This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2000).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Dim Njaka, d/b/a Alpha Data,
Charles D. Nolan, Jr., et al.,
Hennepin County District Court
File No. CT998640
Dim Njaka, Box 582448, Minneapolis, MN 55458-2448 (pro se appellant)
William M. Hart, Michael D. Hutchens, Erica Gutmann Strohl, Meagher & Geer, P.L.L.P., 4200 Multifoods Tower, 33 South 6th Street, Minneapolis, MN 55402 (for respondent)
Considered and decided by Halbrooks, Presiding Judge, Lansing, Judge, and Anderson, Judge.
Pro se appellant alleges that the district court should not have dismissed his case based on his failures to comply with the rules of civil procedure and general practice. Appellant also alleges that the district court acted prematurely because he had yet to complete discovery. Because the district court did not abuse its discretion by dismissing on procedural grounds and because appellant has not shown that the district court acted prematurely, we affirm.
Appellant Dim Njaka, d/b/a Alpha Data, rented storage lockers from respondent E-Z Mini-Storage, Inc. After disputes about the amount Njaka owed for unpaid rent and whether E-Z owed Njaka for stored property damaged by water, Njaka sued. Proceedings were extended and acrimonious, and included discovery disputes, contempt proceedings, and requests for sanctions. Despite multiple oral and written warnings by the district court, Njaka failed to follow the rules of civil procedure and general practice in conducting his suit. Ultimately, the district court granted E-Z’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed Njaka’s claim. This appeal follows.
Generally, pro se litigants “are held to the same rules and standards as attorneys.” Davis v. Danielson, 558 N.W.2d 286, 287 (Minn. App. 1997) (citation omitted), review denied (Minn. Mar. 18, 1997). A party’s pro se status allows “reasonable accommodation [by the district court] so long as there is no prejudice to the adverse party.” Kasson State Bank v. Haugen, 410 N.W.2d 392, 395 (Minn. App. 1987) (citations omitted). Pro se status, however, “does not entitle a party to modification of procedural rules.” Ronay v. Ronay, 369 N.W.2d 12, 14 (Minn. App. 1985) (citations omitted).
The district court dismissed appellant’s claim on two grounds: (1) procedural grounds for failure to timely oppose and (2) summary judgment for appellant’s failure to show evidence of any factual dispute. A district court may dismiss an action “for failure * * * to comply with these rules or any order of the court.” Minn. R. Civ. P. 41.02(a). Dismissal under rule 41.02(a) for procedural defects is discretionary with the district court and requires a case-specific inquiry. Firoved v. General Motors Corp., 277 Minn. 278, 283, 152 N.W.2d 364, 368 (1967). The propriety of dismissal depends primarily on the prejudicial effect a dismissal will have on the parties. In making its decision, the district court should recognize that a procedural dismissal is contrary to the law’s primary objective of disposing of cases on the merits, is “the most punitive sanction which can be imposed,” and is to be granted only in “exceptional circumstances.” Id. Generally, a defendant has the burden of showing such prejudice that “some substantial right or advantage will be lost or endangered if plaintiff is permitted to dismiss and reinstitute the action.” Id. at 283-84, 152 N.W.2d at 368. But cf. Reichert v. Union Fidelity Life Ins. Co., 360 N.W.2d 664, 667 (Minn. App. 1985) (noting that “[u]nder extraordinary circumstances * * * dismissal for lack of prosecution may be justified even though no prejudice to the defendant is shown”) (citing Firoved, 277 Minn. at 283, 152 N.W.2d at 368).
Here, Njaka incorrectly assumes that the district court’s ruling is based on his untimely response to E-Z’s motion for summary judgment. The district court’s analysis of the dismissal question shows that Njaka’s untimely response to E-Z’s motion for summary judgment was just one of many failures to comply with the rules. Further, appellant’s failure to abide by the rules was in stark contrast to his compliance with the rules in other facets of his case. The district court described some of the extensive history of the case and noted that, despite Njaka’s pro se status,
[he] has proven that he is familiar with the rules of procedure. He used them freely and extensively during discovery for this case. He brought numerous motions before this court invoking a variety of rules and citing statutory and case law.
