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Taffanelli-Figueroa v Fajardo-Vélez

Case No. 06-1760 (C.A. 1, Apr. 6, 2007)

Plaintiffs-appellants Iris Esther Taffanelli-Figueroa ("Taffanelli") and her son, Iván F. Fuster-Taffanelli (collectively, "Plaintiffs"), appeal the district court's order dismissing their case with prejudice and its subsequent denial of their motion for relief from judgment. After careful review, we reverse the dismissal and remand for further proceedings.

I. Background

On March 11, 2004, Plaintiffs filed a civil rights action under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and the Puerto Rico Constitution against the Puerto Rico Department of Education and a number of related defendants (collectively, "Defendants"). A somewhat contentious and protracted period of discovery ensued, with numerous motions for extensions of time, at least one motion to compel discovery, and a stay pending Taffanelli's intervening "psychological crisis."

On December 15, 2005, counsel for Plaintiffs, Frank D. Inserni, filed a motion requesting leave to withdraw, citing "unappeasable differences." Inserni's motion also requested ninety days for Plaintiffs to retain new counsel, given that the file in the case was extensive and many Puerto Rico law firms would be closed until at least mid-January for the holiday season. The same day, Inserni sent Plaintiffs a letter stating his intention to withdraw due to, among other things, disagreement over litigation costs. He also informed Plaintiffs that he would release their case file as soon as his motion was granted and he had been paid.

On February 17, 2006, the district court granted Inserni's motion to withdraw and ordered Plaintiffs to "appear through new retained counsel or representing themselves no later than March 1, 2006." Noting that Taffanelli had known of the motion to withdraw since mid-December, the court warned Plaintiffs that "[f]ailure to comply with this Order shall result in dismissal, with prejudice."
 

 

Judge(s): Juan Torruella
Jurisdiction: U.S. Court of Appeals, First Circuit
Circuit Court Judge(s)
Sandra Lynch
Bruce Selya
Juan Torruella

 
Trial Court Judge(s)
Carmen Cerezo

 
Appellant Lawyer(s) Appellant Law Firm(s)
Eugene Hestres-Rodríguez Bird Bird & Hestres PSC
Eugene Hestres-Vélez Bird Bird & Hestres PSC

 
Appellee Lawyer(s) Appellee Law Firm(s)
Aníbal Escanellas-Rivera
Eileen Landrón-Guardiola Landron & Vera LLP
Luis A. Rodriguez-Munoz Landron & Vera LLP
Eduardo A. Vera-Ramirez Landron & Vera LLP
Julio Alejandro-Serrano Office of the Puerto Rico Solicitor General
Salvador Antonetti-Stutts Office of the Puerto Rico Solicitor General
Roberto Sánchez-Ramos Office of the Puerto Rico Solicitor General

 

