United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
TELETIA R. TAYLOR, Plaintiff,
OAK FOREST HEALTH AND REHABILITATION, LLC, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
CATHERINE C. EAGLES, District Judge.
The plaintiff, Teletia R. Taylor, brought this suit to obtain health insurance benefits pursuant to a policy issued to her employer. Because Ms. Taylor has interfered with the discovery process to an outrageous extent and has repeatedly failed to comply with court orders, the Court will dismiss her case as a sanction. In the alternative, the case must be dismissed at summary judgment because she has provided no evidence that she exhausted her administrative remedies as required by ERISA.
I. Defendants' motion for sanctions
"The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure recognize that courts must have the authority to control litigation before them, and this authority includes the power to order dismissal of an action for failure to comply with court orders." Ballard v. Carlson, 882 F.2d 93, 95 (4th Cir.1989) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b)). In this case, Ms. Taylor refused to produce complete information about her medical bills and records and refused to answer questions at her deposition, despite court orders and even though the Magistrate Judge warned her many times about the potential for sanctions if she failed to comply. Her refusal to cooperate in the discovery process has prejudiced the defendants and was willful. Other sanctions have proven to be ineffective, leaving dismissal as the only reasonable option.
During the course of discovery, the defendants filed two separate motions to compel: one directed towards Ms. Taylor's inadequate written discovery responses, (Doc. 56), and one directed towards her failure to appear for her deposition. (Docs. 61, 66.) At a hearing on these motions, Magistrate Judge Auld granted in part and denied in part the motion to compel directed towards the discovery responses, granted the motion to compel her deposition, and awarded costs. See Minute Entry for proceedings held on April 11, 2014. In its April 11, 2014, Text Order, the Court ordered Ms. Taylor to serve supplemental discovery responses by June 12, 2014, and to submit to a deposition by May 10, 2014. The Court directed and warned:
Plaintiff may state any objection to any question in a non-argumentative manner, but, after doing so, must answer the question, unless the objection relates to an assertion of a valid privilege. Failure by Plaintiff to comply with any of the directives of the Court regarding either written discovery or her deposition will result in the consideration of case dispositive sanctions....
April 11, 2014, Text Order.
On April 18, 2014, Ms. Taylor filed a "motion for reconsideration." (Doc. 68.) The Court denied that motion by Text Order dated April 22, 2014 because Ms. Taylor simply attempted to re-hash arguments made at the April 11 hearing. Ms. Taylor filed another motion on April 22, 2014 entitled "Plaintiff's Motion for an Entry of Order to squash [sic] the Defendants improper Deposition, interrogatories and request for admission: all pending and past discoveries actions and for a protective order and an entry of order for relief." (Doc. 69.) On April 23, 2014, the Court entered a Text Order denying that motion, and warned Ms. Taylor that "[i]f Plaintiff continues to make redundant filings of this sort, the Court will have to consider appropriate sanctions." Ms. Taylor filed a third motion on April 24, 2014 entitled "Plaintiff's Notice of Motion for the Court to Give Clarification Regarding Deposition in Light of the Joint Rule 26(f) Report in the October 28, 2013 pre-Trial conference with Mag. Judge Patrick Auld." (Doc. 70.) The Court provided clarification, again warning Ms. Taylor that "[a]s the Court previously cautioned, failure by Plaintiff to cooperate in the taking of her deposition in the manner ordered by the Court will result in the consideration of case-dispositive sanctions." Text Order entered April 25, 2014.
On June 2, 2014, the Court awarded the defendants $6, 250.87 in reasonable expenses incurred as a result of Ms. Taylor's failure to appear for her deposition. (Doc. 77.) Ms. Taylor filed a motion to extend the time of payment, (Doc. 78), which the Court allowed by Text Order dated June 17, 2014. As of the date of the pending motion, Ms. Taylor had not made paid anything towards this award. (Doc. 88 at 15.)
On April 29, 2014, the defendants deposed Ms. Taylor. The deposition lasted for over eight hours. Despite the Magistrate Judge's direction to her that she must answer all questions unless she could assert a "valid privilege" and that all objections should be stated in "a non-argumentative manner, " see April 11, 2014 Text Order, Ms. Taylor refused to answer many, many questions and repeatedly argued with counsel. She asserted privilege objections that were completely without basis or merit. She routinely answered that she could not remember answers to questions involving matters of an ordinary nature, forcing counsel to ask more questions in an effort to obtain information. She gave evasive and long-winded answers to simple questions. By way of example only:
- In the first few minutes of her deposition, she was asked if she had ever testified in court before. In response, she testified, "Not to my knowledge, " forcing counsel to ask more questions to determine the answer to what was a very simple question well within Ms. Taylor's knowledge. (Doc. 88-1 at 11.) 
- She denied knowing the addresses of her sisters, (Doc. 88-1 at 53-54), and refused to provide contact information for them. (Doc. 88-1 at 54-55.) She even argued with counsel at length about the simple question of how many sisters she had before eventually answering. (Doc. 88-1 at 56-59.)
- She asserted that the name of her spouse's employer and information about current health insurance was privileged. (Doc. 88-1 at 159.) When asked what the privilege was, she replied, "Valid privilege reason, " and when asked to explain it, she essentially objected to relevance: "my husband have nothing to do in this case... [H]is health insurance, that's totally out of scope." Id. at 160. This happened repeatedly about a variety of topics. (Doc. 88-1 at inter alia, 55, 167, 168, 192, 194.)
- She denied remembering the name of the attorney who helped her attempt to collect on a default judgment against the driver of the car who caused the injuries that led to the medical care at issue. (Doc. 88-1 at 13.)
- She could not remember the name of the attorney helping her with her social security disability application, (Doc. 88-1 at 16), nor could she remember the city where ...