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Davidson v. Evergreen Park Community High School District No. 231

United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Eastern Division

November 23, 2016



          Mary M. Rowland, Magistrate Judge

         Brad Davidson initiated this action against Evergreen Park Community High School District 231, alleging that it denied him leave or use of leave as provided for in the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 29 U.S.C. § 2917. The parties have consented to the jurisdiction of the United States Magistrate Judge, pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(c). The School District has filed a Motion to Bar Testimony or Other Evidence of Plaintiff's Ability to Return to Work and Damages. For the reasons set forth below, the Motion is granted in that Plaintiff cannot present evidence that he was able to return to work from November 25, 2014 to January 5, 2015.

         I. BACKGROUND

         In his Amended Complaint, Davidson alleges that the School District interfered with and restrained his use of FMLA leave to care for his wife, Bonny Davidson. First Davidson alleges that the School District improperly denied him FMLA leave from August 19-22, 2014; he then asserts the School District prevented him from returning to work from November 25, 2014, through January 4, 2015. (Dkt. 23 (Compl.) ¶¶ 8, 10, 29, 31). Davidson also alleges that he was terminated after returning to work at least in part because of his use of FMLA leave. (Id. at ¶ 37).

         In responding to the School District's interrogatories, Davidson asserted that he was able and available to work from November 25, 2014, through January 4, 2015, and that he worked during this period as a private tutor. (Dkt. 58, Ex. C at ¶ 6). But Davidson objected to producing Bonny's medical records and his tax returns. (Id., Ex. B at ¶¶ 8, 20). On August 21, 2015, the School District filed a motion to compel responses to its document requests. (Dkt. 12). On September 17, 2015, the Court granted the motion, in part, and ordered Davidson “to produce medical records regarding his spouse's medical condition that are relevant to his being eligible for FMLA leave.” (Dkt. 18). Although Bonny was treated by eight separate physicians, Davidson only produced medical records from a Dr. Joel Shoolin. (Dkt. 58 at ¶ 8).

         During his January 13, 2016 deposition, Davidson testified to the following: (a) Bonny was evaluated and treated by eight different doctors between August and December 2014; (b) Bonny tracked her medical appointments on an electronic calendar; (c) Davidson required FMLA leave to drive Bonny to and from her two-to-four-hour medical appointments as well as her two-hour physical therapy appointments; (d) Bonny was unable to drive from at least August 2014 through the summer of 2015; and (e) Bonny saw seven doctors from Thanksgiving through Christmas 2014. (Dkt. 58, Ex. D at 98-107). When the School District's attorney questioned whether Davidson could have returned to work after Thanksgiving 2014 in light of the assistance Bonny required to attend her medical appointments, Davidson testified that all seven doctor's appointments occurred before November 25.[1] (Id. at 103-04).

         After the deposition, the School District requested that Davidson supplement his production by providing all of Bonny's medical records from August 2014 through April 2015. (Dkt. 58 at ¶ 11 & Ex. E). On March 9, 2016, Plaintiff's counsel informed Defendant's counsel that he instructed Davidson to gather Bonny's medical records. (Id. ¶ 14). On March 18, Plaintiff's counsel reported to defense counsel that he had some, but not all of Bonny's medical records and would produce them shortly; however, no records were produced. (Id. ¶¶ 16-19).

         At the March 22, 2016 status, the parties reported having resolved their remaining discovery disputes but requested entry of an Amended Protective Order before exchanging documents, including medical records. (Dkt. 47). Two days later the court entered the Amended Protective Order. (Dkt. 48).[2] Nevertheless, on April 27, 2016, the School District was forced to file a second motion to compel. (Dkt. 50). At the hearing on the motion, Plaintiff's counsel informed the Court that he was in possession of the medical records from all of Bonny's medical providers, with the exception of Dr. Sekadia, her pain specialist. (Dkt. 58 at ¶ 21).[3] The Court ordered Davidson to produce all medical records, except Dr. Sekadia's, by the end of the day, and ordered Davidson to produce Dr. Sekadia's records, along with Davidson's W2s and 1099s from August 2014 through the present, by May 20, 2016. (Dkt. 54).

         Davidson's April 28 production was incomplete. First, instead of producing the original calendar of Bonny's appointments, Davidson produced a list of Bonny's medical appointments allegedly drafted by Bonny based on the calendar. (Dkt. 58 at ¶ 22 & Ex. K). Second, while the list indicates Bonny had at least 16 medical appointments between November 25, 2014, and January 5, 2015, Davidson produced medical records from only a quarter of those visits. (Id. ¶ 23 & Ex. K). On May 20, 2016, Davidson produced his W2 statements from the School District but failed to produce any tax forms relating to his employment as a tutor from August 2014 through the present. (Id. ¶ 25 & Ex. L).


         A. Applicable Law

         The Federal Rules grant the district court with discretionary authority to impose appropriate sanctions for violations of discovery orders. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A); see e360 Insight, Inc. v. Spamhaus Project, 658 F.3d 637, 642 (7th Cir. 2011) (“[D]istrict courts have wide latitude in fashioning appropriate sanctions.”) (citation omitted). The Supreme Court has explicitly stated that sanctions may be appropriate where the noncomplying party acted either with willfulness, bad faith or fault. Nat'l Hockey League v. Metro. Hockey Club, Inc., 427 U.S. 639, 640 (1976) (per curiam). “‘Fault, ' . . . doesn't speak to the noncomplying party's disposition at all, but rather only describes the reasonableness of the conduct-or lack thereof- which eventually culminated in the violation.” Marrocco v. Gen'l Motors Corp., 966 F.2d 220, 224 (7th Cir. 1992). “Fault, ” however, is more than “a mere mistake or slight error in judgment;” instead, it “suggests objectively unreasonable behavior.” Long v. Steepro, 213 F.3d 983, 987 (7th Cir. 2000); see e360 Insight, 658 F.3d at 642-43 (observing that negligence is sufficient fault for imposing sanctions). The possible sanctions for failure to comply with a discovery order are listed in Rule 37 and include “prohibiting the disobedient party from supporting or opposing designated claims or defenses, or from introducing designated matters in evidence.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(b)(2)(A)(ii).

         The district court also has the inherent authority to sanction a party. This authority is based on the court's power “to control the judicial process and litigation” (Victor Stanley, Inc. v. Creative Pipe, Inc., 269 F.R.D. 497, 517 (D. Md. 2010) (citation omitted)) and to “manage and ensure the expeditious resolution of cases.” Larson v. Bank One Corp., No. 00 C 2100, 2005 WL 4652509, at *8 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 18, 2005). This power is necessary “to fashion an appropriate sanction for conduct which abuses the judicial process.” Chambers v. NASCO, Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 44-45 (1991). Thus, “[j]udges have inherent authority to impose sanctions for misconduct by litigants, their lawyers, witnesses, and others who participate in a lawsuit over which the judge is presiding.” S.E.C. v. First Choice Mgmt. Servs., Inc., 678 F.3d 538, 543 (7th Cir. 2012). The underlying policy “is the need to preserve the integrity of the judicial process in order to retain confidence that the process works to uncover the truth.” Pension Comm. of Univ. of Montreal Pension Plan v. Banc of Am. Sec., 685 F.Supp.2d 456, 465 (S.D.N.Y. 2010) (citation omitted).

         Whether under Rule 37 or the court's inherent authority, the party seeking sanctions must demonstrate that it was prejudiced by the discovery violation. Marrocco, 966 F.2d at 225. In evaluating the proposed sanction, the district court should determine if a lesser sanction would be adequate (see id.), ...

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