The primary issue in this case is whether the trial judge abused his discretion in awarding a default liability judgment against defendants, truck driver Carl C. McCary, his employers and their insurer.
On December 22, 1988, Charles Edward Horton, father; Linda J. Horton, mother; and Timothy S. Horton, son, were driving south from Shreveport, Louisiana, on La. Highway 1. After passing Armistead, Louisiana, the driver/father saw an accident occurring just ahead. He slowed down and pulled to the shoulder of the road. The McCary truck, a northbound eighteen-wheeler car transporter, and Robert Clark's southbound vehicle had collided. The Clark vehicle was demolished: Clark and three passengers were killed. Ahead of the Hortons, in their lane of travel, a pickup truck was showing its brake lights. After the Clark collision, the eighteen wheeler hit the pickup truck before colliding with the Horton vehicle. When the eighteen wheeler came around the pickup truck, it angled toward the Hortons' car and hit it almost headon, knocking it off the shoulder into a water-filled ditch.
Defendants are Carl C. McCary, Auto Convoy, Inc., Phoenix Enterprises, Inc., Allied Systems, Ltd. and Liberty Mutual Insurance Company. Carl McCary was an employee of Allied Systems, Ltd. Auto Convoy, Inc. and Phoenix Enterprises, Inc. are partners of Allied Systems, Ltd. Liberty Mutual is the liability insurer of McCary and his employer.
After defendants failed to comply with requests for production of documents and failed to answer interrogatories, plaintiffs filed a motion to compel compliance.
At the hearing on the motion to compel, defendants' attorney stated that his response to discovery was hung up in his clients' "approval process". (Tr. 502.) When the trial judge stated that he was going to order compliance within ten days and, if defendants did not comply, he would be forced to render a default judgment or strike defendants' defenses, defendants' counsel responded: "I understand, your Honor, and I've told them that. But maybe this will get their attention." (Tr. 504.)
The trial court rendered judgment on November 13, 1991, ordering compliance within ten days. The judgment also stated:
After defendants answered and responded, plaintiffs filed a motion for relief, alleging that the material was incomplete and nonresponsive. Plaintiffs asked that defendants be held in contempt and a default judgment be rendered against them.
At the subsequent hearing on December 19, 1991, plaintiffs' counsel noted that trial
Many responses were described as illegible. The response to Interrogatory Number 8 appeared suspect. Interrogatory Number 8 asked:
The entire response was:
Plaintiffs' counsel commented:
Defense counsel stated:
In a separate case arising out of the same accident, defendants' response to the identical question establishes that defendants' adjuster had made comprehensive measurements. The proffer of the response in the separate case is accepted for clarification of this record. It establishes that the response to Interrogatory Number 8 was incorrect, misleading and incomplete.
In order to verify the truck driver's trip record, plaintiffs attempted to locate his fuel and expense records. Defendants' response was:
The trial court concluded that there was a pattern of withholding information on the part of defendants. In sanctioning the defendants, the trial court made the following observations:
Attached to defendants' original writ application is the affidavit of Julia Jessup, director of insurance and claims for Allied Industries. Jessup's affidavit is filed and considered for purposes of this proceeding; her testimony may be presented in further hearings according to the Code of Civil Procedure. Her affidavit states that defendants' attorney was retained by the insurer, Liberty Mutual. Julia Jessup's duties included preparing information for defendants' discovery responses. According to her affidavit, she formulated and mailed draft responses to the attorney on July 26, 1991. She was not advised that the responses were inadequate or that sanctions were being considered. She did not learn until January 18, 1992, that a default liability judgment had been imposed as a sanction for defendants' failure to properly respond to discovery. All of this is directly contrary to representations made by defendants' then counsel to the trial court.
The $20,000 policy limit of the Clark automobile was paid to Clark's guest passengers. The Horton plaintiffs' claims against Clark's insurer, Louisiana Indemnity Company, were dismissed with prejudice. Although Louisiana Indemnity Company was given a summary judgment of dismissal after paying its policy limits, the Succession of Robert Clark was a defendant at trial.
