BARNES, Circuit Judge:
On January 2, 1974, John David brought a breach of contract action in federal court based on diversity against Hooker Music, Ltd. ("Hooker Music"), a New York corporation.
On November 26, 1974, Hooker Music filed a petition in bankruptcy and was adjudicated a bankrupt on November 29, 1974. On December 17, 1974, after failing to answer the interrogatories,
At the hearing on the order to show cause, an objection was raised by Neil Boorstyn, attorney for the plaintiff, as to the sufficiency of the answers. At the close of the hearing, the district court ordered Hooker Music and Haffkine to answer "fully and completely all written interrogatories no later than May 1, 1975." In addition, Haffkine was personally ordered to pay to Boorstyn the sum of $2,000.00 "for expenses and reasonable counsel fees incurred by said attorney as a result of such failure to answer as ordered."
Haffkine appeals the order of the district court.
1. Is the order issued by the district court an appealable order?
2. Did the district court have jurisdiction to issue the order after the bankruptcy petition was filed?
3. Was the order an abuse of discretion?
The order by the district court was a final decision so as to be appealable to this court. Although discovery orders and sanctions in the form of civil penalties are held in most cases to be interlocutory and hence non-appealable as to the parties involved in the suit, see, 8 Wright and Miller, Federal Practice and Procedure; Civil § 2006 at 29-31 ("Wright and Miller"); United States v. Ryan, 402 U.S. 530, 532-34, 91 S.Ct. 1580, 29 L.Ed.2d 85 (1971); In re Letters Rogatory from City of Haugesund, 497 F.2d 378, 380-81 (9th Cir. 1974), certain exceptions are recognized in cases involving orders and sanctions against non-parties. See 9 Moore's Federal Practice ¶ 110.13 at 167 ("Moore's"), 8 Wright and Miller § 2006 at 30; Premium Service Corp. v. Sperry & Hutchinson Co., 511 F.2d 225, 227-29 (9th Cir. 1975); Fenton v. Walling, 139 F.2d 608, 610 (9th Cir. 1943), cert. denied, 321 U.S. 798, 64 S.Ct. 938, 88 L.Ed. 1086 (1944).
It has long been held that a non-party in a pending suit may appeal a sentence for civil contempt. Bessette v. W. B. Conkey Co., 194 U.S. 324, 338, 24 S.Ct. 665, 48 L.Ed. 997 (1904); Fenton, supra, 139 F.2d at 610 (9th Cir. 1943). Because he is not a party, he cannot appeal from the final judgment in the action, and so the contempt
The order issued by the district court below consisted of two parts. The first required Hooker Music and Haffkine to answer "fully and completely all written interrogatories no later than May 1, 1975." Under the rule established in the Alexander line of cases, that initial order is interlocutory and non-appealable. The second part of the order required Haffkine to personally pay Boorstyn $2,000.00 for expenses and reasonable counsel fees incurred by the failure to answer the interrogatories. Rule 37(b)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure ("FRCP") provides in part:
The question therefore arises as to whether the Rule 37(b)(2) sanction of expenses and reasonable attorney's fees is an appealable order when applied to a non-party.
As the Supreme Court has stated, "the requirement of finality is to be given a `practical rather than technical construction.' . . . the most important considerations are `the inconvenience and costs of
Appellee, however, argues that the officer, director or managing agent of a party is to be treated as a party under Rule 37. Appellee's Brief, page 5. While Rule 37 does make reference to officers, directors, and managing agents of a party as well as to individual parties themselves, there is no language to indicate that they are to be treated as identical entities. Likewise, even if Rule 37 did create such a rule, there is no indication that that treatment would carry over to control the distinction between parties and non-parties for purposes of determining finality for appeal. Indeed, this court in Fenton, supra, 139 F.2d at 610, rejected the contention that, in determining the finality of judgments for appeal, officers of corporate defendants must be considered as parties even though the suit is filed against the corporation. Appellee fails to cite, and no cases have been found, which support his argument on this issue.
