Behind the face of Fed. R. Civ. P. 16, a narrowly circumscribed area of power has developed which the judge may employ to compel obedience to his requests and demands relating to the pre-trial conference. This power may be founded either upon Fed. R. Civ. P. 41(b) or upon the inherent power of courts to manage their calendars to have an orderly and expeditious disposition of their cases. Whatever the exact genesis of this power to compel obedience, the key is a failure to prosecute, whether styled as a failure to appear at a pre-trial conference, failure to file a pre-trial statement, failure to prepare for the conference or failure to comply with the pre-trial order.
The parties entered into a contracting agreement for the building of highways. The plaintiff, contractor, alleges that the projects were not completed in a timely fashion and the quality of the materials was not acceptable and brought action for breach of contract.The trial court ordered the parties to agree to the facts prior to the start of trial. The parties could not agree and the trial court signed the facts stipulation for the defendant without his consent. Based on these facts, the court denied the defendant’s motions and entered judgment for the plaintiff. The defendant sought review.
Is the defendant entitled to a reversal?
The court held that FRCP 16 did not require a stipulation of facts. Thus, sanctions for failure to stipulate the facts, for instance denial of motions, were not warranted. The court further reasoned that through the trial court has the authority to make pre-trial orders, an order forcing the parties to stipulate facts is not valid.