This opinion will be unpublished and
may not be cited except as provided by
Minn. Stat. § 480A.08, subd. 3 (2004).
IN COURT OF APPEALS
Consumer Justice Center P.A., et al.,
Trans Union L.L.C.,
Filed April 11, 2006
Ramsey County District Court
File No. C9-02-6884
Thomas J. Lyons, John H. Goolsby, Thomas Lyons & Associates, 342 East County Road D, Little Canada, Minnesota 55117 (for appellants)
James F. Roegge, Joel T. Wiegert, Meagher & Geer, P.L.L.P., 33 South Sixth Street, Suite 4200, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55402-3788; and
Robert J. Schuckit (pro hac
vice), Schuckit & Associates,
Considered and decided by Klaphake, Presiding Judge; Peterson, Judge; and Hudson, Judge.
U N P U B L I S H E D O P I N I O N
is an appeal from a dismissal with sanctions of a defamation action brought by
In the underlying suit, appellants, attorney Thomas J. Lyons Jr. and his law firm, the Consumer Justice Center P.A. (CJC), alleged that respondent Trans Union LLC, (Trans Union) defamed them in two written communications sent to CJC’s clients. Trans Union is a consumer-credit-reporting agency as defined under 15 U.S.C. § 1681a(f), and, as such, they regularly assemble, evaluate, and disperse information concerning consumers for the purpose of furnishing consumers’ reports to third parties. See 15 U.S.C. § 1681a(f). CJC represents consumers who report disputes with credit reporting agencies such as Trans Union. In July 2002, CJC sued Trans Union for libel per se based on Trans Union’s written statements in two form letters sent to CJC’s clients stating that “[o]ur experience with [CJC] shows that they routinely and knowingly dispute accurate [credit report] information.” As one of its defenses, Trans Union asserted that the statement was true.
In February 2003, Trans Union served discovery, including requests for admissions, interrogatories, and production of documents. Trans Union asked CJC to provide them with “all documents relating to any information upon which you could base an assertion of any of the allegations of the Complaint or a denial of any affirmative defense pleaded or sought to be pleaded,” and “[a]ll documents relating to initial contacts, disputes, requests for reinvestigation or other communications with credit reporting agencies that [CJC] [has] had in the last ten years, including but not limited to work papers, correspondence, reports, and testimony.” Of particular concern in this appeal is the request for “all documents relating to initial contacts, disputes,” which the parties simply referred to throughout the litigation as CJC’s “list of clients” or “the list.”
In April 2003, the district court denied CJC’s motion to compel depositions, reasoning that Trans Union’s request for CJC’s list of clients was reasonably intended to focus the discovery in preparation for the depositions. The district court determined that CJC’s refusal to supply the list was unreasonable. At a May 28, 2003 hearing, Trans Union informed the district court that CJC had recently provided them with a list of 60 clients/disputes. The district court ordered that Trans Union had until June 12, 2003 to complete its investigation of the client list and corresponding disputes before depositions would commence.
July 2003, the district court granted Trans Union’s motion for summary
judgment. On appeal from the grant of
summary judgment, this court reversed and remanded, concluding that there were
genuine issues of material fact to be resolved by trial. Consumer
Justice Ctr, P.A. v. Trans
In October 2004, the district court amended its scheduling order requiring additional discovery to be “noticed so as to be completed by December 30, 2004.” This cut-off date for discovery was also the deadline to “bring and hear motions to compel discovery.” On December 3, 2004, Trans Union moved to extend the discovery cut-off date or to compel discovery from CJC regarding its original requests for production of documents and substantive answers to its interrogatories. In an order dated January 31, 2005, the district court granted Trans Union’s motion to compel and extend discovery, while denying CJC’s motion to amend its complaint to plead punitive damages. The district court ordered CJC to “respond fully to [Trans Union’s] discovery requests.” Specifically, the district court ordered CJC to make a “full, good faith, response to all of [Trans Union’s] previously served discovery,” and “[t]o the extent [counsel for CJC] believe[s] they have a proper objection to any such discovery, they shall bring an appropriate motion for a protective order setting forth specifically the nature of the objection.” Finally, the district court warned CJC that “[t]his extended discovery period is intended to allow [CJC] to avoid dismissal of their action.”
In February 2005, CJC sought voluntary dismissal with prejudice under Minn. R. Civ. P. 41.01(b), conditioning the dismissal on each party bearing its own costs. Trans Union opposed the voluntary dismissal and moved for dismissal with prejudice and sanctions under rule 37.02(b) for CJC’s failure to comply with the district court’s order compelling discovery.
