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Community Association Underwriters of America, Inc. v. Queensboro Flooring Corp.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

April 15, 2014

COMMUNITY ASSOCIATION UNDERWRITERS OF AMERICA, INC., a/s/o VILLAGE AT CAMELBACK PROPERTY OWNER ASSOCIATION, , Plaintiffs,
v.
QUEENSBORO FLOORING CORP., Defendants.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

KAROLINE MEHALCHICK, Magistrate Judge.

This is a consolidated action concerning property damage and personal injury claims arising out of an explosion and fire in July 2009 that occurred during construction work at a townhouse located in Tannersville, Pennsylvania. Several cases have been consolidated into this one action. The present dispute concerns the parties originally named in Pozarlik v. Camelback Associates, Inc., No. 3:11-CV-1349, which was joined into this consolidated action on March 15, 2012. (Doc. 31). Arkadiusz Piotr Pozarlik and Agnieszka Zofia Pozarlik (the "Pozarliks") are plaintiffs asserting negligence and loss of consortium claims against several defendants, including the Village at Camelback Property Owners Association, Inc., and its property manager, Kathleen Simoncic (together, the "Defendants").[1]

I. BACKGROUND

This matter is now before the Court on four discovery-related motions. The Pozarliks had previously filed a motion pursuant to Rule 37(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure requesting an order compelling these Defendants to produce certain documents. (Doc. 107). On August 1, 2013, a telephonic discovery conference was held and the Court entered an order granting that motion in part and denying it in part. (Doc. 116). With respect to certain of the requested documents, relief was denied based upon the Defendants' representation that they had already produced all responsive documents in their possession. (Doc. 116, at 2). Relief was granted with respect to certain other categories of documents, and the Defendants were ordered to produce responsive documents, together with a privilege log, within fourteen days. (Doc. 116, at 3-4).

On March 20, 2014, the Pozarliks filed a motion for sanctions pursuant to Rule 37(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asserting that the Defendants had failed to produce responsive documents as ordered, that some or all of the documents they produced were not produced within the prescribed time period, that the Defendants' privilege log failed to adequately describe documents withheld from production, [2] and that the Defendants misled the Court in stating that they had produced all of certain categories of documents in their possession when subsequent discovery revealed additional responsive documents, which were then produced to the Pozarliks. (Doc. 129). The Pozarliks requested the imposition of sanctions, including the preclusion of a liability defense by these defendants, reimbursement of attorney fees and costs incurred in this discovery dispute, and an order compelling the production of all responsive documents without objection (presumably including otherwise privileged materials). (Doc. 129).

On March 27, 2014, the Pozarliks filed a motion for sanctions pursuant to Rule 30(d) and Rule 37(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, asserting that during the deposition of Simoncic, defense counsel impeded, delayed or frustrated the fair examination of the deponent by raising an excessive number of objections, by instructing the deponent not to answer certain questions based on impermissible grounds, and by using objections to coach the deponent in answering certain questions. (Doc. 130). The Pozarliks requested the imposition of sanctions, including the preclusion of a liability defense by these defendants and reimbursement of attorney fees and costs incurred in connection with the deposition of Simoncic. (Doc. 130; Doc. 135).

Later that same day, the Defendants filed a document labeled as both an "answer" to the Pozarliks' March 20th motion and a cross-motion for sanctions pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, to compel the production of documents pursuant to Rule 37(a) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and for attorney fees under both Rule 11 and Rule 37. (Doc. 131). The Defendants requested sanctions on the ground that the Pozarliks' March 20th motion for sanctions was frivolous, that the Defendants have adequately responded to the Pozarliks' discovery requests, and that the Pozarliks had themselves failed to produce responsive documents and satisfy their discovery disclosure obligations. (Doc. 131).

On April 4, 2014, the Defendants filed a document labeled as both an "answer" to the Pozarliks' March 27th motion and a cross-motion for sanctions pursuant to Rule 11 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. (Doc. 136). The Defendants requested sanctions solely on the ground that the Pozarliks' March 27th motion for sanctions was frivolous. (Doc. 136).

II. DISCUSSION

A. THE DEFENDANTS' RULE 11 MOTIONS

The Court first turns to the Defendants' two Rule 11 motions. The procedural requirements of Rule 11 are crystal clear:

A motion for sanctions must be made separately from any other motion and must describe the specific conduct that allegedly violates Rule 11(b). The motion must be served under Rule 5, but it must not be filed or be presented to the court if the challenged paper, claim, defense, contention, or denial is withdrawn or appropriately corrected within 21 days after service....

Fed. R. Civ. P. 11(c)(2).

Here, the Defendants have failed to file a separate motion for Rule 11 sanctions, combining it instead with a poorly articulated Rule 37(a) motion to compel in in one instance, and combining it with their responses to the Pozarliks' discovery motions in both instances. ( See Doc. 131; Doc. 136). The reason for this separate motion requirement is clear when considering the primary fault of the Defendants' Rule 11 motions: both motions fail to comply with the "safe harbor" provision of Rule 11, which requires that a Rule 11 motion be served on opposing counsel at least twenty-one days before presenting it to the Court, thus depriving the Pozarliks of "the opportunity to correct their errors." In re Schaefer Salt Recovery, Inc., 542 F.3d 90, 99 (3d Cir. 2008).[3] Having failed to comply with the mandatory procedural requirements of Rule 11, the Defendants are not entitled to an award of sanctions under Rule 11(c)(2), and their motion must be denied. Schaefer, 542 F.3d at 99 ("If the twenty-one day period is not provided, the [Rule 11] motion must be denied."); see also Cannon v. Cherry Hill Toyota, Inc., 190 ...


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