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Moore v. Berryhill

United States District Court, W.D. Oklahoma

April 8, 2019

NANCY A. BERRYHILL, Acting Commissioner of Social Security Administration, Defendant.


          Gary M. Purcell, Judge

         Plaintiff filed this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. §405(g) seeking to appeal the final decision of Defendant Commissioner denying her application for disability benefits. The matter has been referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge for initial proceedings consistent with 28 U.S.C. §636(b)(1)(B).

         I. Background

         Plaintiff initiated this action on January 8, 2018. Doc. No. 1. After delays in completing service of process on the Commissioner, see Doc. Nos. 4-10, 12-16, Plaintiff's Opening Brief was initially due no later than Tuesday, January 2, 2019. Doc. No. 22. On December 28, 2018, Plaintiff requested an extension of time indicating she intended to meet with an attorney after the first of the year. Doc. No. 24. The Court granted Plaintiff's request and ordered Plaintiff to file her Opening Brief no later than February 12, 2019. Doc. No. 25.

         Following Plaintiff's failure to comply with the Court's Order and file an Opening Brief, the undersigned issued an Order to Show Cause on March 15, 2019, directing Plaintiff to show cause why her action should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute and/or failure to comply with the Court's orders. Doc. No. 27. To date, Plaintiff has neither filed an Opening Brief, nor responded to the Court's Order to Show Cause.

         II. Standard for Dismissal

         Under Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b), the Court may dismiss an action, sua sponte, if “the plaintiff fails to prosecute or to comply with . . . a court order.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b); see also Olsen v. Mapes, 333 F.3d 1199, 1204 n.3 (10th Cir. 2003) (holding that despite Rule 41(b)'s reference to a defendant's motion, “the Rule has long been interpreted to permit courts to dismiss actions sua sponte for a plaintiff's failure to prosecute or comply with the rules of civil procedure or court's orders”). “The ‘authority of a court to dismiss sua sponte for lack of prosecution has generally been considered an inherent power, governed . . . by the control necessarily vested in courts to manage their own affairs so as to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases.'” U.S. ex rel. Jimenez v. Health Net, Inc., 400 F.3d 853, 855 (10th Cir. 2005) (quoting Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-31 (1962)). “The federal courts are not a playground for the petulant or absent-minded; our rules and orders exist, in part, to ensure that the administration of justice occurs in a manner that most efficiently utilizes limited judicial resources.” Id. at 856.

         While a court should impose “dismissal for failure to prosecute . . . only after careful exercise of judicial discretion, ” “dismissal is an appropriate disposition against a party who disregards court orders and fails to proceed as required by court rules.” Id. at 855. However, because dismissal with prejudice is an “extreme sanction, ” appropriate only in cases of willful misconduct, the court must consider: (1) “the degree of actual prejudice” to defendants; (2) “the amount of interference with the judicial process”; (3) Plaintiff's “culpability”; (4) “whether the court warned [Plaintiff] in advance that dismissal of the action would be a likely sanction for noncompliance”; and (5) if “lesser sanctions” would be more effective. Ehrenhaus v. Reynolds, 965 F.2d 916, 921 (10th Cir. 1992) (quotations omitted); see also Gripe v. City of Enid, 312 F.3d 1184, 1188 (10th Cir. 2002) (holding that when a court dismisses a complaint with prejudice under Rule 41(b), it should consider the “‘Ehrenhaus criteria'”) (quoting Mobley v. McCormick, 40 F.3d 337, 340-41 (10th Cir. 1997)).

         III. Analysis

         Although Plaintiff proceeds without an attorney, she bears the responsibility of prosecuting this case with due diligence. The Court must liberally construe pro se filings; however, pro se status does not excuse the obligation of any litigant to comply with the same rules of procedure that govern other litigants. Green v. Dorrell, 969 F.2d 915, 917 (10th Cir. 1992); see also Nielsen v. Price, 17 F.3d 1276, 1277 (10th Cir. 1994). Plaintiff has disregarded this Court's explicit Orders regarding the filing of an Opening Brief, thereby unduly delaying resolution of this matter.

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure give a district court ample tools to deal with a recalcitrant litigant, including dismissal pursuant to Rule 41(b). Jones v. Thompson, 996 F.2d 261, 264 (10th Cir. 1993). Applying the Ehrenhaus factors, supra., the undersigned finds Plaintiff's failure to prosecute and comply with the Court's Order warrants dismissal.

         Regarding the first factor, Plaintiff's failure to file an Opening Brief adversely affects the Commissioner in this matter by keeping the administrative appeal in limbo. Moreover, “the Commissioner . . . has necessarily been prejudiced to some extent by [Plaintiff's] failure to prosecute this matter.” Alwert v. Comm'r of Soc. Sec. Admin., No. CIV-16-1256-F, 2017 WL 3474082, at *4 (W.D. Okla. July 14, 2017). “She ‘has invested time and effort into researching and preparing an answer in this case and into preparing the administrative record and converting it into a format which is compatible with filing in the court's electronic case filing system.'” Id. (quoting Crawford v. Colvin, No. 15-9312, 2016 WL 1701811, at *2 (D. Kan. Apr. 28, 2016). “Similarly, ‘the Commissioner was required to utilize resources to monitor and review each of the court's orders and . . . determine whether any action on her part was necessary or appropriate in the circumstances.'” Id. (quoting Crawford, 2016 WL 1701811, at *2). The absence of an Opening Brief impedes the Court's and the parties' ability to reach a fair and just resolution of Plaintiff's claims. Plaintiff's inaction is inconsistent with the true adjudication of an adverse and non-frivolous dispute.

         Second, continued noncompliance with the judicial process by failing to comply with the Court's Orders flouts the Court's authority, similar to the Tenth Circuit's determination in Ehrenhaus. Ehrenhaus, 965 F.2d at 921. Additionally, Plaintiff's persistent failure to comply with the Court's Orders compels the Court's continuous monitoring of this matter and unnecessary issuance of orders, in turn disproportionately increasing the workload of the Court and therefore interfering with the administration of justice.

         Third, the docket does not indicate that any of the Orders regarding Plaintiff's opportunity to file an Opening Brief and avoid dismissal have been returned as undeliverable. Thus, the undersigned can only conclude Plaintiff has willfully refused to communicate with the Court and/or ...

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