2. Jurisdiction after the Filing of the Bankruptcy Petition.
Rule 401(a) of the FRBP provides that the filing of a bankruptcy petition operates as a stay on the commencement or continuation of any action against the bankrupt if the action is founded on an unsecured provable debt except for certain specific exceptions not relevant to this case. Here, prior to any such filing, the United States Magistrate determined that Hooker Music had failed to answer plaintiff's initial set of interrogatories and ordered it to do so by November 18, 1974. Plaintiff subsequently moved for sanctions under Rule 37 of the FRCP. On November 26, 1974, the bankruptcy petition was filed. In response to the defendant's motion to stay the proceedings, the district court judge recognized that the suit had to be stayed pursuant to Rule 401(a). He nevertheless granted the stay subject to an order requiring the defendant to answer the interrogatories within ten days. The order and sanction which are the subject of the present appeal arose from the failure of the defendant and its managing agent to answer.
No cases were discovered which directly discussed the propriety of a trial court's ordering of a delinquent defendant to obey an earlier discovery order where, in the interim, the defendant files a bankruptcy petition.
First, the basic purpose of Rule 401(a) is to protect the bankrupt and to relieve the courts from pointless and needless litigation. Advisory Committee Note to Rule 401. Rule 401 reinforces and supplements Section 11a of the Bankruptcy Act wherein Congress expressed its concern that the sweep of an order of discharge not be impaired and that a bankrupt not be obliged to litigate over debts which are dischargeable. 12 Collier on Bankruptcy
Second, it is noted that a stay of a suit pending in another court against the bankrupt is not a dismissal of the suit nor does it deprive the court of jurisdiction over the matter; it merely suspends the proceedings. 1A Collier ¶ 11.07, at 1167; Hill v. Harding, 107 U.S. 631, 633-34, 2 S.Ct. 404, 27 L.Ed. 493 (1882). Whether every aspect of the proceeding is to be suspended is the question raised herein. Previous cases have held that "suits" or "actions" to be stayed, as used in the bankruptcy statutes and rules, would not include contempt proceedings arising out of disobedience of a state court order made prior to the stay. 1A Collier ¶ 11.02, at 1147-48; In re Hall, 170 F. 721 (S.D.N.Y. 1909); In re Spagat, 4 F.Supp. 926, 927 (S.D.N.Y. 1933). The language of In re Spagat, id., is instructive:
Likewise, in the case of In re Hall, supra, 170 F. at 721, it is stated:
That the present case concerns orders arising in a litigation in the federal district court should not affect the above mentioned rule.
In conclusion, despite filing of the bankruptcy petition and the broad language of Rule 401(a), it was entirely consistent for the trial court to grant a stay of the principal proceedings but to continue to order the corporate defendant and its managing agent to comply with a prior discovery order issued by the United States Magistrate and later adopted by the trial court. Pursuant to that limited continuation of a collateral aspect of litigation, it was also within the trial judge's power to consider whether the defendant and its agent were in contempt of court pursuant to Rule 37 of the FRCP for failure to follow the prior orders. The imposition of the sanction in this case was, therefore, within the power of the court below.
3. Abuse of Discretion.
As this court has stated, "[b]y the very nature of its language, sanctions imposed under Rule 37(b) must be left to the sound discretion of the trial judge." Von Brimer v. Whirlpool Corp., 536 F.2d 838, 844 (9th Cir. 1976); see also Craig v. Far West Engineering Co., 265 F.2d 251, 260 (9th Cir.) cert. denied, 361 U.S. 816, 80 S.Ct. 57, 4 L.Ed.2d 63 (1959); 8 Wright and Miller § 2284, at 764-72. On review, the question is not whether the reviewing court would have applied the sanction but whether the district court abused its discretion in so
Rule 37(b)(2) provides that if a party or, in the case of a corporate entity, its officer, director or managing agent, fails to obey an order to provide discovery, the trial court "may make such orders in regard to the failure as are just." After listing various sanctions as examples, Rule 37(b)(2) provides that:
As explained in the Notes of the Advisory Committee on Rule 37, "[s]ubdivision (b)(2) is amplified to provide for payment of reasonable expenses caused by the failure to obey the order. . . . The provision places the burden on the disobedient party to avoid expenses by showing that his failure is justified or that special circumstances make an award of expenses unjust."
