United States District Court, M.D. Alabama, Northern Division
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
KEITH WATKINS, CHIEF UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE
the court is Defendants' motion for sanctions. (Doc. #
188.) Also before the court is Plaintiff Lawrence Wells's
Response (Doc. # 193) to the December 28, 2017 Order (Doc. #
189) to show cause.
STANDARD OF REVIEW
of justice are universally acknowledged to be vested, by
their very creation, with power to impose silence, respect,
and decorum, in their presence, and submission to their
lawful mandates.'” Chambers v. NASCO,
Inc., 501 U.S. 32, 43 (1991) (quoting Anderson v.
Dunn, 6 Wheat. 204, 227 (1821)). “A district court
has inherent authority to manage its own docket ‘so as
to achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of
cases.'” Equity Lifestyle Props., Inc. v. Fla.
Mowing & Landscape Serv., Inc., 556 F.3d 1232, 1240
(11th Cir. 2009) (quoting Chambers, 501 U.S. at 43).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b), a district court has
discretion to dismiss an action “[i]f the plaintiff
fails to prosecute or to comply with [the Federal Rules of
Civil Procedure] or a court order.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b).
“The court's power to dismiss [under Rule 41(b)] is
an inherent aspect of its authority to enforce its orders and
insure prompt disposition of lawsuits.” Goforth v.
Owens, 766 F.2d 1533, 1535 (11th Cir. 1985) (citing
Link v. Wabash Railroad Co., 370 U.S. 626, 630-31
(1962); Jones v. Graham, 709 F.2d 1457, 1458 (11th
Cir. 1983)). “‘The power to invoke this sanction
[by dismissal under Rule 41(b)] is necessary in order to
prevent undue delays in the disposition of pending cases and
to avoid congestion in the calendars of the District
Court.'” Equity Lifestyle, 556 F.3d at
1240 (quoting Durham v. Fla. E. Coast Ry. Co., 385
F.2d 366, 367 (5th Cir. 1967)).
to dismiss a complaint under Rule 41(b) and the court's
inherent powers “is a matter committed to the district
court's discretion.” Id. at 1240 n.14
(citing Gratton v. Great Am. Commc'ns, 178 F.3d
1373, 1374 (11th Cir. 1999)). “Dismissal of a case with
prejudice is considered a sanction of last resort, applicable
only in extreme circumstances.” Goforth, 766
F.2d at 1535. In considering whether to dismiss a case under
Rule 41(b), “a district court must consider the
possibility of alternative, lesser sanctions.”
Zocaras v. Castro, 465 F.3d 479, 484 (11th Cir.
2006). Nevertheless, dismissal can be appropriate where there
is a “‘clear record of delay or willful contempt
and a finding that lesser sanctions would not suffice”
to serve the interests of justice and to secure future
compliance with court orders. Goforth, 766 F.2d at
1535 (quoting Jones, 709 F.2d at 1458); see also
Zocaras, 465 F.3d at 483 (noting that dismissal under
Rule 41(b) requires “a clear record of delay or willful
conduct and that lesser sanctions are inadequate to correct
case has been pending since Mr. Wells filed his 816-page
pro se complaint on July 19, 2013. (Doc. # 1.) Other
than to set out the details most immediately relevant to Mr.
Wells's current failure to comply with court orders, the
court will not clutter this Memorandum Opinion with a
recitation of the lengthy procedural history of the case. The
court notes, however, that the primary reason this case has
been pending for an unusually long period of time is because
this court has “bent over backwards” to give Mr.
Wells, who was proceeding pro se for the majority of
the active life of this case and who became unable to travel
to the United States after he obtained counsel, a chance to
present and litigate his remaining claim. Equity
Lifestyle, 556 F.3d at 1241.
October 2, 2013, the United States Magistrate Judge entered
an order setting the case for a scheduling and status
conference on October 17, 2013. (Doc. # 16.) The order
required Mr. Wells, who was proceeding pro se at the
time, to appear in person at the conference. The order
advised that failure to appear could result in a
recommendation that the case be dismissed. (Doc. # 16.)
October 8, 2013, Mr. Wells telephoned the office of the
United States Magistrate Judge to explain that he was in
Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and to request that the October 17,
2013 status and scheduling conference be held by telephone or
via Skype. (Doc. # 18.) The Magistrate Judge, through his
staff, instructed Mr. Wells to file a written motion
containing this request. (See Doc. # 18.) Mr. Wells
asked if he could file the motion by email, and he was
specifically instructed that the court does not accept
filings or communications via email. (Doc. # 18.) Mr. Wells
stated that he would submit a motion to the Clerk's
office by express mail. (Doc. # 18.) Nevertheless, Mr. Wells
then immediately began to attempt to communicate with the
court by email and to submit motions by email to a court
email account which he had been told was not for that
purpose. (Doc. # 18.) Mr. Wells also attempted to effect
service on the other parties by sending copies of the emails
to their personal email accounts. (Doc. # 18.)
on October 15, 2013, the United States Magistrate Judge
entered an order resetting the status and scheduling
conference for December 10, 2013, and further admonishing Mr.
Wells as follows:
Mr. Wells is again INSTRUCTED not to attempt
to communicate with the court or to submit motions or other
documents to the court via email. Papers are to be filed by
physical delivery to the Clerk's office. Fed.R.Civ.P.
5(d)(2)(A). This court does not accept ex parte
email communications from any party. The court will not
respond to unauthorized email communications; such
communications are subject to deletion. Continued failure
to comply with these instructions may result in
Mr. Wells is further INSTRUCTED that service
must be effected in accordance with Rule 5(b), Fed.R.Civ.P.
The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure require that the
plaintiff mail to the lawyer for the defendants or,
if no attorney has appeared on behalf of the defendants, the
defendants themselves, a true copy of anything which the
plaintiff sends to or files with the court. Fed.R.Civ.P.
5(b). Failure to do so may result in dismissal of this case
or other penalties. Anything filed should contain a
certificate of service which specifically states that the
pleading or other document has been sent to the lawyer for
. . . .
Mr. Wells is further specifically advised that this case will
move forward even if he must proceed pro se, and
even if he has left the country. The court may dismiss an
action “[i]f the plaintiff fails to prosecute or to
comply with [the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure] or a court
order.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b); Equity Lifestyle
Props., Inc. v. Fla. Mowing & Landscape Serv., Inc.,
556 F.3d 1232, 1240 (11th Cir. 2009).
(Doc. # 18 (emphasis in original).)
January 7, 2015, Attorney James E. Long entered a notice of
appearance on behalf of Mr. Wells. (Doc. # 73.) The case then
proceeded at a reasonable pace until the July 27, 2015 trial
was continued only three days before it was scheduled to
start. (Doc. # 128.) Thereafter, rescheduling the trial was
delayed because the government of Dubai, to which Mr. Wells
had relocated while the case was pending, would not allow him
to leave that country. (Doc. # 139; Doc. # 173; Doc. # 180.)
In July 2017, without having been advised that Mr. Wells
would be able to leave Dubai, the court set the case for a
pretrial conference on January 11, 2018, and for trial on
February 26, 2018. (Doc. # 179.) Mr. Wells did not object to
the trial setting.
November 15, 2017, Defendants filed a motion to strike a
request Mr. Wells had attempted to submit to the
court via email to the United States Magistrate Judge's