United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania
KELLY J. VAY, Plaintiff,
ROBERT HUSTON, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION ON DEFENDANTS' MOTION FOR SANCTIONS ECF Nos. 49 & 50
LISA PUPO LENIHAN, Magistrate Judge.
Pending before the Court is Defendants' Motion for Sanctions. Defendants contend that the Plaintiff failed to engage in early neutral evaluation ("ENE") and mediation in good faith. After considering the evidence presented and the arguments of Plaintiff and Defendants, the Court grants in part and denies in part Defendants' Motion for Sanctions.
I. PROCEDURAL HISTORY
Plaintiff initiated this action by filing a civil complaint on June 16, 2014. The case was assigned to Judge Nora Barry Fischer. Pursuant to the Local Rules of Court for the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, specifically LCvR 16.2, the parties are to discuss and attempt to stipulate to an ADR process at the Rule 26(f) conference. ADR is required in all cases with the exception of Social Security cases and cases in which a prisoner is a party. The ADR process is governed by the ADR Policies and Procedures as adopted by the Board of Judges for the this Court. ("Policies and Procedures"). http://www.pawd.uscourts.gov/Applications/pawd_adr/Documents/ADRPolicies.pdf.
In addition to indicating which ADR process is selected in the Rule 26(f) written report, the parties are to file a separate form entitled "Stipulation Selecting ADR Process."
In this case, the Rule 26(f) Report filed at ECF No. 17 states as follows:
The parties have agreed to Early Neutral Evaluation. However, the parties agree that there is virtually no chance of any settlement of this case prior to the completion of discovery, at which time counsel for the defendants believes that the early neutral evaluation form of ADR, as opposed to mediation, increases whatever chances for settlement exist. Plaintiff consents to ENE.
The Stipulation Selecting ADR Process was filed on September 11, 2014 at ECF No. 18 and indicates that the parties have selected early neutral evaluation, costs to be shared equally by the parties. The Initial Case Management Conference was held before the District Judge on September 18, 2014. The minute entry for the conference reads as follows: "The parties agreed to ENE/Mediation for alternative dispute resolution to be completed by November 28, 2014 with the Hon. Kenneth Benson and the costs to be split evenly between the parties. The Court appointed Ms. Scott as lead counsel for ENE/Mediation, and the parties will file notice of the intended date for ENE/Mediation by September 26, 2014." ECF No. 9.
Finally, the Court entered an Order referring the case to "Early Neutral Evaluation/Mediation." The order further provides that principals from each party with full settlement authority shall be in attendance. ECF No. 21.
On January 8, 2015, Defendants filed a Motion for Sanctions along with a sealed Motion containing their confidential ENE position statement (ECF Nos. 49 and 50). Given the allegations of the motion, Judge Fischer ordered that the matter be referred to the undersigned. The undersigned held a status conference on January 12, 2015. A lengthy discussion took place at that status conference during which both sides argued their positions and Plaintiff requested an opportunity to file a Response to the Motion. The parties were also ordered to determine whether or not they wanted to present testimony. On February 3, 2015 Plaintiff filed her Response to the Motion for Sanctions. ECF No. 59 (under seal). That Response does not request a hearing.
On February 9, 2015 Defendants filed their Reply to the Response. Defendants requested a hearing only if the Court finds there are disputed facts. It is without question that in any dispute of this type there are disputed facts, however, the Court finds that there are no disputes of material fact and therefore has not scheduled a hearing. Plaintiff's Sur-Reply was filed on February 17, 2015. This matter is now ripe for disposition.
II. APPLICABLE STANDARD OF REVIEW
This Court must determine if sanctions should be imposed upon Plaintiff for failing to participate in the ENE/mediation in good faith. Defendants request sanctions under Rule 16 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure which they argue allows the court to require parties to attend conferences for the purpose of discussing settlement and impose sanctions if they fail to participate in good faith, citing Newton v. A.C. & S., Inc., 918 F.2d 1121, 1126 (3d Cir. 1990). In addition, this Court has an inherent power to assess sanctions "when a party has acted in bad faith, vexatiously, wantonly, ...