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Lake Vill. Healthcare Ctr., LLC v. Hatchett - 2012 Ark. 223, 407 S.W.3d 521

Rule:

There is no requirement under Ark. R. Civ. P. 37, or any of the Arkansas Rules of Civil Procedure, that a trial court make a finding of willful or deliberate disregard under the circumstances before sanctions may be imposed for the failure to comply with discovery requirements. Sanctions, including the striking of pleadings, may be imposed for discovery violations under Rule 37(d), even though no prior order to compel has been entered. It is crucial to the judicial system that trial courts retain the discretion to control their dockets, and imposition of discovery sanctions is one method to facilitate that function. 

Facts:

Hatchett filed a nursing-home, abuse-and-neglect complaint on July 14, 2009, as administrator of the Estate of Richard Hatchett, against a nursing home, the Lake Village Healthcare Center, LLC (Lake Village Healthcare), the nursing home's management company, and the nursing home's owner. Lake Village Healthcare was sued as the licensee of the nursing home where Richard Hatchett (Hatchett) was a resident, Perennial Health Care as its management company controlling the day-to-day operations, and Santarsiero as the owner of both of the entities and as the controller of how care was delivered to residents such as Hatchett. All appellants were sued for wrongful death, negligence, and breach of fiduciary and confidential duty. Lake Village Healthcare was also sued for medical malpractice and violations of the Residents' Rights Statute. The complaint averred that the actions or inactions of appellants caused Hatchett's death because they were on notice of the deficient-care conditions within the facility, but they instituted a system of maximizing profit at the expense of delivering necessary care. Appellants filed timely answers. During trial and as a means of discovery, the nursing home was ordered to produce "all e-mails, electronic reports, electronic communications, electronic media, and documents concerning budget, staffing, labor and supplies related to Lake Village [Healthcare] for the year 2007" within 14 days, to which the nursing home failed to comply. The nursing home was given several opportunities to comply with discovery, to which it sought an invocation of attorney-client privilege rather than compliance. Thus, the court sanctioned Lake Village Healthcare for the discovery violations by striking out part of their answers.

Issue:

Did the trial court abuse its discretion by striking out a portion of the nursing home's answers as a result of discovery violations?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The court affirmed the judgment of the trial court finding that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in finding that appellants' failure to produce emails merited imposing sanctions under Ark. R. Civ. P. 37(b)(2)(C). Appellants failed to produce the emails in response to a discovery request, failed to produce them when ordered by the trial court, failed to timely notify the trial court of compliance problems, failed to furnish sufficient information of their good-faith efforts, and failed to furnish information regarding when compliance could be expected. Because the owner failed to raise a timely objection to interrogatories or requests for production, as required by Ark. R. Civ. P. 33(b) and 34(b)(2), the trial court did not err in imposing the sanction. Appellants did not raise arguments as to why they had not or could not comply with the discovery requests or orders until after their noncompliance necessitated multiple hearings.

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