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Williams v. Grant County

United States District Court, D. Oregon, Pendleton Division

April 6, 2017



          PATRICIA SULLIVAN, United States Magistrate Judge

         Pro se plaintiff Douglas Williams, a prisoner at the Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Oregon, brings this civil rights action against defendants Grant County, Sheriff Glenn Palmer, Jackson Derosier, and Michael Alley. Defendants move to dismiss this action for lack of prosecution under Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b).[1] (Docket No. 45). For the following reasons, the Court DENIES defendants' Motion.


         This action concerns an apparent suicide attempt that plaintiff committed while on suicide watch as a pretrial detainee at the Grant County Jail in August 2013, and defendants' alleged deliberate indifference to plaintiffs mental health needs.[2]

         Plaintiff commenced this action on September 17, 2015, asserting claims for violations of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the U.S. Constitution under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and for state law negligence. Compl. (Docket No. 1). On December 28, 2015, plaintiffs attorney moved to withdraw due to plaintiffs alleged failure to communicate with her (Docket No. 7), which the Court denied on January 13, 2016 (Docket No. 14). On March 4, 2016, defendants moved to dismiss for failure to state a claim (Docket No. 21), which the Court denied on September 12, 2016 (Docket No. 40).

         On October 27, 2016, plaintiffs attorney again moved to withdraw, again due to plaintiffs alleged failure to communicate. (Docket No. 42). The Court denied the Motion without prejudice, due to the attorney's apparent failure to serve the Motion on opposing counsel or on her client as required by the Local Rules. (Docket No. 44). Defendants then filed the present Motion to Dismiss for Lack of Prosecution on November 16, 2016. (Docket No. 45). The same day, plaintiffs attorney remedied the deficiencies with her earlier Motion and again moved to withdraw (Docket No. 47), which the Court granted (Docket No. 54). On January 30, 2017, plaintiff, now without counsel, filed his Response to defendants' Motion to Dismiss (Docket No 57); the response consisted of a single, handwritten page in which he expressed his desire to continue pursuing the case, but explained that he had very few resources or help with which to do so. On January 31, 2017, the Court issued a Scheduling Order allowing plaintiff thirty days "to file a more substantive response" to defendants' Motion. (Docket No. 58).

         On February 27, 2017, plaintiff filed his second Response to defendants' Motion. (Docket No. 59). This Response consisted of a single-page, typed letter in which plaintiff indicated his desire "to file a more substantive response" and said that he was "ready to proceed with this case." Id. He attached to the letter 324 pages of documents, including court filings from this action, communications between plaintiff and his former attorney, defendants' discovery requests, and approximately twenty handwritten photocopied pages. Id. These handwritten pages (pages 280-302) contain kytes, [3] various dated handwritten notes provided without context but that appear to be letters or diary entries, a letter to plaintiffs son, a Notice of Tort Claim that describes plaintiffs complaints, a note that begins "Help Me, " and so on. These documents seemingly describe some of the events leading to plaintiffs alleged suicide attempt.

         On March 9, 2017, defendants filed a Reply in support of their Motion (Docket No. 60), and the Court took this matter under advisement.[4]


         "Rule 41(b) specifically provides that the failure of the plaintiff to prosecute his claim is grounds for involuntary dismissal . . . ." Anderson v. Air W., Inc., 542 F.2d 522, 524 (9th Cir. 1976). A plaintiff must prosecute an action with "reasonable diligence" to avoid dismissal. Id.

         In determining whether to dismiss a claim for failure to prosecute, a court must consider: "(1) the public's interest in expeditious resolution of litigation; (2) the court's need to manage its docket; (3) the risk of prejudice to defendants/respondents; (4) the availability of less drastic alternatives; and (5) the public policy favoring disposition of cases on their merits." Pagtalunan v. Galaza, 291 F.3d 639, 642 (9th Cir. 2002). Whether to dismiss an action under Rule 41(b) is within the court's discretion. See Ash v. Cvetkov, 739 F.2d 493, 495 (9th Cir. 1984).


         Defendants argue that plaintiff has not taken any action to advance his case besides appearing at the hearing on the Motion to Dismiss for Failure to State a Claim. This includes plaintiffs allegedly not responding to defendants' discovery requests, not serving discovery requests of his own, and not developing a discovery plan or case management schedule. See Defs.' 41(b) Mot. Dismiss ¶¶ 3-8 (Docket No. 45); Jagelski Decl. ¶¶ 4-9 (Docket No. 46).

         Defendants' reasons for seeking dismissal are insufficient. Defendants raise what is essentially a discovery dispute, arguing that plaintiff has not adequately participated in discovery. The proper response is to appeal to the Court's discovery dispute resolution procedures, or to move to compel; plaintiffs alleged ...

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