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Kahlil Adams, et al v. Corrections Corporation of America

October 19, 2011


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Magistrate Judge Carlson

Judge Conner


I. Introduction

Now pending before the Court is the defendants' motion for sanctions against plaintiffs and their counsel. (Doc. 48) As grounds for the motion, the defendants argue that the plaintiffs and counsel failed to participate in good faith in court-ordered mediation and settlement proceedings in July of 2011, thereby causing defendants and their counsel to incur needless more than $10,000 in costs and expenses that could have been avoided had the plaintiffs produced principals with settlement authority at the settlement conference. As a sanction the defendants request that the court order plaintiffs to pay half of these expenses, or $5,052.46. (Id.) The plaintiffs have now responded to this sanctions motion, in part, by characterizing the motion as frivolous, and requesting that the defendants be sanctioned for raising this issue, and ordered to pay the plaintiffs $750. (Doc. 54 Although we believe that communication in connection with the settlement conference conducted by the Court fell short of what should be expected in this setting, we do not find that any sanctions sought by either party are warranted at this time. Instead, in the exercise of our discretion, we will deny both competing requests for sanctions.

II. Statement of Facts and of the Case

This is a personal injury lawsuit brought by a number of inmates who were formerly held in facilities operated by the Corrections Corporation of America for injuries allegedly suffered by the plaintiffs in a May 16, 2008, automobile accident which occurred while the plaintiffs were being transported in defendants' custody through the Middle District of Pennsylvania. (Doc. 1) With respect to the instant sanctions motion, the pertinent facts are as follows: On May 20, 2011, the district court referred this case to the undersigned for the purpose of conducting settlement and mediation discussions. (Doc. 37) At the time of this referral the parties candidly expressed competing, and differing, views regarding the timing of such discussions. For their part, the defendants sought immediate settlement discussions. (Doc. 48-1, Ex. A.) The plaintiffs, in contrast, frankly expressed the view that deferring these discussions to a later date, after the close of discovery, would be the preferable course to follow. (Doc. 48-1, Ex. B.) Presented with these competing, and conflicting, views the court scheduled this settlement conference for July 27, 2011. (Doc. 38)

As this settlement conference date approached, on July 26, 2011, plaintiffs' counsel notified the Court and defense counsel that one of his clients remained incarcerated and was unavailable for the conference, and that a second client was unwilling or unable to travel to the settlement conference on July 27, 2011. (Doc. 48-1, Ex. C.) Defense counsel objected to this late notice, (Doc. 48-1, Ex. D), and the Court convened a telephone conference with the parties on the afternoon of July 26, 2011, to discuss how best to proceed. (Doc.41)

During this conference, plaintiffs's counsel informed the Court and the defendants' counsel that one of the plaintiffs, Kahlil Adams, could attend the settlement conference; that a second plaintiff, Keith Scutchings, would not be able to attend because he was still in custody; and that a third defendant, Tyrone Payton, had other commitments and would be unable to attend this conference. Presented with this information, the Court discussed whether the conference should be postponed or continued, but understood that defense counsel strongly wished to proceed with the conference as previously scheduled on July 27. Therefore, the Court advised all parties that the conference would go forward as previously scheduled. With respect to the attendance of the plaintiffs at this conference, the Court excused Mr. Scutchings from attendance, and urged plaintiffs' counsel to attempt to encourage both Mr. Adams and Mr. Payton to make every effort to attend the conference.

On July 27, 2011, the settlement conference went forward, as previously scheduled. Plaintiffs' counsel attended accompanied by Mr. Adams. Mr. Payton did not attend, as had been foreshadowed by plaintiffs' counsel prior to the conference. With respect to plaintiffs Adams, Scutchings, and Payton, the settlement discussions proceeded through several exchanges, before stalemating due to the parties' differing valuations of the case as to these plaintiffs.*fn1

It is against this backdrop that on September 30, 2011, the defendants filed this motion for sanctions seeking financial sanctions of $5,052.46 from the plaintiffs and their counsel as a result of these unsuccessful settlement proceedings. (Docs. 48 and 49) This motion was referred to the undersigned by the district court, (Docs. 50 and 52), and has been fully briefed by the parties. (Docs. 54 and 56) Therefore, this matter is ripe for resolution.

While we find that communications by plaintiffs' counsel, and attendance by plaintiffs this settlement conference, fell below the Court's expectations in some respects, we conclude in the exercise of our discretion that none of these shortcomings rise to the level of sanctionable misconduct. Accordingly, for the reasons set forth below, we deny this motion for sanctions.

III. Discussion

It is well-settled that a district court has the inherent power to sanction parties appearing before it for refusing to comply with its orders and to control litigation before it. See, e.g., Tracinda Corp. v. DaimlerChrysler AG, 502 F.3d 212, 242 (3d Cir. 2007). Indeed, the inherent power of the court to act in this area has long been recognized by the United States Supreme Court, which has held that:

It has long been understood that "[c]ertain implied powers must necessarily result to our Courts of justice from the nature of their institution," powers "which cannot be dispensed with in a Court, because they are necessary to the exercise of all others." United States v. Hudson, 7 Cranch 32, 34, 3 L.Ed. 259 (1812); see also Roadway Express, Inc. v. Piper, 447 U.S. 752, 764, 100 S.Ct. 2455, 2463, 65 L.Ed.2d 488 (1980) (citing Hudson ). For this reason, "Courts of justice are universally acknowledged to be vested, by their very creation, with power to impose silence, respect, and decorum, in their presence, and submission to their lawful mandates." Anderson v. Dunn, 6 Wheat. 204, 227, 5 L.Ed. 242 (1821); see also Ex parte Robinson, 19 Wall. 505, 510, 22 L.Ed. 205 (1874). These powers are "governed not by rule or statute but by the control necessarily vested in courts to manage ...

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