Employee's refusal to produce medical records results in dismissal of lawsuit

Employee's refusal to produce medical records results in dismissal of lawsuit Peters-Turnbull v NYC Board of Education, CA2, 7 Fed. Appx. 107 Sometimes a plaintiff refuses to cooperate in pre-trial discovery procedures. The Peters-Turnbull case illustrates the difficulties that such lack of cooperation may cause the plaintiff. Gloria Peters-Turnbull filed a complaint in federal district court alleging that the New York City Board of Education failed to reasonably accommodate her disability in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, and New York State's Executive Law ยง296. She also charged that the Board retaliated against her when she began to complain. The district court ultimately granted the Board's motion to dismiss her complaints because she failed to cooperate in discovery proceedings. Among other things, the Board complained that Peters-Turnbull (1) failed to comply with its request that she report for a physical examination and (2) that she that refused to provide authorization for the release of her medical records to the Board. According to the ruling, on May 4, 1999, the court held a conference and ordered Peters-Turnbull to respond to the Board's requests by May 25, 1999. She did not comply with this order. The court then ordered Peters-Turnbull to show cause why her lawsuit should not be dismissed for failure to respond to the Board's discovery requests. Peters-Turnbull failed to respond to this order by the court. The court then instructed the Board to move for dismissal based on Peters-Turnbull's failures to produce the requested discovery. Peters-Turnbull appealed the dismissal of her petition, contending that the District Court abused its discretion in dismissing her claims with prejudice for failure to comply with its discovery orders. The Circuit Court said that "five factors are used to determine whether such a dismissal is warranted." The five tests are: 1. The duration of the plaintiff's failure to comply with court orders; 2. Whether the plaintiff was on notice that failure to comply would result in dismissal; 3. Whether the defendant is likely to be prejudiced by further delay in the proceedings; 4. A balancing of the court's interest in managing its docket with the plaintiff's interest in receiving a fair chance to be heard; and 5. Whether the judge has adequately considered a sanction less drastic than dismissal. Applying each of the factors, the Circuit Court said that it was satisfied that the District Court acted within its discretion in dismissing Peters-Turnbull's action. The Circuit Court's rationale for its holding: 1. Peters-Turnbull's failure to comply with repeated discovery requests and court orders has extended this lawsuit over five years. 2. Peters-Turnbull received ample notice that further delays would result in dismissal of her case. 3, The duty of due diligence imposed upon plaintiffs under the rules rests upon the crucial policy of encouraging prompt disposition of cases. Therefore, although the District Court did not identify any specific prejudice to the Board, "prejudice to defendants resulting from unreasonable delay may be presumed." Although the District Court made no explicit findings with regard to its balancing of the need to alleviate court calendar congestion with Peters-Turnbull's right to due process, Peters-Turnbull received sufficient notice and a fair opportunity to be heard before the case was dismissed. Finally, under the circumstances, the District Court had no reason to believe that lesser sanctions would be effective. Peters-Turnbull had been warned repeatedly and the issues on which discovery had not been produced constituted the essence of the case. The Circuit Court affirmed the district court's dismissal of Peters-Turnbull's complaint with prejudice.

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