Cox v. Magers, 2018 MT 21 (Feb. 13, 2018) (Baker, J.) (5-0, aff’d)
Issue: (1) Whether Coxes failed to comply with the judicial process; and (2) whether the district court’s discovery sanctions were overly severe.
Short Answer: (1) Yes, and (2) no.
Facts: Magers was driving in downtown Kalispell when he rear-ended Cox’s car. Magers admitted he was not paying attention. Coxes filed suit against Magers almost three years later, and served the complaint almost three years after that. Ten days after service, Magers mailed discovery requests to the Coxes at their address of record, a post office box in Plains. The next day Magers filed his answer and a motion to change venue, serving both at the same P.O. box. The district court granted the motion to change venue and transferred the case to Flathead County in March 2016.
After several months of trying to obtain complete answers to discovery, Magers moved to dismiss under Rule 37. The district court found that Magers properly served Coxes with discovery requests on February 11; that Coxes failed to sign their responses under penalty of perjury without limitation; that Coxes failed to answer interrogatories fully or produce responsive documents; that Coxes violated the court’s order compelling them to produce medical records; that the district court properly served the order compelling discovery on the Coxes; and that the explanations the Coxes offered did not substantially justify their failure to comply or demonstrate that circumstances made an award of expenses unjust. The court granted Magers’ motion and ordered Coxes to pay Magers’ reasonable expenses, including attorney fees.
Procedural Posture & Holding: Both Coxes moved for reconsideration under Rule 59. The court denied both motions, ordered additional briefing, held a reasonableness hearing, and entered judgment against the Coxes, dismissing their claim with prejudice and ordering them to pay Magers $6,634.50 in fees and costs. Coxes appeal, and the Supreme Court affirms.
Reasoning: (1) C. Cox was properly served, and Magers’ discovery requests were relevant and legitimate. The Coxes put their physical and mental condition as well as their income at issue, and therefore were required to answer interrogatories about those things, and to produce documents supporting their claims. Coxes did not object to the discovery requests nor move for a protective order. A party’s own medical records are in that party’s “control,” and Coxes were required to produce the requested medical records.
(2) Coxes failed to comply with the rules of discovery in any meaningful way. Their discovery abuses impermissibly prejudiced Magers. The district court did not abuse its discretion in dismissing the claim in its entirety. Self-represented parties may not flout the rules of discovery and court orders. “When, as here, the trial court’s discovery sanction relates to the extent of the prejudice that resulted from the discovery abuse, it does not abuse its discretion.” ¶ 32.