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Flagrant discovery violations support dismissal sanction.

Byline: Virginia Lawyers Weekly

The failure of a nurse practitioner to produce thousands of email messages in her suits against a hospital, and her submission, after a day-long deposition, of a 54-page declaration that rendered her deposition useless, supported the district court's decision to dismiss three suits as a sanction.

Background

Mitra Rangarajan, who claims that she was constructively discharged as a nurse practitioner at the School of Medicine of Johns Hopkins University commenced four separate actions against the university arising out of the same course of events and alleging state torts of defamation and interference with prospective advantage, as well as violations of the False Claims Act, the Maryland False Health Claims Act, Title VII and 42 U.S.C. 1981.

The district court dismissed one action for failure to prosecute and the remaining three actions as the sanction for Rangarajan's "flagrant and unremitting" violations of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, especially with respect to discovery and summary judgment practice. On appeal, Rangarajan contends that the district court abused its discretion by failing to give her adequate warning of the sanction and failing to show required restraint by imposing lesser sanctions.

Notice

Rangarajan first argues that prior warning of sanctions was required and that she did not receive prior warning. We reject both arguments.

First, as a factual matter, Rangarajan did receive notice that dismissal of her actions was a potential sanction when the district court, in response to Johns Hopkins' motion for sanctions, alerted her that the motion "raised some serious issues" regarding her failure to comply with rules relating to discovery and summary judgment. Johns Hopkins' motion itself detailed the alleged failures and sought dismissal of the first and second actions as a sanction.

The gravity of the issues was also conveyed to Rangarajan by the district court's order staying proceedings in not only the first and second actions, but also in the fourth action. Moreover, Rangarajan conceded in her response that she knew that the sanction of dismissal was on the table, as she fully addressed the sanction of dismissal, arguing that it was "not warranted" and that Johns Hopkins' motion was only an effort at distracting the court from the truth. She also argued that she had not received clear notice of potential dismissal, yet, in making that argument itself before any sanction was imposed, she revealed that she had notice. Moreover, Rangarajan's contention that a clear and explicit warning of dismissal must always be given is not supported by any specific authority.

Sanctions

Rangarajan's argument that the district court failed to exhibit restraint by declining to impose lesser sanctions challenges the court's exercise of discretion with respect to its inherent power to dismiss an action. In the course of discovery, Rangarajan flagrantly failed to produce thousands of documents, several of which were core documents relating to her claims. She later produced some of those documents for the first time during the summary judgment process, because she thought she needed them to make her points. Also, after giving a daylong deposition, she sought to undermine and recant her testimony in a long, 54-page declaration that, as the district court found, rendered her deposition essentially useless. Finally, she challenged the transcription of her deposition, claiming it was deliberately altered and recreated by the court reporter, a conclusion that the district court found to be conclusively false. In short, she rendered virtually useless the entire discovery process, in which the parties had invested substantial time and money. We hold that the district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the actions.

Finally, Rangarajan contends that the sanction imposed by the district court should not have included dismissal of the fourth action because the reasons that the district court gave for dismissal of the first and second actions were not applicable to the fourth action. As the court found, Rangarajan's misconduct in litigating would not likely have abated in the future. We believe, moreover, that the unnecessary multiplicity of actions was an abuse that colored Rangarajan's entire litigation efforts. The district court thus did not abuse its discretion in including the fourth action in the scope of its sanction.

Affirmed.

Rangarajan v. Johns Hopkins University, Appeal No. 17-1834, Feb. 22, 2019. 4th Cir. (Niemeyer), from DMD at Baltimore (Nickerson). Erienne A. Sutherell for Appellant, Robert Thomas Smith for Appellee. VLW No. 019-2-061, 20 pp.

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Title Annotation:Rangarajan v. Johns Hopkins University, U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit
Publication:Virginia Lawyers Weekly
Date:Mar 8, 2019
Words:736
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