The district court noted that, during the proceedings, it had heard and granted Njaka’s procedurally “irregular” motion to enlarge the time for joinder. But, in doing so, the court instructed Njaka to follow the rules of civil procedure and the general rules of practice “with respect to noticing and filing any other motions requesting relief.” Six days later, Njaka “dropped off” papers at the district court’s chambers. Those papers sought a temporary restraining order against E-Z, an injunction against E-Z, sanctions against E-Z, and judgment on the pleadings. The papers also stated that the court would hear the motions at a status-conference hearing set for less than one week later. The district court then sent Njaka a letter in which it explained the proper procedures for filing papers and calendaring motions, stating that Njaka’s motions were untimely, and indicating that the motions would not be heard at the conference. On other occasions, the district court also orally directed Njaka to follow the rules.
When E-Z later sought summary judgment, Njaka did not file a memorandum in opposition. Instead, he arrived at the summary-judgment hearing “with his unfiled opposition memorandum in hand.” The district court responded by continuing the hearing for a week-and-a-half to allow E-Z to reply to Njaka’s memorandum. It also stated that, because Njaka’s response was untimely, it would consider whether to address E-Z’s summary judgment motion based solely on E-Z’s papers. The day after being informed by the court that his failure to file a timely memorandum opposing summary judgment could result in the court’s refusal to consider his memorandum, Njaka filed affidavits and exhibits allegedly supplementing his untimely memorandum.
The district court was, as required by Firoved, clearly aware of the finality of its ruling and the extent of the prejudice the ruling would have on Njaka. The court determined that Njaka’s disregard of the court’s mandate to comply with the rules was without justification and warranted dismissal of his complaint. This sanction is consistent with the impact Njaka’s conduct has had on E-Z and the court. In addition to increasing E-Z’s costs, Njaka’s repeated failures to comply with the rules unnecessarily prejudiced E-Z’s ability to respond to Njaka’s claims and unnecessarily delayed the proceedings by requiring the district court to schedule serial hearings. See Lampert Lumber Co. v. Joyce, 405 N.W.2d 423, 425 (Minn. 1987) (stating rule 42.01(a) “is designed to let the trial court manage its docket and eliminate delays and obstructionist tactics by use of the sanction of dismissal”). On this record, showing that Njaka demonstrated an ability to comply with the rules, was directed orally and by court order to comply, but still repeatedly failed to do so, we cannot say that the district court abused its discretion in concluding that a procedurally-based dismissal was appropriate.
Njaka alleges the district court acted prematurely because E-Z had not produced Njaka’s deposition as required by a January 2000 order. The record shows Njaka received a photocopy of part of his deposition. Additionally, Njaka is presumptively aware of what he said in his own deposition and he has not explained how not having a copy of part of it substantively prejudiced him. See Midway Ctr. Assocs. v. Midway Ctr., Inc., 306 Minn. 352, 356, 237 N.W.2d 76, 78 (1975) (stating, to prevail on appeal, party must show error and that error caused prejudice); see also Minn. R. Civ. P. 61 (requiring harmless error to be ignored).
Njaka also alleges the district court acted prematurely because his motion to depose E-Z’s principal was still outstanding. Njaka’s memorandum to the district court indicated that he wanted the deposition because E-Z had previously failed to produce discovery and because the deposition was necessary to address issues related to the mortgage and repair histories of the storage facilities. On appeal, the relevance of the mortgage and repair histories is neither clear nor explained. The lease Njaka signed with E-Z contained a provision stating that E-Z was not liable for water damage to the contents of a storage unit, even if the damage was due to “DISHONEST ACTS OR NEGLIGENCE OF [E-Z’S] EMPLOYEES OR CUSTOMERS.” On this record, Njaka has not shown that the district court acted prematurely.
Because we conclude that the district court did not abuse its discretion in concluding that Njaka’s repeated failures to abide by the rules justified dismissal, we need not address the propriety of the summary judgment.
 This analysis also addresses Njaka’s argument that his failure to file a timely opposition to E-Z’s motion for summary judgment was because he was waiting for the district court to rule on his motion to depose E-Z’s principal and because E-Z did not produce discovery in a timely fashion.