Don’t risk your case being dismissed

Do What The Court Tells You

Do what the court tells you to or risk your case being dismissed!

Although I am familiar with this concept, I was again just this week presented with a situation that I believe to be so uncivilized and archaic a practice that I felt the situation deemed a comment. What I am referring to are Civil Death Penalty Sanctions in Texas.

We have a new client that had death penalty sanctions imposed, his case was dismissed and he has come to us to see what can be done.

For those of you who have not been brutally confronted with this concept, sanctions are a type of penalty which is usually requested by a party to litigation and imposed by a court for noncompliance of court order by a party in litigation. For example, if a party is requested to show up at a deposition and fails to do so, a court could fine or sanction the party who failed to appear. Death penalty sanctions are a more severe type of sanction which allows a court to strike a parties pleadings.

If death penalty sanctions are imposed the court can strike a party’s pleadings such as a petition or answer, this allows a Plaintiff or a Defendant to effectively end the other parties case with a stroke of a pen. The reason these are dubbed “Death Penalty” Sanctions are because if the court imposes such a sanction it is truly the death penalty for the party which the sanctions are imposed upon. The original idea of Death Penalty Sanctions I agree with but where they have gone since and are today, not so much. I find that courts with overloaded dockets are too willing to impose these types of sanctions. After all if imposed the case just goes away. Death Penalty sanctions are frequently used when not warranted.

A few concepts which deserve discussion;

1. The court MUST have the ability to persuade or force a party to comply with the courts order. One of the ways a court can do this is by sanctions. In fact the rules of litigation or the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure authorizes a trial court to sanction a party for failure to comply with a discovery order or request. Tex.R.Civ.P. 215.2. As I have said, this is important to provide the ability for a court to enforce its judgments and orders.

2. A trial court may not impose sanctions that are more severe than necessary to satisfy legitimate purposes. See Cire v. Cummings, 134 S.W.3d 835, at 839 (Tex. 2004). Texas Rules of Civil Procedure 215.2(b) explicitly requires that any sanction under this rule be “just.”

3. Next, there must be a direct relationship between the offensive conduct and the sanction imposed. TransAmerican Natural Gas Corp. v. Powell, 811 S.W. 2d 913, 917 (Tex. 1991). A just sanction must be directed against the abuse and toward remedying the prejudice caused to the innocent party, and the sanction should be visited upon the offender. Spohn Hospital, 104 S.W.3d at 882;

4. Is the imposition of Death Penalty Sanctions a deprivation of Due Process Rights? The Texas (Bill of Rights Section 19) and United States Constitutions each (the 5th and 14th Amendments) require due process of law. If a court strikes a party’s pleadings the writer believes this violates the protections Due Process of law provides.

In closing, sanctions are important to facilitate compliance with court orders and judgments. Death penalty sanctions are an extreme sanction, one which should be only used after other reasonable and less egregious sanctions are first imposed and do not compel the desired behavior. Don’t find yourself on the receiving end of death penalty sanctions. Contact us for more information about your case.