Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Gonzalez-Rivera v. Centro Medico del Turabo, Inc.

United States Court of Appeals, First Circuit

July 19, 2019

AGLAED GONZÁLEZ-RIVERA, Plaintiff, Appellant,
v.
CENTRO MÉDICO DEL TURABO, INC., d/b/a Centro Ambulatorio HIMA San Pablo Caguas, d/b/a HIMA San Pablo Caguas, et al., Defendants, Appellees.

          APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE DISTRICT OF PUERTO RICO [Hon. Gustavo A. Gelpí, Jr., U.S. District Judge]

          David Efron, Etienne Totti del Toro, and Law Offices of David Efron, PC, on brief for appellant.

          José A. Morales Boscio, Alejandra M. Rivera Ramírez, Bufete González Villamil, José A. Miranda-Daleccio, Fernando E. Agrait, Fernando E. Agrait Law Office, Orlando H. Martínez Echevarría, and Orlando H. Martínez Echevarría Law Office LLC, on joint brief for appellees.

          Before Howard, Chief Judge, Torruella and Selya, Circuit Judges.

          SELYA, CIRCUIT JUDGE.

         Scheduling orders are essential tools for modern-day case management, and litigants flout such orders at their peril. This case, in which plaintiff-appellant Aglaed González-Rivera violated just such a scheduling order and suffered the consequences, illustrates the point. Because the court below acted well within the encincture of its discretion in refusing to countenance the violation, we affirm the entry of judgment in favor of the defendants.

         The relevant facts and travel of the case lend themselves to succinct summarization. On March 15, 2010, the plaintiff, a citizen of Connecticut, underwent surgery for complications resulting from a miscarriage at a facility operated by Centro Médico del Turabo, Inc. (the Hospital), located in Caguas, Puerto Rico. Some years later, she invoked diversity jurisdiction, see 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a)(1), and sued the Hospital and several other healthcare providers in the United States District Court for the District of Puerto Rico.[1] The plaintiff claimed that she had sustained serious injuries due to the defendants' negligence. More specifically, she alleged that the defendants, jointly and severally, committed malpractice by, among other things, failing to diagnose her condition in a timely manner, administering spinal anesthesia carelessly and without her consent, rendering inadequate post-operative care, and discharging her with undiagnosed neurological damage.

         After the defendants answered the complaint, the district court entered a scheduling order. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b). Among its other provisions, the scheduling order set a deadline (May 20, 2016) for the disclosure of the plaintiff's expert reports. Building on this foundation, discovery was to close by November 15, 2016, and dispositive motions were to be filed no later than December 16 of that year.

         Within the allotted period, the plaintiff disclosed an expert report authored by Dr. Carlos Lasalle-Nieves (Dr. Lasalle). She produced no other expert reports. As the deadline for filing dispositive motions drew near, the plaintiff moved to dismiss without prejudice her claims against Dr. Berríos-Echevarría (her obstetrician), acknowledging that she had no viable cause of action against him. The district court granted her motion.

         By December 16, 2016, the defendants had moved both for summary judgment and for exclusion of Dr. Lasalle as an expert witness. In July of 2017 - while the defendants' motions were pending - the plaintiff reversed course and moved to set aside the dismissal of her claims against Dr. Berríos-Echevarría. To justify the proposed reinstatement of these claims, she cited a neurological report by a new expert, Dr. Allan Hausknecht. Although the plaintiff had identified Dr. Hausknecht as a potential expert witness early in the case, see Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(1), she did not disclose his report to the defendants until June of 2017. That was more than a year after the deadline that the district court had set for the disclosure of the plaintiff's experts' reports. The defendants objected on this basis and moved to exclude Dr. Hausknecht as an expert witness. The district court granted the defendants' motion to exclude Dr. Lasalle and denied the defendants' motion for summary judgment without prejudice so that the parties might explore settlement in light of Dr. Lasalle's exclusion.[2]

         When the parties' negotiations proved fruitless, the defendants renewed their consolidated motion for summary judgment. In a thoughtful rescript, the district court rejected the plaintiff's motion to reinstate Dr. Berríos-Echevarría as a defendant, granted the defendants' motion to exclude Dr. Hausknecht as an expert witness, and - concluding that the plaintiff could not prevail without admissible expert testimony - entered summary judgment in favor of the defendants. This timely appeal followed.

         The Civil Rules require parties to disclose the identity of all expert witnesses whom they intend to call at trial. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(2)(A). In most cases - the exceptions are not relevant here - an expert witness must produce a written report, which includes, among other things, "a complete statement of all opinions the witness will express and the basis and reasons for them." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(2)(B). District courts have considerable autonomy in managing discovery proceedings. This authority extends both to setting disclosure deadlines and meting out sanctions when parties fail to honor such deadlines. See Genereux v. Raytheon Co., 754 F.3d 51, 59 (1st Cir. 2014); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(2)(D) (stating that expert disclosures must be made "at the times and in the sequence that the court orders").

         We review for abuse of discretion a district court's order excluding an expert witness as a sanction for noncompliance with a scheduling order. See Samaan v. St. Joseph Hosp., 670 F.3d 21, 35 (1st Cir. 2012). "This standard of review obtains both as to the finding that a discovery violation occurred and as to the appropriateness of the sanction selected." Santiago-Díaz v. Laboratorio Clínico y de Referencia del Este, 456 F.3d 272, 275 (1st Cir. 2006). Review for abuse of discretion is highly deferential. We will find such abuse only "when a material factor deserving significant weight is ignored, when an improper factor is relied upon, or when all proper and no improper factors are assessed, but the court makes a serious mistake in weighing them." Indep. Oil & Chem. Workers of Quincy, Inc. v. Procter & Gamble Mfg. Co., 864 F.2d 927, 929 (1st Cir. 1988). Thus, "[t]he question is not whether we, as an original matter, would have utilized the same sanction, whether some harsher sanction might have been warranted, or whether some less painful sanction might have sufficed; rather, the question is whether the district court, in choosing the particular sanction misused its discretionary powers." Thibeault v. Square D Co., 960 F.2d 239, 243 (1st Cir. 1992).

         In this instance, the plaintiff contends that the district court abused its discretion by meting out an excessively severe sanction. She notes that the court excluded her only available expert witness, Dr. Hausknecht, thereby ensuring that she could not prove an essential element of her malpractice claims. When evaluating the appropriateness of a sanction, a reviewing court must take into account the totality of the circumstances. See id. at 246. Where, as here, the sanction for a Rule 26 violation is the exclusion of a proffered expert witness, we "consider a multiplicity of pertinent factors, including the history of the litigation, the proponent's need for the challenged evidence, the justification (if any) for the late disclosure, and the opponent's ability to overcome its adverse effects." Macaula ...


Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.