial to be reset to August 8, 1988, and the testimony of all witnesses was completed on that date. The district court issued its findings of fact and conclusions of law on September 9, 1988.

This court reviews the scheduling decisions of a district court to determine whether the district court abused its discretion in setting the trial dates. United States v. Zambrana, 841 F.2d 1320, 1327 (7th Cir. 1988) (citing cases); see also United States v. United Pacific Insurance Company, 427 F.2d 366, 373 (7th Cir. 1970). "An abuse of discretion is established only where no reasonable [person] could agree with the district court; if reasonable [persons] could differ as to the propriety of the court's action, no abuse of discretion has been shown." Hough v. Local 134, IBEW, 867 F.2d 1018, 1022 (7th Cir. 1989) quoting Smith v. Widman Trucking & Excavating, 627 F.2d 792, 796 (7th Cir. 1980).

"[A] district court no doubt has substantial inherent power to control and to manage its docket." In re Strandell, 838 F.2d 884, 886 (7th Cir. 1987), citing Link v. Wabash R.R., 370 U.S. 626, 629-30, 8 L. Ed. 2d 734, 82 S. Ct. 1386 (1962). In exercising that power, the district court must strike a balance between the needs for judicial efficiency and the rights of the litigants. Strandell, 838 F.2d at 886-87. In the case at bar, we conclude that the district court properly offset the competing interests.

When the district court reinstated the action after the dismissal for lack of prosecution, both sides agreed that they could proceed to trial within a very short period of time. Conflicting calendars then posed obstacles to the court and to the parties. Attempts to appease all concerned caused the trial dates to be juggled. It is clear, however, that the judge tried to accommodate both sides' witnesses and attorneys. At worst, the defendant's lead attorney was able to cross-examine the plaintiff's lead witness after having had the opportunity to ...


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