The Hortons' insurer made medical payments and paid the uninsured motorist policy limits of $500,000 on the Horton automobile. The insurer, Insurance Company of North America, intervened to recover $515,000.
After defendants were unable to obtain appellate relief from the default judgment on liability, the parties agreed to a separate trial on the issue of damages, reserving all liability issues. Trial was held on damages beginning on January 21, 1992.
At the jury trial on damages, photographs documented the severity of the impact between the McCary truck and the Horton car. Mr. Horton, a successful 45-year-old executive, suffered permanent brain damage. Because of his mental deficit, double vision and emotional problems, he is unable to work. Mrs. Horton will probably have residual pain for the rest of her life. Tim Horton, a 19-year-old professional baseball prospect, has a 5 percent disability, which has destroyed his college baseball career and any professional opportunity.
The jury awarded Charles Edward Horton damages of $1,965,586.63; Linda J. Horton, $538,177.81; and Timothy S. Horton, $457,420.41. The intervenor, Insurance Company of North America, was given a judgment for $515,000, and the medical intervenor, Bluebonnet Administrators, was given a judgment for $58,017.
LSA-C.C.P. art. 1471 sets out the sanctions available against a party failing to comply with discovery orders. These sanctions include the following:
There is a distinction between the sanctions available for failure to comply with discovery and the sanctions available for disobedience of court ordered discovery. MTU of North America, Inc. v. Raven Marine, Inc., 475 So.2d 1063 (La.1985). Refusal to comply with court ordered discovery is a serious matter. See Chilcutt v. U.S., 4 F.3d 1313 (5th Cir.1993). Trial judges must have severe sanctions available to deter litigants from flouting discovery orders. National Hockey League v. Metro. Hockey Club, Inc., 427 U.S. 639, 96 S.Ct. 2778, 49 L.Ed.2d 747 (1976). Note, The Emerging Deterrence Orientation in the Imposition of Discovery Sanctions, 91 Harvard L.Rev. 1033 (1978).
The Louisiana rule, like Federal Rule 37, allows the trial court to sanction a disobedient party with dismissal or a default judgment. Both dismissal and default are draconian penalties which should be applied only in extreme circumstances. Barnhill v. U.S., 11 F.3d 1360 (7th Cir.1993); Allen v. Smith, 390 So.2d 1300 (La.1980). Because the sanctions of dismissal or default involve property rights, those sanctions are generally reserved for the most culpable conduct. See Hovey v. Elliott, 167 U.S. 409, 17 S.Ct. 841, 42 L.Ed. 215 (1897); Hammond Packing Co. v. Arkansas, 212 U.S. 322, 29 S.Ct. 370, 53 L.Ed. 530 (1909); and Société Internationale Pour Participations Industrielles et Commerciales, S.A. v. Rogers, 357 U.S. 197, 78 S.Ct. 1087, 2 L.Ed.2d 1255 (1958).
Federal district courts consider four factors before granting a default judgment: (1) whether the violation was willful or resulted from inability to comply; (2) whether less drastic sanctions would be effective; (3) whether the violations prejudiced the opposing party's trial preparation; and (4) whether the client participated in the violation or simply misunderstood a court order or innocently hired a derelict attorney. Batson v. Neal Spelce Associates, Inc., 765 F.2d 511 (5th Cir.1985); U.S. for Use of M-CO Const. v. Shipco General, 814 F.2d 1011 (5th Cir. 1987).
Dismissal and default are generally reserved for those cases in which the client, as well as the attorney, is at fault. Compare Allen v. Smith, 390 So.2d 1300 (La.1980). The record must support "a finding that the failure was due to ... wilfulness, bad faith, or fault." 390 So.2d at 1302.
Although the federal courts allow a final judgment on the merits as a default sanction, at least one Louisiana court has interpreted LSA-C.C.P. art. 1702 to require proof of a prima facie case. Clark v. Clark, 358 So.2d 658 (La.App. 1st Cir.1978).
Defendants, through counsel, gave incorrect and incomplete responses to discovery. The responses were given shortly before the trial date, subjecting plaintiffs to possible surprise and prejudice. Defendants had been warned, through counsel, that further recalcitrance would incur a severe sanction. Here, as in Shipco, defendants have new counsel and contend that their previous counsel was at fault. Jessup's affidavit indicates that the prior attorney failed to properly communicate with his clients.
