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Lewis v. Cavanaugh

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

January 28, 2019

KACEY LEWIS, Plaintiff,



         On January 17, 2019, during the first day of evidence at trial, this Court dismissed Plaintiff Kacey Lewis's case. The reasoning for the dismissal is evident from the recording of the proceedings. This order further articulates the reasons for the dismissal.

         I. Factual Background

         On June 4, 2018, the Court scheduled jury selection of this case for January 15, 2019, with evidence to proceed on January 17, 2019. See [Dkt. Nos. 277, 292, 293, 296, 297, 298, 309, 311, 313, 341, 321, 322, 323]. Despite having the benefit of the court's pretrial order containing detailed instructions on how to prepare and more than six months to prepare, Plaintiff appeared at jury selection without having complied with the Court's pretrial order regarding submission of exhibits.

         Plaintiff's disruptive behavior persisted during jury selection when he refused to exercise peremptory challenges, claiming the defense attorneys were distracting him by listening to a recording of an exhibit Mr. Lewis proposed for the first time that day to introduce as a trial exhibit. Counsel were standing as far away from Mr. Lewis as possible, in the extreme corner of the courtroom gallery on the opposite side of the courtroom from where Mr. Lewis was sitting at plaintiff's counsel table.

         Following jury selection, the Court addressed evidentiary matters. Plaintiff was agitated, oppositional, and disruptive to the extent he had to be restrained in hand cuffs and leg irons for the safety of others.

         Two days later, on the morning evidence was scheduled to begin, Correctional Officers informed the Courtroom Deputy that Plaintiff arrived at the courthouse in an agitated state. The Court ordered Plaintiff to remain in the restraints the Officers had applied. Plaintiff objected and, although Plaintiff was boisterous, the Court ordered the handcuffs removed to facilitate the presentation of evidence. During the Court's consideration of evidentiary matters before the jury entered the courtroom Plaintiff remained agitated, oppositional and disruptive.

         After the jury entered the courtroom, Plaintiff made his opening statement uneventfully but became agitated and was belligerent with the Court during his direct examination of himself and glared menacingly at the parties sitting at the defense table.

         On cross examination Plaintiff was asked about the damages he was claiming and he acknowledged he was seeking damages for emotional distress. When defense counsel asked if he had filed other lawsuits claiming emotional distress Plaintiff refused to answer the question. When reminded that he had to state the basis of his objection, he cited an irrelevant rule of evidence and then challenged the relevance of the testimony elicited. The Court explained the relevance and overruled the objection. Plaintiff then refused to answer citing “conscientious objection.” The Court instructed him to state the religious or other belief which would be violated if he answered the question and he refused. Instead he argued with the Court ultimately admitting he refused to answer because disagreed with the Court's ruling and believed whether he claimed others caused him emotional distress was not relevant. Plaintiff persisted in his refusal to answer and the Defendants moved for dismissal. The Court provided Plaintiff another opportunity to change his mind and answer the question as the Court had ordered, but Plaintiff declined. The Court declared a recess and excused the jury.

         Outside the presence of the jury, the Court asked Plaintiff if he would answer the question posed and other questions posed by the defense which the Court ruled were proper against Plaintiff's objection. He said he would not do either. The Court explained it was the role of the Court to determine what the jury heard and that a witness had to answer questions the Court ruled were proper. Finally, the Court explained that it would have to dismiss the case if Plaintiff refused to answer questions the Court ruled were proper. The Court reminded Mr. Lewis that the Court had dismissed another case he filed for failure to proceed with trial and would have to dismiss this one if he persisted in refusing to answer questions the Court ruled were proper. The Court reminded Mr. Lewis that the Court reopened the prior case when Mr. Lewis convinced the Court that his earlier refusal to proceed with trial was due to his agitation and inability to think clearly and control his behavior. The Court then explained it was declaring a recess to disengage and afford Plaintiff time to compose himself and reconsider his position. Before recessing, the Court reminded Mr. Lewis his case would be dismissed if he continued to refuse to honor the Court's rulings and answer questions the Court ruled proper.

         When the proceeding resumed approximately 10 minutes later, Plaintiff stated he would not respect the Court's rulings and answer the questions properly posed. The Court dismissed the case. This decision further articulates the Court's reasons for dismissing the case.

         II. Legal Standard

         A court may dismiss a case upon motion of a party to an action for the unjustified failure of a Plaintiff to prosecute. “The authority of a federal trial court to dismiss a plaintiff's action with prejudice because of his failure to prosecute cannot seriously be doubted. The power to invoke this sanction is necessary in order to prevent undue delays in the disposition of pending cases and to avoid congestion in the calendars of the District Courts. The power is of ancient origin, having its roots in judgments of nonsuit and non prosequitur entered at common law.” Link v. Wabash R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 629-30 (1962) (affirming dismissal for failure to prosecute where plaintiff's counsel failed to appear at a duly scheduled pre-trial conference and gave no reasonable explanation for his absence, finding it could “reasonably be inferred from [counsel's] absence, as well as from the drawn-out history of the litigation that petitioner had been deliberately proceeding in dilatory fashion.”). The Supreme Court noted that the authority to dismiss for failure to prosecute was expressly recognized in Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b), which states:

If the plaintiff fails to prosecute or to comply with these rules or a court order, a defendant may move to dismiss the action or any claim against it. Unless the dismissal order states otherwise, a dismissal under this subdivision (b) and any dismissal not under this rule- except one for lack of jurisdiction, improper venue, or ...

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