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Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(g) imposes an affirmative duty to engage in pre-trial discovery in a responsible manner that is consistent with the spirit and purposes of Fed R. Civ. P. 26 to 37. In addition, Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(g) is designed to curb discovery abuse by explicitly encouraging the imposition of sanctions. The subdivision provides a deterrent to evasion by imposing a certification requirement that obliges each attorney to stop and think about the legitimacy of a discovery request, a response thereto, or an objection. Rule 26(g) does not require the signing attorney to certify the truthfulness of the client's factual responses to a discovery request. Rather, the signature certifies that the lawyer has made a reasonable effort to assure that the client has provided all of the information and documents available to him that are responsive to the discovery demand.
Decedent was beaten in his cell by employees of the New Bedford Police Department, denied care for his serious medical needs and, as a result, died. Robert Griffith represented plaintiff administratrix in her claim against defendants, city and associated individuals, for decedent’s death. Due to Griffith’s efforts, decedent’s estate was awarded $435,000.00.The jury further found that the City of New Bedford was liable for the judgment because of the deliberate indifference of its policymakers, the Mayor of New Bedford and the New Bedford City Council, to the way complaints by civilians of police misconduct were customarily handled. However, during the course of the trial, it was revealed that decedent was HIV positive at the time of his death, and that Griffith was aware of that fact before he brought suit. Notwithstanding such knowledge, Griffith engaged in a pattern of activity to hide the fact that decedent was HIV positive (which was relevant to the issue of damages that might be recovered and possibly relevant to the amount of attorneys’ fees Griffith might be awarded) both from the defendants and initially, when the issue arose after two months of trial, from the court. Because of Griffith’s actions, the court had to determine whether sanctions were appropriate against him.
Should Griffith be sanctioned for the way he handled the case against the defendants?
The court imposed sanctions in the amount of $15,000 and found that Griffith had a duty to ensure that plaintiff was provided all information available to her that was responsive to the discovery requests. According to the court, an attorney could not evade that duty by claiming to sign the objections only, or by not signing the responses at all. The court concluded that the attorney engaged in deliberate misconduct in connection with responses to the defendants' interrogatories and, in the heat of battle, compounded that misconduct by engaging in a preemptive strike against defense counsel, and by not being forthcoming and candid with the court as his misconduct was gradually revealed. The judge decided not to exercise his authority to refer this matter to the Board of Bar Overseers because the attorney displayed commendable qualities in taking the case.