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Roe v. Doe (in Re Doe) - 129 Idaho 663, 931 P.2d 657 (Ct. App. 1996)

Rule:

A trial judge must balance the equities by comparing the culpability of the disobedient party with the resulting prejudice to the innocent party in light of the twin aims of the sanction power. Only after applying this balancing test, should a court impose a sanction that will most substantially lead to the efficient administration of justice.

Facts:

On April 16, 1994, John and Jane Doe, a married couple, took physical custody of an infant born on April 13, 1994, with the intent to adopt the child. The unmarried natural mother of the infant signed a voluntary termination of her parental rights on April 21, 1994. Because the natural mother represented that her pregnancy had resulted from a rape by a stranger, the identity of the natural father was unknown to the Does. The Does initiated adoption proceedings and published notice of those proceedings in a local newspaper. The notice came to the attention of John Roe, who had been residing with the natural mother during the time when the conception occurred. Roe then registered as the putative father of the infant pursuant to I.C. Section 16-1513. As a result, the Does filed an action to terminate Roe's parental rights. The Does served Roe with interrogatories and requests for production of documents, which Roe did not serve timely. Following Idaho R. Civ. P. 37(b) and (d), the Does filed a motion for sanctions. Thereafter, Roe served his responses. The magistrate court imposed sanctions. The district court reversed and remanded. The Does sought review of the district court’s judgment.

Issue:

Did the district court err in its decision to reverse the magistrate court’s order to impose sanctions on Roe for his untimely responses?

Answer:

No.

Conclusion:

The Court affirmed the district court's judgment and remanded. According to the Court, Roe did not refuse to answer or make specious objections to the interrogatories and requests for production. There was no prior order to compel responses. The Court ruled that Roe had not engaged in a pattern of delay or disobedience of court orders. The Does’ election to serve their discovery requests less than one month before trial caused the time constriction. The Court concluded that there was no indication in the record that lesser sanctions would have been ineffective to secure Roe’s completion of discovery responses while protecting the right of the Does.

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