United States District Court, D. Nevada
LARRY R. HICKS, District Judge.
Before the Court is Defendants, the City of Carlin ("the City"), Police Chief William Bauer ("Bauer"), and Officer Matthew Slover's ("Slover") (collectively "Defendants") Motion to Dismiss. Doc. #19. Plaintiff Arnold Huntley, Sr. ("Huntley") filed an Opposition (Doc. #22), to which Defendants replied (Doc. #23).
I. Facts and Background
This case arises out of an altercation between Huntley and Slover on September 29, 2011. Huntley's First Amended Complaint ("FAC") alleges that Huntley was at his son's residence to pick up a vacuum he let them borrow. Huntley double parked his pick-up truck in the street in front of the residence for less than 15 minutes to retrieve the vacuum. During that time, the Carlin Police Department received a call from an individual complaining that Huntley's truck had been parked in the roadway for over an hour. Slover was then dispatched to the scene. Upon exiting the residence, Huntley was approached by Slover and the encounter which forms the basis for Huntley's FAC ensued. According to the FAC, Slover grabbed Huntley by the arm and pushed him against the truck. Slover then bent Huntley's arm over his head and proceeded to handcuff him. Huntley claims that he experienced significant pain in his right shoulder after Slover bent his arm over his head and that he sustained serious physical injuries, including but not limited to a right shoulder rotator cuff and labral tear and bicep tendon tear, all of which required surgical intervention. Ultimately, Huntley was not charged with any crimes and he was released from custody shortly thereafter.
Defendants assert that, in order to support his claim for damages, Huntley falsely claimed that his shoulder was injured during the handcuffing incident. Defendants filed the present Motion to Dismiss seeking dismissal of this action as a sanction for Huntley's perjured testimony and discovery responses falsely denying the existence of preexisting medical conditions, which forms the basis for his claim for damages. Through his false and deceptive discovery response, Defendants urge that Huntley sought to prevent them from obtaining records and information which he knew would effectively destroy his claim.
II. Legal Standard
There are two sources of authority under which a district court can sanction a party who has provided falsified testimony: (1) the inherent power of federal courts to levy sanctions in response to abusive litigation practices; and (2) the availability of sanctions under Rule 37 where there has been flagrant, bad faith disregard of discovery duties. Here, the Court finds that the sanction of dismissal is warranted pursuant to the Court's inherent power. As such, the Court does not reach the issue of whether sanctions are appropriate under Rule 37.
In Anheuser-Busch, Inc. v. Natural Beverage Distribs., 69 F.3d 337, 349 (9th Cir. 1995), the Ninth Circuit expressly approved of the sanction of dismissal where the plaintiff provided false evidence. The Court found that "[i]t is well settled that dismissal is warranted where... a party has engaged deliberately in deceptive practices that undermine the integrity of judicial proceedings: courts have inherent power to dismiss an action when a party has willfully deceived the court and engaged in conduct utterly inconsistent with the orderly administration of justice.'" Id. at 348 (quoting Wyle v. R.J. Reynolds Indus., Inc., 709 F.2d 585, 589 (9th Cir. 1983) (upholding dismissal of complaint pursuant to court's inherent power where plaintiff's denials of material fact were knowingly false and plaintiff willfully failed to comply with discovery orders)); see also Combs v. Rockwell Int'l Corp., 927 F.2d 486 (9th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 502 U.S. 859 (1991), (affirming dismissal under the court's inherent power as appropriate sanction for falsifying a deposition); Halaco Eng'g Co. v. Costle, 843 F.2d 376, 380 (9th Cir. 1988) (reversing dismissal where alleged misconduct peripheral to merits of case, but observing, "[d]ismissal under a court's inherent powers is justified... in response to abusive litigation practices... and to insure the orderly administration of justice and the integrity of the court's orders"); North Am. Watch Corp. v. Princess Ermine Jewels, 786 F.2d 1447, 1451 (9th Cir. 1986) (affirming dismissal of defendant's counterclaim under court's inherent power for concealing documents and violating court's discovery order); Phoceene Sous-Marine, S.A. v. U.S. Phosmarine, Inc., 682 F.2d 802, 806 (9th Cir. 1982) (noting that "[i]t is firmly established that the courts have inherent power to dismiss an action or enter a default judgment to ensure the orderly administration of justice and the integrity of their orders[, ]" but reversing entry of default because the deception was "peripheral" to the merits of the controversy); Arnold v. Cnty. of El Dorado, No. 2:10-cv-3119, 2012 WL 3276979, at *15 (E.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2012) (plaintiffs perjury warranted dismissal).
