Court Rejects Plaintiffs’ Motion for Sanctions Against Defendants’ Counsel for Their Own Sanctions Motion: eDiscovery Case Law

It’s not often I can say that I was on a panel with the judge on the case I’m covering (except for one notable retired New York Magistrate Judge), but I can in this case!

In Lincoln Memorial Academy, et al. v. State of Florida, et al., No.: 8:20-cv-309-CEH-AAS (M.D. Fla. Feb. 19, 2021), Florida Magistrate Judge Amanda Arnold Sansone denied the plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions and attorney’s fees against defendants’ attorney Erin G. Jackson, stating “the School Board’s motion to compel and motion for sanctions were legally sufficient and not made in bad faith”.

Case Background

In February 2020, the plaintiffs sued the School Board, and other defendants, alleging civil rights violations.  In June 2020, the School Board served the plaintiffs with discovery requests.  On June 23, the plaintiffs’ Attorney Ford emailed defendants’ Attorney Jackson and requested more time to complete the plaintiffs’ Rule 26 disclosures.  Six days later, Attorney Ford again emailed Attorney Jackson stating that he needed more time to gather responses to discovery and Rule 26 disclosures, to which Attorney Jackson conceded to limited extensions.  On July 22, Attorney Ford emailed Attorney Jackson requesting that she resend the School Board’s discovery requests, then served deficient discovery responses eight days later, with several of the plaintiff’s responses not matching the School Board’s Interrogatories.

After Attorney Jackson emailed Attorney Ford and requested the outstanding responses and documents on August 2nd, Attorney Jackson gave Attorney Ford additional time to serve complete discovery responses and stated she would request court intervention if Attorney Ford failed to produce the outstanding discovery responses. Eventually, the School Board moved to compel the plaintiffs to produce discovery responses and requested an award of attorney’s fees in relation to the motion.  Ultimately, the court granted the School Board’s motion for sanctions and awarded the School Board its reasonable attorney’s fees and costs against Attorney Ford for the unnecessary time and expenses the School Board incurred because of the discovery violations.  After that, the plaintiffs moved for sanctions and attorney’s fees against Attorney Jackson.

Judge’s Ruling

Noting that “[o]n August 28, 2020, after multiple extensions and attempts to get complete discovery responses from the plaintiffs, the School Board moved to compel production of the outstanding discovery responses” and that “Attorney Ford assured the School Board he would provide amended responses for each plaintiff and correct the discovery deficiencies…Attorney Ford failed to do so”, Judge Sansone stated:

“The School Board’s motion to compel and motion for sanctions were legally sufficient and not made in bad faith. The court granted the motions due to their merit…In addition, as detailed above, Attorney Jackson filed the School Board’s motion to compel and motion for sanctions after numerous attempts to obtain the plaintiffs’ outstanding discovery responses and documents. Contrary to the plaintiffs’ assertions, Attorney Jackson was generous in her extensions and repeatedly detailed the outstanding discovery for the plaintiffs’ benefit.”  As a result, plaintiffs’ motion for sanctions and attorney’s fees against defendants’ attorney Jackson was denied.

So, what do you think?  Does the plaintiffs’ request for sanctions warrant a sanction for violation of Rule 11(b)?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant, an Affinity partner of eDiscovery Today.

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3 comments

  1. This one’s not even close. Seeking sanctions for the Board’s motion based on lack of merit is pretty damn foolish after the court has sustained the Board’s motion on its merits and granted the relief sought after evidentiary hearing. I’m not seeing why this order merited your attention on the blog. It’s not eDiscovery and its not instructive beyond “Gotta be Florida, right?”

  2. Craig, I picked it because I thought the plaintiffs’ motion was so unwarranted, I was surprised that a sanction wasn’t considered for that. Even Florida has an ethics CLE requirement! 😉

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