Since there is no evidence that the clients here participated in violating the trial court's discovery orders, the trial court erred in granting a default judgment on liability. The default judgment on liability must be vacated and the case remanded. On remand, the trial court is ordered to conduct a hearing in order to determine who was responsible for failure to comply with discovery orders.
Additionally, the trial court must determine whether counsel for defendants failed to comply with orders of the court or misled the court and, if so, the court may determine appropriate sanctions.
Following the hearing, a new trial is ordered on liability. At trial, the fault of all parties involved in the accident should be quantified.
On the issue of damages, defendants consented to the separate trial. The court of appeal carefully reviewed the damages fixed by the jury and affirmed. The jury did not abuse its vast discretion in the awards. Therefore, the damages fixed by the jury and affirmed by the court of appeal are affirmed and must be apportioned according to fault.
For the foregoing reasons, the judgment of the court of appeal is affirmed insofar as it affirmed the damages fixed by the jury. The judgment of the court of appeal is reversed insofar as it affirmed the trial court's default judgment on liability. The case is remanded to the trial court for hearings on the issue of sanctions and a trial on liability.
MARCUS, J., concurs in part and dissents in part and assigns reasons.
KIMBALL, J., dissents and assigns reasons.
CHARLES A. MARVIN, J. Pro. Tem., dissents for reasons assigned by KIMBALL, J.
MARCUS, Justice (concurring in part and dissenting in part).
The trial judge's erroneous grant of a default judgment on liability had the effect of forcing defendants to consent to the trial on damages. Trial on damages separate from liability may be an advantage or disadvantage to defendants. Nonetheless, under the circumstances, I would follow the dictates of La.Code Civ.P. art. 1562 requiring the consent of all parties rather than the order by this court that a new trial be ordered on liability only. Accordingly, I concur in the reversal of the default judgment on liability and the remand for a hearing on the issue of sanctions but dissent from the majority's not ordering a new trial on both liability and damages unless consented to by the parties.
KIMBALL, Justice, dissenting.
I respectfully dissent from the majority opinion. The majority remands the case for a hearing to determine who was responsible for failure to comply with the discovery orders. Even if the trial court determines the defendants were individually responsible for the failure to comply, however, it is directed that the "sanctions imposed should not extend to a default judgment on liability."
Even were I to agree a remand is necessary in this case, the majority errs in precluding the trial court from granting a default judgment on liability. Should the trial judge determine the failure to comply with the discovery order was caused by "willfulness, bad faith, or fault" on the part of the defendants, as opposed to their counsel, then under Allen v. Smith, 390 So.2d 1300 (La. 1980) and its progeny, the trial court will not be found to have abused its discretion if it renders a default liability judgment in favor of the plaintiffs.
In this case, the trial court, after an extensive hearing, concluded the fault for the failure to comply with the discovery order rested with the defendants and not with their counsel. While this factual finding might have been based mainly on the representations of the defendants' counsel, as the court of appeal in this case noted, "[o]ur system of representative litigation gives the trial court the right and duty to rely on the representations made by counsel.... To accept the argument made by defendants we would have to disregard counsel's representative role as advocate for his client(s), with his correlative duty as an officer of the court."
Because the trial judge was entitled to accept defendants' counsel's statements as true, there was a reasonable basis in the record upon which he could conclude that the fault for the failure to comply with the discovery order rested with defendants and not their counsel. The majority therefore errs in concluding "there is no evidence that the clients here participated in violating the trial court's discovery orders." Furthermore, in order to conclude that the trial court's finding was manifestly erroneous, the majority relies on an affidavit attached to defendants' writ application to this court. This is not a part of the record on appeal and, in my view, should not be considered in our determination of whether the trial court was manifestly erroneous in concluding the entry of a default judgment was proper where it had found the failure to comply with discovery was due to the fault of the defendants.
In sum, I disagree with the majority's decision to remand this case for a hearing, and even if a remand were necessary, I would not preclude the trial court from granting a default judgment on liability. Accordingly, I respectfully dissent.