Monday, December 17, 2012

Benchslap of the day: "District judges are not archaeologists"

Thanks to the ABA Journal blog for our benchslap of the day; a Minnesota Federal District Court judge dismissed the plaintiffs' job discrimination claim on the grounds that the record lacked sufficient evidence to proceed.  But in issuing her opinion, Judge Ann Montgomery referenced a number of procedural and technical transgressions by plaintiffs' counsel including the failure to properly serve the complaint, missing a pre-trial scheduling conference, incomplete sentences and missing or inaccurate citations to the record that left the court digging through thousands of pages trying to find the factual support for the plainitffs' claims.  The latter issue caused the judge to quip "District judges are not archaeologists."   

Here are some excerpts from Judge Montgomery's tongue-lashing, er, opinion:

As the Court held in a prior order, Plaintiffs’ counsel Christopher Walsh has repeatedly failed to comply with the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (the “Rules”) as well as the District of Minnesota Local Rules (the “Local Rules”). For instance, Plaintiffs never properly served the original complaint on Defendants. Plaintiffs eventually served the Amended Complaint, but only after Magistrate Judge Brisbois required proper service or dismissal of the action . . . .

Plaintiffs’ counsel’s compliance with procedural rules did not improve over the course of discovery. Unlike Defendants, Plaintiffs did not serve timely Rule 26(a) disclosures . . . . Mr. Walsh also failed to appear at the pretrial scheduling conference, “without notice or excuse.” Id. In addition, Plaintiffs did not respond to Defendants’ discovery requests until months after responses were due, and then offered only incomplete answers and failed to produce documents. Id. at 3. With regard to expert discovery, Plaintiffs Benford and Martin identified three experts nearly two months after the expert disclosure deadline had passed. Id. at 8. As of July 30, 2012, seven months after the expert disclosure deadline, Plaintiffs had still failed to disclose their experts’ putative opinions. Id. at 10.

. . . .

On July 15, 2012, Defendants brought this Motion for Summary Judgment against Plaintiffs, seeking dismissal of all counts brought against them. . . .  In response, Plaintiffs filed a memorandum and over four thousand pages of deposition testimony and exhibits. 

Plaintiffs’ memorandum is rife with incomplete sentences and blank citations to the record. Some of the citations which Plaintiffs chose to complete refer to irrelevant deposition testimony or documents, or to only a single page from a larger passage of relevant testimony. Although the Court has attempted to locate relevant portions of the record on its own, the task of sifting through several thousand pages of documents to support Plaintiffs’ claims is not the Court’s function. The Court will not advocate for Plaintiffs by mustering the evidence and making arguments when their counsel has neglected to do so. See Northwestern Nat’l Ins. Co. v. Baltes, 15 F.3d 660, 662-63 (7th Cir. 1994) (“District judges are not archaeologists.”)

Read the full text decision here.

Hat tip to the ABA Journal blog.


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