Law School Case Brief
Malone v. United States Postal Serv. - 833 F.2d 128 (9th Cir. 1987)
A district court must weigh five factors in determining whether to dismiss a case for failure to comply with a court order: (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 the defendants; (4) the public policy favoring disposition of cases on their merits; and (5) the availability of less drastic sanctions. It is not necessary for a district court to make explicit findings to show that it has considered these factors.
Ann Malone brought suit against the United States Postal Service (the "Government") for alleged violation of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. §§ 2000e et seq. The trial began in November 1984. Because Malone's attorney presented the case in a confused and inefficient manner, the district court restricted counsel's presentation of witnesses and evidence. Counsel believed that the court was treating her unfairly; on November 16, she made a motion for mistrial. The district court denied the motion, but a few hours later declared a mistrial on its own motion. The district court explained in the June 10, 1985 dismissal order at issue here that the mistrial had been declared because of lack of preparation on the part of Malone's attorney.
Did the district court abuse its discretion in declaring a mistrial?
On review, the court held that the district court did not abuse its discretion. The district court implicitly considered the five factors for determining whether to dismiss for failure to comply with a court order: the public interest in expeditious litigation, docket management, prejudice to defendants, the public policy favoring disposition of cases on the merits, and the availability of less drastic sanctions. Additionally, the pretrial order was valid under Fed. R. Civ. P. 16. Both parties were covered by the order, it was not excessively burdensome, and it served the valuable purpose of case organization. The court also concluded that the dismissal did not unduly punish Malone for the attorney's behavior, and affirmed the judgment.
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