Default judgment or summary judgment as sanctions for discovery violations are predictably rare. The imposition of such drastic remedies requires particularly close analysis by the judicial officer assigned to hear the dispute. Hence a 37-page opinion and recommendation by the magistrate judge in Martinez v City of New York, 2018WL604019 (E.D.N.Y. Jan. 24, 2018). Although dispositive sanctions were later rejected in favor of lesser but significant sanctions by the Article III judge in a ruling issued April 18, 2018, the case presents a study in extremes.
The plaintiff brought a section 1983 civil rights action against the New York Police Department arising from her arrest. After nearly two years of discovery that required the issuance of no fewer than 14 court orders, the plaintiff discovered that the defendant continued to withhold evidence critical to her case, and moved for dispositive sanctions. The magistrate judge recommended that the defendant’s pleadings be struck and that default or summary judgment be entered in the plaintiff’s favor.
The magistrate judge’s opinion discusses the legal standards for sanctions. The court stated the three purposes behind sanctions under Rule 37 as (1) they ensure that a party will not benefit from its own failure to comply; (2) they are specific deterrents and seek to obtain compliance with the order issued; and (3) they are intended to serve a general deterrent effect on the case at hand and on other litigation, provided that the party against whom they are imposed was in some sense at fault.