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Everett v. Fieldworks, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Pennsylvania

August 22, 2019

JUSTIN EVERETT, Plaintiff,
v.
FIELDWORKS, LLC, et. al. Defendants,

          OPINION

          J. NICHOLAS RANJAN, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         Before the Court are two Show Cause Orders [ECF 101, ECF 105] issued by Judge Peter J. Phipps[1] on June 10, 2019 and June 11, 2019, respectively. Both Show Cause Orders were issued by Judge Phipps following Plaintiff's failure to appear at the June 10, 2019 jury trial scheduled in this matter. [ECF 100].

         Following reassignment of the case, it now falls to this Court to decide what sanction, if any, is warranted by Plaintiff's failure to appear. For the reasons below, the Court will dismiss Plaintiff's claims with prejudice, but decline to impose monetary sanctions.

         I. Background

         This is a pro se employment discrimination claim brought under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Plaintiff Justin Everett alleges that he was fired from his job as a field canvasser for Defendant Fieldworks LLC (“Fieldworks”) because of his race or gender. [ECF 4]. Defendants deny the allegations, [ECF 13], and contend that Plaintiff was instead terminated after he “committed voter registration fraud by registering the same people over and over again.” [ECF 46 at 4]. After summary judgment, only Plaintiff's race discrimination claims against Defendants Fieldworks and Zachary Reider remain. [ECF 65].

         On April 24, 2019, following the issuance of an order granting in part and denying in part Defendants' motion for summary judgment [ECF 65], Judge Phipps entered a second pretrial order scheduling a jury trial on Plaintiff's remaining claims for June 10, 2019. [ECF 67]. Judge Phipps also scheduled a final pretrial conference for June 3, 2019. [ECF 67].

         On May 21, 2019, Judge Phipps held a telephonic status conference, which Plaintiff attended. [ECF 81]. The minute entry memorializing the status conference states that the “[t]rial schedule [was] discussed” and further notes that “[t]he Motion for Reconsideration of [the] Court's April 24th Judgment, ECF No. 70, will not alter the trial schedule.” [ECF 81].

         Following the status conference, Judge Phipps rescheduled the final pretrial conference for May 31, 2019. [ECF 81, ECF 83]. The pretrial conference was held on that date, with Plaintiff again in attendance. [ECF 99]. During the conference, Judge Phipps discussed multiple trial-related matters with the parties, including Plaintiff's witness list, Plaintiff's testimony, jury selection, trial time limits, and proposed voir dire. [ECF 99]. The corresponding minute entry states: “Trial will commence Monday, June 10, 2019 at 9:30 AM. Parties are directed to appear for any pretrial matters at 8:30 AM.” [ECF 99].

         On Friday, June 7, 2019, just three days before trial was scheduled to begin, Plaintiff filed a “Motion to Stay Proceedings Until Pending Notices of Appeal Are Completed.” [ECF 93]. In the first paragraph of his motion, Plaintiff wrote:

1. It turns out that my work requires my presence on June 10th and I will not be able to attend jury selection or the “trial, ” scheduled bizarrely on the same day. I was going to ask for a continuance but I realize this is part of a bigger problem. Oh, and just for the record, I don't own a yacht or a trust fund. I can't take off work whenever I want to. I'm a wage earner though I'm relatively poor compared to my financial needs. I can provide the work schedule if the court requests. (Just found out Thursday the 6th).

         [ECF 93 at ¶ 1].

         The remainder of Plaintiff's motion requested that the Court extend discovery, and argued that Plaintiff “still h[adn't] received one shred of evidence that the thing I was allegedly fired for, ‘duplicate [voter] registrations,' even exists.” [ECF 93].

         On that same day, June 7, 2019, Judge Phipps issued an order denying Plaintiff's motion to stay and stating, in relevant part:

The trial in this case is set to commence in three days - on Monday June 10, 2019. The date has been set since April 24, 2019. The final pre-trial conference in this case occurred on May 31, 2019, and the parties were informed of all trial procedures, and they had an opportunity to raise all objections, but the trial date has remained firm. Plaintiff's newly-asserted inability to take off work for trial is not a justification for rescheduling trial at this time; 36 potential jurors have been summoned to attend court on Monday, June 10, 2019, for potential juror service in this case.
Under these circumstances, plaintiff's failure to appear at trial on Monday will trigger a range of potential sanctions, from monetary sanctions to dismissal of his case for failure to prosecute.

         [ECF 96].

         To ensure that Plaintiff would receive the order, Defendants' counsel served a copy of the order to Plaintiff's residence, at Defendants' expense, on Saturday, June 8, 2019. [ECF 98].

         On June 10, 2019, notwithstanding Judge Phipps's order and accompanying warning, Plaintiff failed to appear at the scheduled jury trial. [ECF 100]. Defense counsel and Defendants' witnesses timely appeared at 8:30 AM, along with 33 prospective jurors. [ECF 100; ECF 105]. Due to Plaintiff's absence, the jury was dismissed at approximately 10:15 AM. [ECF 100]. Defendants then presented an oral motion to dismiss for failure to prosecute. [ECF 100].

         After dismissing the jury, Judge Phipps issued two Show Cause Orders. The first, [ECF 101], directed Plaintiff to “show cause by June 24, 2019, why the above-captioned matter should not be dismissed with prejudice for his failure to appear and to prosecute the jury trial this day, June 10, 2019.” The second, [ECF 105], directed Plaintiff to “show cause by June 25, 2019, why he should not be obligated to refund the costs of $2, 401.95 to the United States of America that were unnecessarily incurred due to his non-appearance at the jury trial in this matter.” Judge Phipps separately issued a Sanction and Bill of Costs Notice, [ECF 102], directing Defendants to file a bill of their own costs by June 24, 2019. Defendants did so, identifying $2, 136.63 in witness costs incurred in connection with the trial. [ECF 107].

         Both parties then filed responses to the Show Cause Orders. [ECF 106, ECF 108]. Plaintiff's response contained a litany of personal attacks directed at Judge Phipps, who consequently ordered that it be sealed on the docket as an “abusive document.” [ECF 108]. Plaintiff stated in his response that he did not appear for trial because he had to work, and argued that Judge Phipps was at fault for failing to reschedule the trial. [ECF 108] (“As soon as I found out on Thursday [June 6, 2019] what my schedule would be … I told the court to reschedule. You had a full three days to cancel and reschedule. Please don't try to pin the costs on me. I gave you plenty of time to make other arrangements. You had three days. Take some responsibility for your own actions.”).

         On August 9, 2019, the Court received additional correspondence from Plaintiff. [ECF 111]. In this letter, Plaintiff requested that the case “be reset to the discovery phase and all post discovery motions, and errant trial dates, would be reset as well.” [ECF 111]. Plaintiff further stated that “[t]his case is a joke without [additional discovery].” [ECF 111]. On August 16, 2019, Plaintiff re-filed the same correspondence, now styled as a “Motion to Enforce Order for ...


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