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hctor rincn; evelyn torres, because they did not have their case files until february 28, and defendants argue that the court's order clearly meant for court's order of february 17. on march 20, plaintiffs filed a discretion to dismiss the case with prejudice for failure to withdraw due to, among other things, disagreement over litigation the case was extensive and many puerto rico law firms would be ii. dismissal with prejudice the court knew that plaintiffs were without counsel. thus, if the imposing on plaintiffs one of the harshest sanctions available, on in fact plaintiffs had complied with the plain language of the we have often affirmed a trial court's discretion to secretary of justice, salvador antonetti-stutts, solicitor general, dismiss a case with prejudice for failure to comply with court -4- court intended for the plaintiffs to do more than just appear, it toward pro se plaintiffs, but declining to apply it where the prejudice. the district court granted the motion. eugene f. hestres-vlez, with whom eugene f. hestres-rodrguez appearing to request additional time was a violation of the order. should have made its intentions plain in the order. cf. cintrn- the "complicated and voluminous" nature of the case. than march 1, 2006." noting that taffanelli had known of the -7- they did. moreover, in granting the attorney's motion to withdraw, from judgment. plaintiffs argued that they had been diligently defendants, appellees. torruella, circuit judge, case file as soon as his motion was granted and he had been paid. no. 06-1760 lillian nazario; lucy ocasio; joselin torres; inserni, filed a motion requesting leave to withdraw, citing plaintiffs failed to comply with its order to appear by march 1, therefore the district court erred in dismissing the case in "unappeasable differences." inserni's motion also requested ninety 2006, even though plaintiffs did appear by the stated deadline. ivn f. fuster-taffanelli, (1st cir. 2003) ("an error of law is, of course, an abuse of -6- plaintiffs to appear ready to prosecute their case, and that district court's order dismissing their case with prejudice and its de oficina; felcita reyes; mabel ros; carmen nieves; closed until at least mid-january for the holiday season. the same puerto rico department of education and a number of related district court's use of dismissal with prejudice as a sanction for united states court of appeals that "[f]ailure to comply with this order shall result in and lynch, circuit judge. of the commonwealth of puerto rico; elizabeth martnez; 1, 5 (1st cir. 2006). answer, demurrer, or motion"); cf. united states v. $23,000 in u.s. julio c. alejandro-serrano, with whom roberto snchez-ramos, ed. 2004) (defining "appearance" as "[a] coming into court as a court's warnings were plain). technically, plaintiffs complied currency, 356 f.3d 157, 164 (1st cir. 2004) (citing with approval subsequent denial of their motion for relief from judgment. after party . . . by formally participating in [the lawsuit] or by an judgment. inserni's motion to withdraw and ordered plaintiffs to "appear prejudice is a particularly harsh sanction, which should be imposed assocs., 478 f.3d 40, 43-44 (1st cir. 2007); estate of sols-rivera perhaps that is what the district court intended, but the plain v. united states, 993 f.2d 1, 2 (1st cir. 1993). we review a on december 15, 2005, counsel for plaintiffs, frank d. 'involves some presentation or submission to the court.'"), and april 6, 2007 motion to withdraw since mid-december, the court warned plaintiffs selya, senior circuit judge, appearance, as a matter of law, see black's law dictionary 107 (8th fajardo-vlez, et al. and protracted period of discovery ensued, with numerous motions discretion."). district court dismissed the case with prejudice on the ground that we find that the district court abused its discretion in day, inserni sent plaintiffs a letter stating his intention to for the district of puerto rico stated that "the purpose of this appearance is to comply with the esther taffanelli-figueroa ("taffanelli") and her son, ivn f. -3- careful review, we reverse the dismissal and remand for further dismissal, with prejudice." torruella, circuit judge. plaintiffs-appellants iris accordance with its prior warning. reversed and remanded. the files. the district court denied the motion without comment on proceedings. anbal escanellas-rivera, was on brief, for appellee unin de plaintiffs filed a pro se motion on march 1, 2006, eileen landrn-guardiola, eduardo vera-ramrez, luis a. rodrguez- plaintiffs on this ground and remand for further proceedings, we taffanelli, requested that she be dismissed from the case with iii. conclusion and a stay pending taffanelli's intervening "psychological crisis." the order required that plaintiffs appear either through another on february 17, 2006, the district court granted april 3, 2006. unin de personal profesional administrativo, secretarial y order in question. because we reverse the judgment against days for plaintiffs to retain new counsel, given that the file in and bird bird & hestres, p.s.c. were on brief, for appellants. orders. see, e.g., torres-vargas v. pereira, 431 f.3d 389, 392 lorenzo v. departamento de asuntos del consumidor, 312 f.3d 522, muoz, and landrn & vera, llp, were on brief, for appellees vctor comply. see rosario-urdaz v. rivera-hernndez, 350 f.3d 219, 221 jocelyn carrasquillo; gladys erazo; ricky espinoza; order [of february 17]." the filing of this motion constituted an need not address the denial of their motion for relief from personal profesional, administrativo, secretarial y de oficina through new retained counsel or representing themselves no later 10a wright, miller & kane, federal practice & procedure 2686 as ursula torres; ruth cardona; dr. ernesto virella; a third plaintiff, taffanelli's daughter, iris janice fuster-1 (1st cir. 2005). however, we have also warned that dismissal with order warning them of the dire consequences of noncompliance, when (paso). plaintiffs appeal the judgment against them and the order [hon. carmen consuelo cerezo, u.s. district judge] special appearance through a new attorney, and moved for relief under 42 u.s.c. 1983 and the puerto rico constitution against the v. for the first circuit on march 11, 2004, plaintiffs filed a civil rights action requesting an additional sixty days to obtain new representation. ground that plaintiffs had failed to appear as required by the language of the order merely required plaintiffs to appear, which plaintiffs, appellants, with the terms of the court's order, and it was an abuse of attorney or in representation of themselves. because plaintiffs denying their motion for relief from judgment. had not yet retained new counsel, they filed a pro se motion, which 526-27 (1st cir. 2002) (acknowledging the principle of leniency seeking new representation, but that they had been unsuccessful motion for an extension of time by endorsed order. the court then vctor r. fajardo-vlez; csar rey; department of education they explained that they had difficulty finding new counsel due to "noting that an appearance [for purposes of rule 55] merely no attorney would take their case without an opportunity to review only in extreme circumstances. see malot v. dorado beach cottages the stated ground that plaintiffs failed to comply with a court fuster-taffanelli (collectively, "plaintiffs"), appeal the1 before -2- jos luis cceres; carmen delia-de len; minerva rivera-medina; luz rodrguez; aida m. esteves-de traval; ester rivera; in this case, one simple fact compels us to reverse: the entered judgment, dismissing the action with prejudice on the defendants (collectively, "defendants"). a somewhat contentious appeal from the united states district court abuse of discretion. see bentez-garca v. gonzlez-vega, 468 f.3d costs. he also informed plaintiffs that he would release their for extensions of time, at least one motion to compel discovery, on march 8, 2006, the district court denied plaintiffs' -5- i. background iris esther taffanelli-figueroa;


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