United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina
THOMAS D. SCHROEDER, District Judge.
This matter is before the court on Defendant Jared Greenlee's "Motion for Dismissal of All Claims Based upon Plaintiff's Failure to Comply with Court Orders and Failure to Prosecute, " pursuant to Rules 16(f), 37(b)(2), 37(c), and 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure (Doc. 86), and "Emergency Motion of Defendant Greenlee to Strike Unauthorized Stipulation of Dismissal' Filed by Plaintiff and for Other Relief" (Doc. 89). For the reasons set forth herein, the court will grant Greenlee's motions and dismiss this action.
Plaintiff James Smith Whitlock, III, appearing pro se, filed this lawsuit on November 15, 2010, in a North Carolina state court. The action was removed to this court based on the presence of a federal question. (Doc. 1.) Whitlock's amended complaint alleges that Greenlee, while acting as a police officer for the Chapel Hill Police Department, wrongly searched his vehicle at 4:30 a.m. on Chapel Hill's Franklin Street and arrested him. (Doc. 1-1.) Greenlee has denied all allegations of wrongdoing and asserted qualified immunity as an affirmative defense. (Doc. 8.)
During the course of this action, all but two of Whitlock's claims were dismissed, either voluntarily or by the court. (Docs. 39, 64, 70.) Remaining are Whitlock's claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 for unlawful search and seizure under the Fourth Amendment (first and second claims for relief). (Doc. 70.)
A. Pre-Trial Hearings and Deadlines
Following an unsuccessful interlocutory appeal by Greenlee (Docs. 76, 77, and 78), the court entered an Order on October 3, 2014, that this action would be set for trial during the civil trial term of court beginning January 5, 2015. Also on October 3, the court issued a written Notice formally setting the case for that trial term and further directing that trial briefs and jury instructions were to be filed by the parties "no later than December 15, 2014." (Doc. 79.) The Notice further provided, "The parties shall comply in all respects with Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(3) regarding final pretrial disclosure, including the time requirements set out therein." (Id.) Consequently, pursuant to Rule 26(a)(3)(B) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and Local Rule 40.1(c), pretrial disclosures were required to be served and filed in this case no later than December 5, 2014.
On November 20, 2014, the court issued its Master Trial Calendar, which listed the case for trial before the undersigned starting at January 5, 2015, at 9:30 a.m., in Winston-Salem, N.C., Courtroom #2. (Doc. 80.) The Master Trial Calendar contained a notice to counsel and parties: "For the purpose of compliance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(3) regarding final pretrial disclosure, including the time requirements set out therein, all cases listed below should consider the first date of the Master Calendar as their trial date." (Id. at 1.) Local Rule 40.1 also requires that parties file a trial brief with proposed jury instructions "no later than 21 days before trial." L.R. 40.1(c).
Although Whitlock appears in this action pro se, he represents that he has graduated from the North Carolina Central University School of Law. (See also Doc. 94-3 at 7.) Early in the litigation, he also requested that the court allow him to participate as an electronic filer in the court's Internet-based Case Management/Electronic Case Files ("CM/ECF") system (Doc. 12), which the court allowed (Doc. 28). He, therefore, has been receiving electronic e-mail notification of all court orders and other documents filed with the court and is eligible to file all documents electronically.
On November 26, 2014, the court entered a Notice to all parties directing them, their counsel, and any insurance carrier representatives to attend a settlement conference on December 15, 2014, before the undersigned district judge in Winston-Salem, N.C., Courtroom #2. (Doc. 81.) The Notice also ordered each party to serve and deliver to the court a settlement position statement no later than December 11, 2014, to facilitate the settlement conference. (Id.)
Greenlee timely filed and served his pretrial witness and exhibit disclosures on December 5, 2014. (Doc. 82.) He also timely submitted his settlement position statement to the court on December 10, 2014. Whitlock never filed any of these materials, nor did he move for any relief for his failure to have done so.
B. Settlement Conference
A settlement conference was held on December 15, 2014, before the undersigned. Greenlee attended with counsel and a representative from the North Carolina League of Municipalities, the insurer for the Town of Chapel Hill Police Department. Whitlock also attended, appearing pro se . Following discussion between themselves, the parties reported a settlement and memorialized the terms on the record, which included an agreement for partial reimbursement of expenses and the filing of a Stipulation of Dismissal with prejudice with the court. Given the impending trial date, the court imposed a deadline of 5:00 p.m. on December 19, 2014, for the filing of the Stipulation of Dismissal, warning (orally at the settlement conference and in a subsequent Text Order later that day) that if one were not filed by then, the case would remain on the January 5, 2015 trial calendar. The parties assented. Further, the court temporarily suspended the deadlines for the filing of trial briefs and jury instructions (which were otherwise due by the close of business that same day, December 15, 2014) pending consummation of the parties' agreement. The court expressly stated that it was not waiving or amending any past pretrial deadlines which had expired, including the deadline for serving pretrial disclosures.
The December 19, 2014 5:00 p.m. deadline passed without the filing of an executed ...