A district court should consider a number of factors prior to dismissal, including "(1) the public's interest in expeditious resolution of litigation; (2) the court's need to manage its dockets; (3) the risk of prejudice to the party seeking sanctions; (4) the public policy favoring disposition of cases on their merits; and (5) the availability of less drastic sanctions." Anheuser-Busch, 69 F.3d at 348 (quoting Henry v. Gill Indus., Inc., 983 F.2d 943, 948 (9th Cir. 1993)). Additionally, in order for dismissal to be proper pursuant to the court's inherent authority, the sanctionable conduct must be due to "willfulness, fault, or bad faith.'" Id. (citing Henry, 983 F.2d at 946) (quoting Fjelstad v. Am. Honda Motor Co., 762 F.2d 1334, 1337 (9th Cir. 1985)). In Arnold, 2012 WL 3276979, at *4, the court concluded that "committing perjury is acting in bad faith, '" but warned that "perjury should not be confused with inconsistencies in a party's deposition and trial testimony." Finally, "[d]ue process concerns further require that there exist a relationship between the sanctioned party's misconduct and the matters in controversy such that the transgression threaten[s] to interfere with the rightful decision of the case.'" Anheuser-Busch, 69 F.3d at 348 (quoting Wyle v. R.J. Reynolds Indus., Inc., 709 F.2d 585, 591 (9th Cir. 1983); see also Phoceene Sous-Marine, 682 F.2d at 806 (holding default entry violated due process where the sanctioned party's deception was wholly unrelated to the merits of the controversy). "A fraud on the court' occurs where it can be demonstrated, clearly and convincingly, that a party has sentiently set in motion some unconscionable scheme calculated to interfere with the judicial system's ability impartially to adjudicate a matter by improperly influencing the trier or unfairly hampering the presentation of the opposing party's claim or defense." Aoude v. Mobil Oil Corp., 892 F.2d 1115, 1118 (1st Cir. 1989) (referencing Alexander v. Robertson, 882 F.2d 421, 424 (9th Cir. 1989)).
A. Huntley's Deceptive Conduct
Here, the evidence clearly demonstrates that Huntley deliberately provided false testimony in an effort to thwart the discovery of evidence that would undermine his claims of injury. On August 21, 2013, Huntley provided sworn responses to Defendants' First Set of Interrogatories. Doc. #19, Ex. 1. When asked to "itemize, in detail, each an every injury and damage claimed to have been sustained by you as a result of the incident which is the subject of your [FAC], " Huntley responded, in relevant part, as follows:
I suffered right shoulder rotator cuff and labral tears as well as medially subluxed biceps tendon with accentuated acromion. I had to undergo surgery to repair the damage to my shoulder. I experienced significant pain in my shoulder. I have lost almost all strength in my right arm and shoulder. I am still experiencing occasional pain in my shoulder which is a 9/10 on a scale of 1 to 10.
Response to Interrogatory No. 1, Doc. #19, Ex. 1. In a deposition, Huntley further stated that he now suffers from numbness in his fingers and hand. Huntley Depo., Doc. #19, Ex. 3, 108:7, 108:16. He also denied ever having previously suffered any numbness in his hands. Id. at 116:12-21. When asked to "state in detail whether, prior to... the date of the incident..., you ever hand any injury to or difficulty with the same part of your body... as you claim was injured in the subject incident, " Huntley responded "None." Response to Interrogatory No. 2, Doc. #19, Ex. 1. When asked to "describe in detail... each and every accident or incident of any kind whatsoever in which you sustained an injury of any kind ...