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Fourth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Suit for Discovery Failings

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In its recent decision in Projects Management Co. v. DynaCorp International LLC, __ F.3d ___ 122241 (4th Cir., No. 12-2241, Decided November 5, 2013), the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals re-iterated the importance of meeting pre-trial discovery requirements in affirming the lower court’s dismissal of a multi-million dollar damage claims because of the plaintiff’s discovery failings, including non- and late production of documents.

While the plaintiff argued dismissal was too extreme and lesser sanctions were available, the Fourth Circuit concluded the district judge’s dismissal decision was not clearly erroneous or an abuse of the judge’s discretion, and therefore sustained the dismissal. This case re-iterates the importance of complying with pre-trial discovery obligations, and offers additional insights to the Fourth Circuit’s review on appeal of related decisions.

First, the Fourth Circuit re-iterated the review standard as abuse of discretion. Since district courts have so much discretion in addressing their dockets and matters before them, this is a very tough standard to overcome on appeal. Second, the Fourth Circuit addressed the factors for consideration before a dismissal; which are: 1) degree of wrongdoer’s culpability; 2) extent of the client’s blameworthiness if wrongful conduct committed by its attorney; 3) prejudice to the judicial process and the administration of justice; 4) prejudice to the victim; 5) availability of other sanctions; and 6) the public interest.

The court noted that the district judge’s evaluation of these factors stands unless clearly erroneous. The court further noted that in exercising the related discretion the district court can act of its of volition (sua sponte) and must consider the whole of the case in choosing the appropriate sanction. That latter was part of the decision because the district judge had based his decision on matters beyond those addressed in the related briefs, which the court confirmed was not just appropriate, but required.

While the abuses in this case were severe, it demonstrates the importance for clients to understand the role of pre-trial discovery and breadth of the district court’s discretion, and role, in insuring discovery compliance and the fairness of the judicial process.

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