Appellate Court Affirms $4,000 Daily Monetary Sanction on Party Who Refused to Comply with a Discovery Order
In Padron v. Watchtower and Tract Society of New York, D070723, (Cal. Ct. App. 2017), the Court examines whether it is appropriate to levy a $4,000 per day fine against Defendant Watchtower for non-compliance with a discovery order.
The Court ordered Defendant Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc. (“Watchtower”) to produce documents responsive to a specific request for production. Per the court’s order, the documents would be redacted to protect certain third parties’ privacy interests and produced subject to a strict confidentiality and nondisclosure order negotiated by Watchtower. In addition, the court ordered Watchtower to look for documents in files it represented, to be in its possession, custody, and/or control. Watchtower informed the court that it would not comply with the order. As such, Osbaldo Padron (“Plaintiff”) brought a motion for monetary sanctions against Watchtower for its discovery abuses. The court awarded sanctions in the amount of $4,000 per day for noncompliance with the order, and Watchtower appealed that order.
In its appeal, Watchtower claims that it does not have possession and/or control of the responsive documents and that it acted with substantial justification in refusing to remove some redactions in other documents because production of documents without those redactions would violate constitutionally protected privacy rights.
The trial court has broad discretion in selecting discovery sanctions, subject to reversal only for abuse. The trial court should consider both the conduct being sanctioned and its effect on the party seeking discovery and, in choosing a sanction, should attempt to tailor the sanction to the harm caused by the withheld discovery. The trial court cannot impose sanctions for misuse of the discovery process as a punishment. The discovery statutes use an incremental approach to discovery sanctions, starting with monetary sanctions and ending with the ultimate sanction of termination. Discovery sanctions should be appropriate and should not exceed that which is required to protect the interests of the party entitled to but denied discovery.
In this case, Watchtower has taken two conflicting positions. It argued monetary sanctions were inappropriate but also that the lower court was not authorized to issue such sanctions. The appellate court concludes that Watchtower has abused the litigation process and has shown no respect for the superior court’s authority or the validity of the trial court’s orders requiring it to produce documents. Accordingly, the appellate court affirmed the lower court’s order, finding it not arbitrary, capricious, or whimsical and, to the contrary, observing that the court showed great patience and flexibility in dealing with a recalcitrant litigant who refused to follow valid orders and merely reiterated losing arguments.