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Bowman v. Sunbeam Products, Inc.

United States District Court, M.D. Pennsylvania

August 29, 2014

CASSANDRA BOWMAN, Plaintiff.
v.
SUNBEAM PRODUCTS, INC., Defendant.

REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

MARTIN C. CARLSON, Magistrate Judge.

I. Statement of Facts and of the Case

In its current form this case presents a dilemma-how can the Court maintain a lawsuit with a plaintiff who has disappeared, and whose present whereabouts are wholly unknown? Because we conclude that the Court cannot reasonably maintain this litigation on these unusual facts it is recommended that this action be dismissed.

This case is a products liability tort action which was removed by the defendant, Sunbeam Products, Inc., from the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia County and transferred to this Court. (Docs 1 and 4.) In her complaint, the plaintiff, Cassandra Bowman, alleged that she suffered burns when a heating pad manufactured by the defendant malfunctioned, setting her bed afire as she slept. (Doc. 1.)

This matter was initially referred to us to address a motion to withdraw filed by plaintiff's counsel, and a related discovery dispute. (Docs. 22-24.) Upon review, we determined that the motion to withdraw and this discovery dispute had the same root cause-the plaintiff's complete failure to fulfill her responsibilities as a litigant. Thus, the discovery dispute arose out of the plaintiff's failure to produce the allegedly defective heating pad for inspection by the defendant, a necessary first step in this litigation. The motion to withdraw as plaintiff's counsel was instigated, in turn, by the plaintiff's failure to communicate or cooperate with her own attorney.

Presented with these cascading failures by the plaintiff, we granted the request of plaintiff's counsel to withdraw, instructed the plaintiff to notify us if she obtained new counsel, and directed the plaintiff to comply with discovery demands and produce the heating pad at issue in this case. (Doc. 26.) We also instructed the clerk of court to serve Bowman with this order directly through e-mail and U.S. mails at the addresses we had been provided by plaintiff's counsel. (Id.) Finally, we also advised Bowman that: "The plaintiff is hereby placed on notice that failure to comply with the terms of this Order, including the requirement that she promptly produce the allegedly defective heating pad to the defendants' attorneys, may result in the dismissal of this action for failure to prosecute and comply with Court orders pursuant to Rule 41 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. See also Poulis v. State Farm Fire & Casualty Co. , 747 F.2d 863 (3d Cir. 1984) (discussing the six factors courts are to consider before dismissing an action on the basis of, inter alia, failure to comply with court orders and failure to comply with discovery obligations)." (Id.)

This order, and a subsequent order issued by the Court, were later returned by postal authorities as undeliverable. (Docs. 27, 31 and 32.) As a pro se litigant Bowman's failure to maintain an address where she could be reached itself violated the Rules of this Court; specifically, Local Rule 83.18, which provides that:

LR 83.18 Appearance of Parties Not Represented by Counsel.
Whenever a party by whom or on whose behalf an initial paper is offered for filing is not represented in the action, such party shall maintain on file with the clerk a current address at which all notices and copies of pleadings, motions or papers in the action may be served upon such party.

Recognizing that Bowman was now in violation of this rule as well, we entered an order on August 18, 2014, which placed her on notice of her obligations in this regard and stated in part as follows:

Under the Local Rules of this Court the plaintiff may be deemed to have abandoned this lawsuit by failing to provide the Court with an address where she can be reached, a direct violation of Local Rule 83.18. The plaintiff's on-going violation of Local Rule 83.18, permits the Court to find that she has abandoned this litigation. In this circumstance, dismissal of this action for failure to abide by Court orders or the Rules of this Court, and failure to prosecute, is fully justified. See, e.g., Juaquee v. Pike County Corr. Facility Employees , 3:12-CV-1233, 2013 WL 432611 (M.D. Pa. Feb. 1, 2013); Kuhn v. Capitol Pavilion , 1:11-CV-2017, 2012 WL 5197551 (M.D. Pa. Oct. 19, 2012); Educ. Mgt. Services, Inc. v. Pennsylvania , 1:10-CV-00441, 2012 WL 2389874 (M.D. Pa. June 25, 2012); Algin v. Burgerhoff , 1:12-CV-0003, 2012 WL 1580935 (M.D. Pa. May 4, 2012); Nowland v. Lucas , 1:10-CV-1863, 2012 WL 10559 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 3, 2012); Binsack v. Lackawanna County Dist. Attorney's Office , 3:08-CV-1166, 2011 WL 5840314 (M.D. Pa. Nov. 21, 2011); Washington v. Columbia County Prison , 3:CV-10-45, 2011 WL 98547 (M.D. Pa. Jan. 12, 2011). Accordingly, IT IS ORDERED that the plaintiff shall provide an address at which she can be reached on or before August 28, 2014, as required by Local Rule 83.18 or face the sanction provided for by that rule and the plaintiff may be deemed to have abandoned this lawsuit by failing to provide the Court with an address where she can be reached. IT IS FURTHER ORDERED THAT the Clerk of Court shall cause this Order to be delivered to the plaintiff via first-class mail by sending a copy to both of the mailing addresses provided by plaintiff's former counsel, and by transmission of the Order to the plaintiff at her e-mail address.

(Doc. 33.)

The copy of this order that was mailed to Bowman has now also been returned as undeliverable, (Doc. 34.), and we are no closer the gaining the plaintiff's compliance, or attention. Therefore, we must consider what course to take when presented by a plaintiff who refuses to cooperate with her own counsel, ignores legitimate defense discovery requests, fails to comply with Court orders, discounts the Rules of this Court, and has disappeared, leaving us with no means of communicating with this party. On these facts, in the absence of any ...


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