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Court Dismisses Plaintiff’s Lawsuit For Failure To Comply With Discovery

In Horton v. Hinton, 26 ALW13-4 (2150631), the Court of Civil Appeals affirmed a trial court’s dismissal of a lawsuit based on plaintiff’s failure to comply with discovery orders.   

In February 2015, Brianna Horton filed suit against Bria Hinton alleging that Hinton drove her motor vehicle negligently and/or wantonly causing the subject motor vehicle accident and resulting in Horton’s claimed bodily injuries and emotional distress.  After attempts to obtain responses to written discovery requests from Horton, including filing a Motion to Compel with the trial court, Hinton filed a Motion to Dismiss in June 2015 for want of prosecution.  The Trial Court entered an Order compelling Horton to respond.  Horton filed discovery responses shortly thereafter, and the trial court then entered an Order denying Hinton’s Motion to Dismiss as moot.

Later, Hinton scheduled Horton’s deposition for a date in October 2015.  At Horton’s request, Hinton voluntarily canceled said deposition.  Hinton sent two (2) separate letters to Horton’s counsel requesting dates for rescheduling Horton’s deposition with no response.  Hinton unilaterally set Horton’s deposition and counsel traveled from Birmingham, Alabama to Tuscaloosa, Alabama for the deposition; however, neither  Horton nor her counsel appeared.  Hinton then filed a Motion to Compel Horton’s deposition.  The trial court granted Hinton’s Motion and ordered Horton to appear for deposition within twenty-one (21) days, or “be subject to possible dismissal of her action.”  On the date of the re‑noticed deposition, Horton’s attorney appeared; however, Horton did not. 

Hinton then filed a second Motion to Dismiss for want of prosecution, and this time, the trial court granted same.  Horton filed a post-judgment Motion including an Affidavit executed by Horton’s mother arguing that Horton’s mother attempted to drive Horton to the deposition but that they had gotten stuck in traffic and could not attend.  The trial court denied Horton’s post-judgment motion, and Horton appealed.

The Court of Civil Appeals affirmed the dismissal.  The Court held that pursuant to Ala. R. Civ. P. 37(b) a trial court can dismiss an action as a sanction against a party who violates an order compelling her to provide discovery and that “willingness” on the part of the noncomplying party is a key factor.  The Court found that Horton had demonstrated a “consistent failure” to comply with the discovery process in the present case, and therefore, the trial court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing the lawsuit.