The sanction of attorney's fees and expenses issued herein was made pursuant to the plaintiff's motion for sanctions for failure to comply with the court's order. Consequently, the controlling statutory provision is Rule 37(b) of the FRCP and not Rule 37(a) which includes a provision for an award of expenses to cover a motion to secure an order compelling discovery, as argued in appellant's briefs. As to the propriety of the sanction, three objections were made.
An initial question arises as to whether the sanction was warranted. Specifically, the appellant argues that the record is void as to any willful or intentional failure to comply with the court's order. However, that argument is not convincing for two reasons. First, as previously noted, if a failure to comply has occurred, it becomes encumbent upon the disobedient party to show that his failure is justified or that special circumstances would make an award of expenses unjust. Notes of the Advisory Committee on Rule 37. Thus, appellant's contention that the record does not show willful non-compliance (a contention which is not supported by an examination of the record) does not help his position where the record clearly demonstrates a complete failure to answer the interrogatories or to explain the failure to respond which existed for a period of over three months from the date answers were originally due and one month after the date on which the district court ordered them to be answered.
Another question raised concerns the propriety of applying the sanction of expenses and fees to the defendant's managing agent. In the answers to the interrogatories verified by Haffkine, it states that Haffkine is the sole officer of Hooker Music. Consequently, as a corporation must speak through an individual, 4A Moore's ¶ 33.07 at 33-44, there is no doubt that Haffkine was the only individual who could answer the interrogatories for the corporate defendant. Likewise, as the only corporate officer, Haffkine was responsible for managing the litigation for the defendant.
While Rule 37(b) provides that an attorney advising a disobedient party as well as the party may be ordered to pay expenses and attorney's fees, there is no explicit provision in the Rule to extend that sanction to a corporate officer who is responsible for the failure to comply. No cases on point have been located. However, Rule 37(b) does provide that the court "may make such orders in regard to the failure as are just."
At the hearing on the motion for a stay pursuant to Rule 401(a) of the FRBP on January 9, 1975, the district court indicated that it was very displeased with the failure of the corporation and its officer to answer the interrogatories. Specifically the court stated:
It is clear therefore that Haffkine was on notice as to the possibility of his being sanctioned for not answering the interrogatories. Given that notice, Haffkine's position
A third objection raised by the appellant concerns the amount of the award. Rule 37(b)(2) provides that the court may order the disobedient individual to pay attorney's fees and costs caused by the failure to obey the court's order. In this case, the plaintiff's attorney had previously been awarded fees and expenses incurred by the attorney in securing the order compelling discovery.
4. Frivolity of Appellant's Appeal.
Appellee charges that appellant's appeal here is frivolous and requests damages pursuant to Rule 38 of the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure. As can be gleaned from the lengthy discussion devoted to the issues raised by the appeal, this court does not consider them to be frivolous.
The order of the district court below is appealable as to the issue of the sanction awarded against Haffkine, a non-party to the litigation. The district court had the power, despite the filing of a bankruptcy petition, to order the corporate defendant and its managing agent to comply with a prior discovery order properly issued by the United States Magistrate and subsequently adopted by the court. Pursuant to that limited continuation of the collateral aspect of the litigation, the district court was likewise empowered to order sanctions that were just; which in this case would include a sanction against the sole officer of the corporate defendant who had been previously warned of possible penalties for a continued failure to answer plaintiff's interrogatories.
The order of the district court is AFFIRMED.
J. BLAINE ANDERSON, Circuit Judge, concurring and dissenting:
I concur in all aspects of the opinion except that relating to the amount of the award made to plaintiff under Rule 37(b)(2), F.R.Civ.P. While I entertain no doubt that plaintiff is entitled to an award of expenses and reasonable attorneys' fees for the disobedience of Haffkine, there is simply no factual support in the record before us for the assessment of $2,000.00. Therefore, I would remand on this issue for further proceedings.
"The filing of a petition shall operate as a stay of the commencement or continuation of any action against the bankrupt, or the enforcement of any judgment against him, if the action or judgment is founded on an unsecured provable debt other than one not dischargeable under clause (1), (5), (6), or (7) of section 35(a) of this title."