Federal judge should not have tossed case over late-filed document, 9th Circuit says
Originally published; Feb 11, 2020
U.S. District Judge Manuel Real acted too harshly when he tossed a case because a document was filed a week past the deadline, according to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals at San Francisco.
In the case before the 9th Circuit, Real tossed a suit by a frozen yogurt franchisee for what he deemed to be a “pattern of repeated [filing] errors and local rule violations” that suggested “more than mere inadvertence.”
That conclusion is not supported by the record, the 9th Circuit said in an unpublished Feb. 7 decision.
The franchisee, the Cantran Group Inc., “had no history of delay and promptly corrected deficiencies in its filings that the district court flagged,” the appeals court.
Real tossed Cantran’s case in September 2018 because the franchisee was a week late in filing briefs opposing a motion to dismiss. The late-filed opposition briefs also violated a local rule limiting briefs and memoranda to 25 pages, Real said.
Real denied a motion for consideration in November 2018.
According to the 9th Circuit, Real could have considered less drastic measures such as striking the opposition briefs or extending the defendants’ time to respond to those briefs.
Cantran Group, Inc. appeals from the district court’s judgment of dismissal with prejudice as a sanction for failure to timely oppose defendants’ Rule 12(b)(6) motions. We have jurisdiction under 28 U.S.C. § 1291. Reviewing for abuse of discretion, see Ghazali v. Moran, 46 F.3d 52, 53 (9th Cir. 1995) (per curiam), we reverse and remand.
While district courts have broad discretion to enforce local rules, see Delange v. Dutra Constr. Co., 183 F.3d 916, 919 n.2 (9th Cir. 1999) (per curiam), before dismissing an action as a sanction for noncompliance with those rules, a court is required to consider five factors: “(1) the public’s interest in expeditious resolution of litigation; (2) the court’s need to manage its docket; (3) the risk of prejudice to the defendants; (4) the public policy favoring disposition of cases of their merits; and (5) the availability of less drastic sanctions.” Id. (quoting Henderson v. Duncan, 779 F.2d 1421, 1423 (9th Cir. 1986)).
The public’s interest in expeditious litigation plays only a negligible role here because resolving the motions on the merits would have required, at most, a brief continuance of the scheduled hearing date.
A plaintiff’s willful impairment of a district court’s docket management supports a dismissal sanction, see Anheuser-Busch, Inc. v. Nat. Beverage Distribs., 69 F.3d 337, 348 (9th Cir. 1995), but the district court’s finding that Cantran engaged in a “pattern of repeated [filing] errors and local rule violations” suggesting “more than mere inadvertence” is unsupported by the record.
Cantran had no history of delay and promptly corrected deficiencies in its filings that the district court flagged.
The district court improperly struck the amended complaint Cantran filed on June 4, 2018, on the basis that it required the court’s leave. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 15(a)(1)(B).
While Cantran’s untimely opposition briefs left defendants with less than a day to respond, the district court failed to consider sanctions less drastic than dismissal—such as extending defendants’ time to respond or striking the opposition briefs—that would have resulted in no prejudice to defendants.
Moreover, the public policy favoring resolution of disputes on their merits is particularly strong at the pleadings stage where, as here, the plaintiff has no history of dilatory tactics and the delay is only one week. See Raiford v. Pounds, 640 F.2d 944, 945 (9th Cir. 1981) (per curiam); Tolbert v. Leighton, 623 F.2d 585, 587 (9th Cir. 1980). Ghazali, which involved a post-pleadings dismissal sanction in the face of the plaintiff’s failure to respond to discovery requests, is inapposite.
Under these circumstances, the district court’s dismissal sanction was an abuse of discretion. On remand, the district court should consider the merits of defendants’ motions to dismiss.
REVERSED and REMANDED.