District of Columbia, Other Defendants Sanctioned for Failure to Disclose Data in Civil Rights Case
Smith v. District of Columbia, et. al., Case No. 15-161 (District of Columbia, Dec. 6, 2016) is a civil rights case brought by Plaintiff against the District and its Department of Corrections, as well as two corrections officers, for detaining Plaintiff unlawfully for 23 days after he was ordered to be released from police custody. Plaintiff ultimately dismissed the Department of Corrections but maintained the case against the other defendants. During discovery, Plaintiff sought data from the District’s electronic transaction management system, called TMS, as well as the Department of Corrections’ over-detention reports.
Plaintiff learned of the TMS data during a deposition of Defendant Jones, who testified that when release orders are received, they are uploaded to the TMS system, which indicates the date and time of uploading. During the deposition, Plaintiff’s counsel requested the data from Defendants’ counsel, but did not receive it. Plaintiff’s counsel made a second request nearly a month later via email, asking for screenshots of the TMS system indicating when Plaintiff’s release orders were uploaded into the TMS system, or in the alternative, requesting access to the system to review the information. Several weeks later, Defendants’ counsel advised the court in a joint status report that it would provide the data within two weeks. However, at the close of fact discovery, Defendants’ counsel notified Plaintiff’s counsel that the data “does not exist.” Ultimately, Defendants provided some of the data but not all, despite its earlier claim that the data did not exist.
Plaintiff filed a Motion for costs and fees, arguing in part that Defendants should have disclosed the TMS data in their initial disclosures, and further argued that Defendants had made a false representation that the data did not exist at all. Plaintiff sought sanctions under FRCP 37(c)(1), which provides that a failure to disclose or supplement is sanctionable unless the failure was substantially justified or was harmless. The Rule does not require bad faith or motive. The court found that Defendants were not justified in their failure to disclose the TMS data, and therefore that Defendants violated their discovery obligations. The court granted Plaintiff his attorneys’ fees and costs but declined to order that the jury be instructed of the violations. Instead, the court ordered that Defendants could not introduce any TMS data not already produced to Plaintiff in their defense.