United States District Court, E.D. Arkansas, Western Division
STEPHANIE N. BROWN PLAINTIFF
STATE OF ARKANSAS, et al . DEFENDANTS
Kristine G. Baker United States District Judge.
the Court is a motion for sanctions, including dismissal of
plaintiff's complaint, filed by defendants the State of
Arkansas, Arkansas Department of Health, Zenobia Harris, and
Vickie Jones (collectively, “ADH defendants”)
(Dkt. No. 45). Plaintiff Stephanie Brown has responded to the
ADH defendants' motion (Dkt. No. 60). For the following
reasons, the motion for sanctions is granted in part (Dkt.
No. 45). This is a close decision with which the Court has
wrestled. The Court determines that, based on the facts, the
Court likely could dismiss with prejudice Ms. Brown's
claims without the need to investigate whether a less extreme
sanction would suffice. However, at this point, the Court
will impose a less extreme sanction in an effort to bring Ms.
Brown into compliance with the requirements of the Federal
Rules of Civil Procedure, this Court's Local Rules, and
this Court's Orders. The Court denies Ms. Brown's
motion to appoint counsel, motion for leave to proceed in
forma pauperis, and motion to claim and exercise
constitutional rights (Dkt. Nos. 58, 59, 64).
Brown filed this action on April 24, 2014 (Dkt. No. 1). She
was initially represented by Luther Oneal Sutter. In January
and February of 2015, Ms. Brown sent letters to the Court
regarding disagreements she had with Mr. Sutter's
representation of her, and on April 21, 2015, Mr. Sutter
moved to withdraw as Ms. Brown's counsel (Dkt. No. 16).
The Court granted Mr. Sutter's motion to withdraw and
stayed this action until Ms. Brown informed the Court as to
how she wished to proceed (Dkt. No. 17). On May 19, 2015, Ms.
Brown informed the Court that she wished to proceed pro
se (Dkt. No. 21). The Court lifted the stay and informed
Ms. Brown that, while she is not a lawyer, she is subject to
certain rules and procedures, and she is expected to be
familiar with and follow the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure
(Dkt. No. 22).
August 31, 2015, Ralph Washington filed an entry of
appearance on behalf of Ms. Brown (Dkt. No. 26). On November
5, 2015, Mr. Washington, on Ms. Brown's behalf, and
counsel for the ADH defendants filed a joint motion for
extension of deadlines and scheduling order, which the Court
granted (Dkt. Nos. 27; 28). The Court received a letter from
Ms. Brown dated February 2, 2016, along with a pro
se motion for Mr. Washington to be removed as her
counsel. In her letter, Ms. Brown informed Mr. Washington
that “[i]t is my belief I have completed and submitted
the requested interrogatories but you are refusing to accept
my answers to the interrogatories.” Ms. Brown's
conduct regarding the interrogatories propounded by the ADH
defendants is central to the pending motion for sanctions.
Washington filed a motion to withdraw as Ms. Brown's
counsel on February 5, 2016 (Dkt. No. 30). Mr. Washington
also sent the Court a letter dated February 5, 2016, in which
he provided the Court with a response that he sent to Ms.
Brown in response to her February 2, 2016, letter to
In his letter to Ms. Brown, Ms. Washington recounted Ms.
Brown's apparent unwillingness to sit for a deposition.
He also chastised Ms. Brown for refusing to complete
discovery requests submitted to her by the ADH defendants in
September 2015. According to Mr. Washington, Ms. Brown
“never came in to complete the discovery responses,
even though [she] promised to do so.” In response to
Ms. Brown's accusation regarding his alleged use of an
improper tone with her, Mr. Washington wrote, “[i]f
anything, my tone demonstrated the importance and/or urgent
need for you to complete the answers to the discovery
requests, and for you to give me a date for your
the Court ruled on Mr. Washington's motion to withdraw,
Ms. Brown filed a pro se motion for a
protective order, in which she stated that:
On or about January 28, 2016, Plaintiff received notice from
Mr. Washington via phone that opposing counsel had initially
scheduled Plaintiff for a deposition for February 1, 2016,
However Plaintiff communicated to Mr. Washington that
wasn't feasible d[ue] to the fact of short notice. On or
about February 5, 2016, Plaintiff received Deposition
scheduled for February 17, 2016 from Mr. Washington.
No. 31, at 1). The Court granted Mr. Washington's motion
to withdraw and stayed this action for 30 days, until Ms.
Brown informed the Court whether she had obtained new counsel
or wished to proceed pro se (Dkt. No. 32). The Court
granted in part and denied in part Ms. Brown's pro
se motion for a protective order (Dkt. No. 33).
Specifically, the Court concluded that:
[T]o the extent that Ms. Brown requests that the Court order
the parties to reschedule her deposition, her motion is
granted. Ms. Brown's deposition will be rescheduled to a
date after the stay is lifted. Within 45 days from the date
that this Order is entered, the parties must inform the Court
as to whether they have reached agreement on a date for Ms.
Brown's deposition. If they have not, the Court will
schedule the deposition, after hearing argument from the
No. 33, at 1).
