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Washington v. Grace

United States District Court, Third Circuit

May 1, 2013

HENRY UNSELD WASHINGTON, Plaintiff,
v.
JAMES GRACE, et al., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM

JOHN E. JONES, III, District Judge.

THE BACKGROUND OF THIS MEMORANDUM IS AS FOLLOWS:

Pending before the Court in this troubled, four-year old litigation is the Report and Recommendation ("R&R") (Doc. 138) of Chief Magistrate Judge Martin C. Carlson recommending that the Defendants' Second Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 132) be granted and that this action be dismissed with prejudice based on the Plaintiff's utter failure to comply with court orders and discovery obligations. Since the filing of the R&R, pro se Plaintiff Henry Unseld Washington ("Plaintiff" or "Washington") has filed three submissions with the Court that can be construed as "objections" thereto, (Docs. 141-143), however these submissions, like all of Washington's other recent submissions, contain no availing legal argument in opposition the Magistrate Judge's recommendations but rather recite fanciful and patently dubious allegations of mistreatment and retaliation that Washington claims to be suffering at the hands of his jailers.

In any event, this matter is ripe for our review. For the reasons that follow, the R&R shall be adopted in its entirety, and this matter shall be dismissed with prejudice.

I. STANDARD OF REVIEW

When, as here, objections are filed to the report of a magistrate judge, the district court makes a de novo determination of those portions of the report or specified proposed findings or recommendations to which objections are made. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1); United States v. Raddatz, 447 U.S. 667, 674-75 (1980). The court may accept, reject, or modify, in whole or in part, the magistrate judge's findings or recommendations. Id. Although the standard of review is de novo, 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1) permits whatever reliance the district court, in the exercise of sound discretion, chooses to place on a magistrate judge's proposed findings and recommendations. Raddatz, 447 U.S. at 674-75; see also Mathews v. Weber, 423 U.S. 261, 275 (1976); Goney v. Clark, 749 F.2d 5, 7 (3d Cir. 1984).

II. BACKGROUND

As aptly stated by Magistrate Judge Carlson, "[t]he tragic, tortured trajectory of this litigation defies easy description, " (Doc. 138, p. 1), however within his R&R the Magistrate Judge describes with detail the procedural milieu underpinning this case. Thus, we shall not endeavor to recite the same herein, but rather provide the reader with an abbreviated summary of the matter's history.

This case was filed by Plaintiff on July 7, 2008. (Doc. 1). Eleven months later, on June 29, 2009, Washington elaborated upon his claims by filing an amended complaint. (Doc. 22). This prolix, confusing document contained 320 factual averments against approximately 132 defendants. Many of the factual allegations harkened back ten years to 1997, and in many instances it was impossible to determine which of the more than 132 defendants were alleged to have committed the acts. Broadly construed, the complaint alleged claims of Eighth Amendment violations relating to lack of medical care and use of excessive force by prison officials, due process violations, negligence and medical malpractice.

In June of 2010, we referred this difficult matter to Magistrate Judge Carlson for pre-trial management. After a careful examination of the Plaintiff's complaint, the Magistrate Judge entered a screening order, intended to simplify and add clarity and focus to Washington's complaints. (Doc. 33). Washington's initial response to the Order was to request a 6-month extension of time to file an amended complaint. (Doc. 34). When this request was denied, Washington filed a second amended complaint on August 19, 2010. (Doc. 40). Far from addressing the concerns originally cited in the screening order, Washington's second amended complaint actually exacerbated and compounded these concerns, inasmuch as the pleading named 159 defendants and contained 368 separately numbered paragraphs.

After being notified of inadequacies in this pleading, Washington filed a third amended complaint. (Doc. 47). While this document spanned fewer pages (82) than the second amended complaint (135), this result was achieved by Washington's use of minutely small handwriting in drafting the document. Thus, the two complaints were substantively identical and the third amended complaint retained all of the flaws that had been previously by the Magistrate Judge as grounds for dismissal of Washington's prior complaints. We dismissed this complaint and Washington appealed. On October 2011, the Court of Appeals affirmed the dismissal of 354 of the 368 averments set forth in the complaint, but remanded for further proceedings on 14 specific allegations. Washington v. Grace, 455 F.Appx. 166, 171 (3d Cir. 2011) ("Specifically, the following paragraphs of the third amended complaint contain allegations of retaliation, excessive force, and sexual assault that appear to state a claim upon which relief could be granted: 88, 103-104, 108, 112, 118, 122, 131, 145, 221, 239, 339 and 356-357.").

Following this remand, Magistrate Judge Carlson engaged in months of efforts with Washington, endeavoring to secure from him a simple amended complaint which conformed to the appellate court's ruling. These efforts were entirely unavailing. Washington insisted that the task of filing the amended complaint would take a year or more to complete. As aptly noted by the Magistrate Judge, these delays were inspired by concerns that seemed more imagined than real, since Washington alleged to have been working 12 to 16 hours a day to complete his amended complaint, yet asserted that he had experienced daily heart attack symptoms, frequent collapses, nose bleeds that continued unabated for days, and episodes of memory loss spanning many hours. Ultimately, the Magistrate Judge was compelled to conclude that asking Washington for a further amendment was futile and ordered service upon the Defendants of the 14 allegations identified by the Court of Appeals as plausibly stating a claim.

After service, the Defendants commenced discovery but then encountered an irreconcilable obstacle, namely Washington's flat refusal to participate in a deposition. Before the Magistrate Judge on the instant R&R is the Defendants' second motion to impose sanctions against the Plaintiff for refusing to answer questions during a deposition that the Court had authorized and ordered to take place. The Plaintiff previously refused to answer questions during his first deposition in January 2013. In response, the Defendants moved for sanctions (Doc. 116) and the Plaintiff thereafter assured the Court that he understood his obligation to submit to a deposition. (Doc. 119). Notwithstanding this recognized obligation, the Plaintiff attempted to condition his compliance on being provided with a permanent single cell housing at a prison different than his current place of incarceration. Magistrate Judge Carlson entered an Order directing Plaintiff to submit to a deposition and answer the Defendants' questions, and rejected his baseless attempt to condition his compliance upon a change in prison housing. In that Order, Magistrate Judge Carlson expressly advised the Plaintiff that continued failure to answer questions at the deposition would be grounds for further sanctions, including dismissal of this case. (Doc. 120).

Following the entry of this Order, the Defendants rescheduled the Plaintiff's deposition for March 19, 2013. The transcript of that deposition, which is appended to the Defendants' Motion for Sanctions, reveals that the Plaintiff flatly refused to provide any meaningful answers to defense counsel's questions. Rather, Plaintiff repeatedly responded that his life was in danger at the prison and that he could not answer questions. After several attempts to achieve meaningful responses from the Plaintiff, with ...


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