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NHL v. Metro. Hockey Club - 427 U.S. 639, 96 S. Ct. 2778 (1976)


The most severe in the spectrum of sanctions provided by statute or rule must be available to the district court in appropriate cases, not merely to penalize those whose conduct may be deemed to warrant such a sanction, but to deter those who might be tempted to such conduct in the absence of such a deterrent.


Pursuant to Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, providing that if a party fails to obey an order to provide or permit discovery, the court in which the action is pending may make such orders in regard to the failure as are just, including, an order dismissing the action. A District Court dismissed a private antitrust action for the plaintiffs' failure to timely answer written interrogatories as ordered by the court. The District Court concluded that the plaintiffs' conduct demonstrated a callous disregard of responsibilities owed by counsel to the court and their opponents, since crucial interrogatories had remained substantially unanswered after 17 months despite numerous extensions and several admonitions by the court and promises and commitments by the plaintiffs. Moreover, the District Court found that the plaintiffs exemplified flagrant bad faith, since after they had been expressly directed to perform by a certain date, they had failed to perform, and they had compounded the noncompliance by waiting until five days afterward before filing any motions, even though warnings had been given that their failure to provide information could result in the imposition of sanctions under Rule 37. On appeal, the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit reversed, ruling that the District Court had abused its discretion.


Did the District Court abuse its discretion in dismissing a private antitrust case as a sanction for repeatedly failing to participate in discovery?




The United States Supreme Court reversed the appellate court. It was held that the District Court had not abused its discretion, since (1) the District Court had considered the full record in determining to dismiss, (2) such record showed that the District Court had been extremely patient in its efforts to allow the plaintiffs ample time to comply with its discovery orders, and (3) the plaintiffs had not only failed to file responses on time, but had filed responses which were found grossly inadequate.

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