Brown informed the Court that she intended to proceed pro
se on March 29, 2016 (Dkt. No. 34). On April 1, 2016,
the ADH defendants filed a response to the Court's Order
granting in part Ms. Brown's motion for a protective
order, in which they alleged that Ms. Brown refused to
cooperate in scheduling her deposition (Dkt. No. 35). The ADH
defendants recounted the same difficulties described by Mr.
Washington in his February 5, 2016, letter to the Court. The
ADH defendants claimed that their troubles intensified after
Mr. Washington's motion to withdraw was granted.
According to the ADH defendants, on March 4, 2016, they sent
Ms. Brown a letter requesting that she contact them to
discuss potential dates for her deposition (Id.,
¶ 5). On March 30, a day after informing the Court that
she wished to proceed pro se, Ms. Brown sent the ADH
defendants a letter declining to discuss possible deposition
dates (Id., ¶ 6). After receiving Ms.
Brown's letter, counsel for the ADH defendants called and
left a message for Ms. Brown to discuss discovery matters and
deposition dates (Id., ¶ 7). Ms. Brown did not
return counsel's call (Id.). As of the date of
filing their pleading, the ADH defendants claimed that they
were “unable to confirm a date for Plaintiff's
deposition or to communicate with Plaintiff concerning an
agreeable deposition date and to confer concerning discovery
matters” (Id., ¶ 8).
receiving the notice from Ms. Brown and reviewing the
information submitted by the ADH defendants regarding their
discovery disputes, the Court lifted the stay in this action
and directed Ms. Brown to confer with counsel for the ADH
defendants to schedule and to sit for a deposition within 30
days (Dkt. No. 36). In response to the Court's Order, Ms.
Brown filed a letter she sent to opposing counsel dated April
22, 2016, indicating that she was available for a deposition
on May 16, 2016, and requesting that defendants provide her
with a copy of the 26(f) Report and “a copy of the
interrogatories that Mr. Washington stated that you had
prepared to submit to him” (Dkt. No. 37, at 1).
days before Ms. Brown's scheduled deposition, the parties
submitted several disputes to the Court. Ms. Brown filed a
motion to disqualify opposing counsel and a motion to compel
(Dkt. Nos. 39; 40). The Court denied both motions (Dkt. No.
44). Ms. Brown also submitted additional information for the
Court to review (Dkt. No. 41). Included in the information
submitted by Ms. Brown was a letter Ms. Brown sent to
opposing counsel dated April 26, 2016, in which Ms. Brown
indicates that the parties agreed to meet and exchange
discovery responses on May 6, 2016 (Id., at 2). Also
included in Ms. Brown's filing is a letter from Ms. Brown
to opposing counsel dated May 6, 2016-the same day that Ms.
Brown was supposed to be exchanging her discovery responses
with the ADH defendants-in which Ms. Brown voices her
“presumption that there is another set of
interrogatories out there” from when she was
represented by Mr. Sutter (Id., at 4). She indicates
that “[t]hese issues need to be resolved before the
process of discovery is to continue, giving my right to due
process of law” (Id.).
response to these filings, on May 12, 2016, the ADH
defendants filed a motion to quash subpoenas, motion to
compel, and request for order on discovery matters (Dkt. No.
42). According to the ADH defendants' motion, the parties
agreed to exchange discovery requests on Friday, May 6, 2016,
between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. at the Attorney General's
office, which is consistent with the information previously
submitted by Ms. Brown. The ADH defendants made the
arrangement because Ms. Brown sent correspondence to Katina
Hodge, her opposing counsel, indicating that Ms. Brown did
not want the documents mailed to her. According to the ADH
defendants, in addition to refusing service by mail, Ms.
Brown did not accept most phone calls and did not return
phone calls. She allegedly communicated with opposing counsel
by having multiple unidentified people, including a small
child, hand deliver notes to Ms. Hodge at the Attorney
General's office. Ms. Brown has never disputed these
to the ADH defendants' motion, Ms. Hodge prepared the ADH
defendants' discovery responses and informed Ms. Brown
that she should contact Stephanie Benton when she arrived at
the Attorney General's office on May 6, as Ms. Hodge
would be traveling that day. When Ms. Brown arrived at the
Attorney General's office, she requested to see Ms.
Hodge, not Ms. Benton. The receptionist told Ms. Brown that
Ms. Hodge was out of the office, and as Ms. Brown never asked
for Ms. Benton, who was prepared to exchange discovery
responses with Ms. Brown, Ms. Brown did not receive the ADH
defendants' discovery responses that day. Ms. Brown filed
her motion to compel production of these discovery responses,
which the Court denied (Dkt. No. 40).
Brown did not provide responses to the ADH defendants'
discovery requests on May 6, 2016, in violation of the
parties' agreement. The ADH defendants moved to compel
production of Ms. Brown's discovery responses by Friday,
May 13, 2016, so that the information contained in the
responses could be reviewed prior to Ms. Brown's
deposition, which was scheduled to be held Monday, May 16,
2016. The ADH defendants also moved to quash subpoenas
directed to Ms. Hodge as well as separate defendant Vickie
Jones. The subpoena to Ms. Jones directed her to appear at a