MONTGOMERY, Ala. (Legal Newsline) - The Alabama Court of Civil Appeals has upheld a lower court’s judgment to dismiss a personal injury lawsuit due to the plaintiff’s failure to take appropriate actions during the discovery process.
The case had initially been filed in Tuscaloosa Circuit Court in February 2015 by Brianna Horton, who alleged that Bria Monique Hinton, the defendant, “had negligently or wantonly operated an automobile in a manner so as to strike Horton... that Hinton’s actions amounted to outrageous conduct and that Horton had suffered emotional distress as a result of that alleged conduct,” according to the appellate court’s opinion.
The defendant filed a motion to dismiss the case in June 2015, claiming Horton had failed to respond to requests for documents and interviews even after the trial court had entered an order compelling her to do so, the court's opinion states. Once this motion was filed, however, Horton responded to the requests and the court denied the motion to dismiss.
Then, Hinton’s attorneys scheduled Horton’s deposition for October 2015, but the scheduled meeting was canceled at Horton’s request. When Hinton’s attorneys followed up to reschedule the deposition, sending two letters to Horton’s counsel, they received no response. As a result, the defendant selected a date and issued a new notice of deposition, but both Horton and her attorney failed to appear, providing no explanation, according to the court's opinion.
At this point, Hinton requested a motion to compel, and the trial court directed Horton to attend a deposition within 21 days or risk having her case dismissed. This time, Horton’s attorney arrived for the deposition, but Horton did not, so Hinton filed another motion to dismiss.
Horton did not respond to the motion to dismiss until after the trial court had entered a judgment dismissing the action, at which point she requested the trial court reconsider its ruling. In support of her request, Horton provided an affidavit from her mother who claimed to have tried to drive Horton to the deposition, but got stuck in traffic en route. Horton’s mother’s affidavit also claimed she was having trouble with her phone, which was why Horton’s attorney could not reach them, the court stated. The trial court denied the motion to request, so Horton appealed the decision.
In its decision to uphold the trial court’s judgment, the appellate court points to Rule 37(b), Ala. R. Civ. P., which, according to its written decision, “authorizes a trial court to dismiss an action as a sanction against a party who violates an order compelling him or her to provide or permit discovery [and] authorizes dismissal as a sanction for a party’s failure to answer interrogatories or requests for production or to attend his or her properly noticed deposition.” The court notes that such sanctions are up to the discretion of the trial court, and an appeals court cannot change the decision “absent gross abuse of discretion.”
In determining whether an abuse of discretion took place, the appeals court looked to cases such as Napier v. McDougall, in which “our Supreme Court affirmed the dismissal of an action as a sanction for the plaintiff’s failure to provide answers to written discovery requests… As in Napier, the record in the present case demonstrates a consistent failure on Horton’s part, without adequate excuse, to properly comply with the requirements of the discovery process,” the appeals court said in its opinion.
Therefore, the appeals court concluded, “the trial court did not act outside its discretion in dismissing Horton’s action, and its judgment is due to be affirmed.”