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Discovery Sanctions: When is Entry of Default Judgment Appropriate?

Posted on June 30th, 2014

A common theme in our blog is spoliation and what sanctions are appropriate to remedy the situation. What kind of conduct leads to an entry of a default judgment? In YellowBook Inc., v. Heller & Heller and Mark Heller, (N.Y. Sup. June 10, 2014), the court looked at what conduct could justify such a hard sanction.

Plaintiff brought an action to recover $318,937.50 from Defendant, alleging that Defendant had failed to pay for his telephone directory advertisements. The court faced numerous failures by Defendant to meet deadlines and comply with his obligations as a litigant.

Defendant first defaulted by not filing an answer for five months after Plaintiff served its complaint. The court permitted Defendant to interpose a late answer. Next, Defendant failed to timely serve his discovery requests or tender the defense production to Plaintiff electronic discovery requests by the required deadline. At a status conference, the parties stipulated that Defendant would produce an affidavit supporting his incomplete interrogatory responses and electronic discovery, but Defendant failed to comply again. As a result of this, Plaintiff cancelled Defendants’ scheduled deposition. Defendant then missed another deposition after scheduling a last minute vacation to Miami Beach.

“When a party refuses to obey an order for disclosure or willfully fails to disclose information, the court may render a judgment by default against the disobedient party.” The court states that such a harsh sanction can only be justified when the moving party provides a clear showing that the failure to comply was “willful, contumacious or in bad faith.” However, the court also states:

“A single incident of noncompliance with a disclosure order, without a showing of willfulness or bad faith, is not sufficient to justify striking an answer. However, repeated and persistent failure to comply with successive disclosure orders without providing adequate explanation establishes willfulness and contumaciousness.

  1. Plaintiff clearly established that Defendants’ conduct was at least committed in bad faith, but more than likely, willful. Still, the court acknowledges that repeated noncompliance would likely have to occur for a judgment by default to be rendered. Here we find the pertinent analysis, that with repeated acts of “willful, contumacious or bad faith” noncompliance, an entry of default judgment may be appropriate.”

As such, the court ruled that the only appropriate sanction in the given circumstances would be to strike the Defendants’ answer.

ILS – Plaintiff Electronic Discovery Experts

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