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Hackman v. Town of East Hartford

United States District Court, D. Connecticut

August 28, 2019

SHAMEKA HACKMAN, Plaintiff,
v.
TOWN OF EAST HARTFORD et al., Defendants.

          ORDER GRANTING MOTION FOR JUDGMENT ON THE PLEADINGS AND GRANTING IN PART AND DENYING IN PART MOTION TO FILE AMENDED COMPLAINT

          Jeffrey Alker Meyer United States District Judge.

         This case involves a claim by plaintiff Shameka Hackman that she was harassed and beaten by numerous officers of the police department in East Hartford, Connecticut. The remaining defendants are the Town of East Hartford, the East Hartford Police Department, and four East Hartford police officers: Thomas Castagna, Nicholas Palladino, Peter Vanek, and Rebecca Wise.

         Now before me are two motions. First, the individual defendant officers have moved pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 12(c) for judgment on the pleadings. Second, Hackman has moved to file an amended complaint. I will grant the individual defendants' motion for judgment on the pleadings, principally in light of my prior discovery sanctions order that forecloses Hackman from establishing the personal involvement of any of these defendants. I will otherwise deny Hackman's motion to file an amended complaint against these individual defendants but will allow her to file an amended complaint against the Town of East Hartford.

         Background

         Hackman initially filed this lawsuit in Connecticut state court before it was removed by the defendants to this Court. Doc. #1. On September 28, 2017, I entered a general scheduling order to provide for the completion of discovery by the end of June 2018. Doc. #16. I later modified this order in early April 2018 after a status conference with counsel to provide for the completion of discovery by the end of August 2018. Doc. #18. Although there is no official transcript of this teleconference, my notes reflect that the modification to the scheduling order was prompted by the failure of Hackman to have responded to discovery served by defendants on her and for which responses had been due in February 2018.

         In July 2018, defendants moved to stay the proceedings in light of the sudden death of Hackman's counsel who had passed away on April 18, 2018. Doc. #21. I granted this motion and advised Hackman that she must promptly retain new counsel by August 20, 2018, or file a statement with the Court that she intends to represent herself in this action. Doc. #22.

         On August 20, 2018, attorney Wesley Spears filed a notice of appearance for Hackman. Doc. #23. Attorney Spears has been a member of the Connecticut bar for more than 30 years.[1] A query of the Court's CMECF docketing system reflects that he has appeared in more than 40 federal cases in the District of Connecticut. In many of these cases he is listed as plaintiff's counsel for constitutional claims against municipalities and police officers brought under 42 U.S.C. § 1983.[2]

         On September 21, 2018, I convened an in-person status conference to discuss scheduling in light of the appearance of new counsel on Hackman's behalf. At that conference and after consultation with counsel, I entered a new scheduling order for the parties to complete discovery within four more months by January 21, 2019. Doc. #30. Although there is no official transcript from this conference, my notes reflect that I reminded all counsel that it was very important to be timely with discovery responses, after counsel for defendants represented without contradiction that Hackman had not served any discovery at all on the defendants nor even furnished initial disclosures as required under Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(1).

         I entered an order at this hearing and again on the docket to require that any responses to pending discovery requests must be served within 21 days by October 12, 2018. Doc. #30. I also advised the parties that I would be unlikely to grant a future request for an extension of time absent extraordinary and unforeseeable circumstances. Ibid.

         On November 8, 2018, counsel contacted chambers to advise of a discovery dispute: Hackman's alleged failure to comply with the Court's discovery order. I entered a docket order instructing counsel for both sides to file simultaneous letter briefs on the issue no later than November 26, 2018 and then to file any responses to each other's letter briefs by November 27, 2018. I scheduled a discovery teleconference to discuss the dispute for November 28, 2018. Doc. #32.[3]

         On November 26, 2018, counsel for defendants filed a letter brief. Doc. #36. The brief described at length how each of the defendants had served discovery on Hackman in January 2018 but that Hackman had failed to respond to any of the discovery requests or to seek an extension of time to do so. Id. at 1. The brief further advised that Hackman had failed to respond to all pending discovery by October 12, 2018, as the Court had ordered Hackman to do at the status conference of September 21, 2018. Id. at 2.

         The brief went on to describe correspondence between defense counsel and Attorney Spears during October and November in which defense counsel sought-but did not receive- full responses to requested discovery. Id. at 3. For example, after Attorney Spears furnished “unverified ‘proposed answers'” for two of the defendants, defendants' counsel advised him that “‘proposed' answers were not acceptable.” Id. at 3. “In return, Attorney Spears directed the undersigned [defendants' counsel] to file a motion with the Court and declined to make himself available to discuss via telephone.” Ibid.

         Defendants' letter brief described how the discovery responses still remained incomplete as to all the remaining defendants: (1) Hackman had failed to provide any responses to the interrogatories and requests for production served by the Town of East Hartford, (2) Hackman had failed to provide verified responses to the interrogatories and requests for production served by defendant Wise, and (3) Hackman had failed to provide verified revised responses to the discovery requests of defendants Castagna, Palladino, and Vanek (to replace initial responses that failed to identify any personal involvement by these defendants). Id. at 4.

         In light of these failures to produce discovery, defendants sought an order broadly precluding Hackman from introducing evidence relating to the discovery requests to which she had failed to respond. Id. at 4-5. As defendants' counsel noted, “this is not a case where both parties have meritorious arguments regarding a discovery dispute, ” but “[t]o the contrary, the ...


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