On March 17, 2005, the district court denied CJC’s voluntary motion to dismiss and granted in part Trans Union’s motion to dismiss with prejudice together with (a) statutory costs and disbursements and (b) sanctions pursuant to Minn. R. Civ. P. 37.02(b) in the form of reasonable attorney fees incurred in bringing the December 3, 2004 and February 25, 2005 motions to compel discovery. This appeal follows.
D E C I S I O N
CJC first argues that Trans Union’s motion to compel was untimely and the district court abused its discretion by hearing the motion outside the deadline set in the scheduling order. The scheduling order was amended on October 27, 2004, establishing the deadline for discovery and “to bring and hear motions to compel discovery” as December 30, 2004. Trans Union moved to compel discovery on December 3, 2004, but a hearing on the motion was not held until January 27, 2005.
courts give great deference to district court judges to determine the
procedural calendar of a case. Rice v. Perl, 320 N.W.2d 407, 412 (
CJC next argues that even if Trans Union’s motion to compel is considered to be timely filed, the district court abused its discretion by granting it. CJC argues that the information Trans Union sought to compel was an overly broad “fishing expedition.” We agree.
district court has wide discretion to issue discovery orders and those orders normally
will not be disturbed absent a clear abuse of discretion. Shetka
v. Kueppers, Kueppers, Von Feldt & Salmen, 454 N.W.2d 916, 921 (
in the case, Trans Union requested from CJC, among other things, the identity
and files of all of CJC’s clients during the past ten years who had disputed
claims with any credit-reporting
agency. Although some of the files requested
may reasonably have led to discovery supporting Trans Union’s defense, this
request was overly broad. CJC
specialized in representing consumers who reported disputes with credit-reporting
agencies. Thus, Trans Union was requesting
nearly every case file that CJC had worked on during a ten-year period,
including files that involved credit-reporting agencies other than Trans
Because it was an abuse of discretion for the district court to compel this discovery, there was no basis for the district court to grant Trans Union’s motion for dismissal with prejudice and sanctions based on CJC’s failure to comply with the order to compel. Accordingly, the district court’s order dismissing CJC’s claim with prejudice and sanctions is reversed.
we address whether the district court abused its discretion in denying CJC’s rule
41.01(b) motion to dismiss where both parties were seeking pretrial dismissal
of the suit with prejudice. “A reviewing
court will not reverse a district court’s decision on a rule 41 motion unless
the district court abuses its discretion.” Altimus
v. Hyundai Motor Co., 578 N.W.2d 409, 411 (
In response to the district court’s order to compel discovery, which we have concluded was overly broad, and the district court’s denial of CJC’s motion to amend the complaint to include punitive damages, CJC determined that the case was no longer worth pursuing. CJC moved for voluntary dismissal with prejudice under Minn. R. Civ. P. 41.01(b), conditioning dismissal on each party bearing its own costs. Trans Union opposed the dismissal on those grounds and moved instead for dismissal with prejudice and with sanctions based on CJC’s failure to obey the district court’s order to compel. In denying CJC’s motion to dismiss with prejudice, the district court stated that “[CJC’s] motion to dismiss is DENIED because the motion is a conditional motion, which conditions are unreasonable given [CJC’s] conduct in this case.” While the record supports the district court’s findings that CJC’s actions in this case were “problematic,” the record also reflects that Trans Union’s conduct in this case was equally troubling. Discovery in this case—even after two and one-half years—had not progressed. CJC’s first appeal and the subsequent remand from summary judgment account for a portion of time during which discovery was suspended, but they do not explain the lack of cooperation displayed by both parties when discovery was not suspended.
While rule 41.01(b) gives the district court discretion to determine the terms and conditions under which a dismissal would be proper, when, as here, (1) both parties and the court agreed that dismissal with prejudice was appropriate, (2) a significant amount of discovery had not yet been completed, and (3) both parties had engaged in “problematic” litigation practices, we conclude that the district court abused its discretion by denying CJC’s voluntary motion for dismissal with prejudice. We therefore reverse the district court’s denial of CJC’s motion to dismiss with prejudice and, in accordance with that motion, each party is to bear its own costs.
Because this case is dismissed with prejudice, we do not address CJC’s arguments regarding denial of the motion to amend the complaint to seek punitive damages.
 In late June 2003, a dispute arose between the parties regarding whether the client list was complete; specifically, Trans Union claimed that it was not complete because it did not include the clients’ social security numbers. CJC claimed that Trans Union had never specifically requested the social security numbers and that, in any event, CJC’s clients had not authorized this disclosure.