Where plaintiff failed to comply with an order to supplement his discovery in a car accident case, the Tennesse Court of Appeals affirmed dismissal.
In Gordon v. Chapman, No. W2019-01655-COA-R3-CV (Tenn. Ct. App. Dec. 22, 2020), plaintiff and defendant were involved in a car accident on the interstate. Plaintiff filed this negligence suit against the defendant, seeking damages for pain and suffering, and defendant counter-claimed alleging that plaintiff negligently caused the accident.
On April 26, 2019, the trial court held a status hearing wherein it “ordered [plaintiff] to supplement his incomplete discovery responses to [defendant].” The trial court specifically ordered the plaintiff to provide a written description of his claimed injuries and an itemization of his medical bills. On July 10th, the defendant moved for discovery sanctions against the plaintiff, alleging that plaintiff had produced some medical bills but had not complied with the trial court’s order. At a hearing on July 26th, the trial court entered an order stating that the plaintiff was to provide his supplemental responses by August 2nd, and that if he failed to do so the case would be dismissed with prejudice. On August 2nd, the trial court held a hearing where it heard from both parties, and it dismissed the plaintiff’s case. Plaintiff appealed, arguing that he supplemented his responses on August 8th, but the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal.
The Court noted that Rule 37.02(C) of the Tennessee Rules of Civil Procedure specifically authorizes “a court to dismiss the case if a party fails to comply with an order to provide discovery,” and that “[a] trial court has broad discretion when sanctioning a party for failing to comply with the discovery rules or orders of the court.” (internal citation omitted). Here, the information sought in the supplemental discovery responses was of central importance to the case, as the defendant was “seeking through discovery the details of the damages [plaintiff] was claiming as a result of the collision.” Further, the plaintiff was told to supplement his responses on April 26th, more than three months before the trial court dismissed the case. The Court specifically pointed out that there was no evidence that the plaintiff “was having difficulty obtaining any of the records that he needed to comply with the court’s order in a timely manner.”
Although the plaintiff was proceeding pro se, the Court noted that he “did not file any pleadings or motions asking for more time to supplement his discovery or explain why he was unable to comply with the court’s order by August 2.” Plaintiff had ample warning of the potential sanction, and the Court of Appeals accordingly affirmed the dismissal, finding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion.
NOTE: This opinion was released 2.5 months after this case was assigned on briefs.