March 24, 2020
Attorneys disobeying discovery orders beware! One lawsuit, brought on behalf of Creed-21 (Citizens for Responsible, Economical, and Environmental Development) against Wal-mart and the City of Wildomar, was dismissed in its entirety as a sanction for Creed-21’s attorneys repeatedly disobeying court orders. [Creed-21 v. City of Wildomar (2017) 18 Cal.App.5th 690.]
Defendants alleged Creed-21 was just a shell entity created by its attorneys, the Briggs Law Corporation (“BLC”), which they used to sue businesses and municipalities and thereby obtain legal fees. Perhaps for that reason, Creed-21 refused to produce its representative (called the Person Most Qualified, or “PMQ”) for deposition. The defendants’ attorneys suspected that Creed-21 had no PMQ (or anything else), but BLC denied this, making a series of excuses for why no PMQ ever showed up to be deposed.
The defendants wanted to depose Creed-21’s PMQ in order to assess whether Creed-21 was a real entity with standing to sue. They noted that the place of business listed for Creed-21 was BLC’s law office, that Creed-21 had no assets, and that in prior lawsuits where money was awarded to Creed-21, the money went to BLC. They wanted to ask Creed-21’s PMQ about this and obtain documents from Creed-21. They faced a deadline of February 22, 2016 to file their opposition brief to Creed-21’s lawsuit, and they needed information from Creed-21 for that opposition brief.
The PMQ deposition was initially set for September 15, 2015. BLC refused to produce a PMQ at the deposition, citing various objections. The defendants filed a motion to compel the deposition, which they won. The court ordered the PMQ’s deposition to take place and also awarded the defendants $3,000 in sanctions.
BLC continued to delay. The attorneys employed various legal maneuvers to put off the deposition, including filing a motion for relief from the order, a petition for writ of mandate for immediate stay, and an ex parte application to extend the deadline to take the deposition. These attempts to delay and avoid the deposition failed, and the court again ordered the PMQ deposition take place.
Still, no PMQ appeared for deposition on the scheduled date. BLC did not pay the $3,000 sanctions either. Meanwhile, the defendants had to file an opposition brief, though they had not deposed Creed-21’s PMQ or received any documents. The defendants did file a timely opposition brief, in which they argued that Creed-21 had no standing and was just a shell entity, and they asked that the case be dismissed to penalize Creed-21’s evasion of discovery.
The trial court agreed, ruled that Creed-21 lacked standing, and dismissed the entire case as a sanction against Creed-21. BLC appealed the ruling as excessively severe. The Court of Appeal, however, ruled that the trial court was neither arbitrary nor capricious in ruling as it did, and it upheld the dismissal of the case.
The Court of Appeal decision was initially unpublished, but several attorneys requested its publication, noting that in previous lawsuits BLC made similarly questionable excuses for not responding to discovery, including one case where a paralegal was supposedly unable to serve discovery responses because (1) her grandmother had to undergo emergency surgery, (2) an attorney’s aunt passed away, and (3) another attorney’s parents’ house exploded, caught fire, and was rendered uninhabitable – all simultaneously. The Court of Appeal therefore ordered its decision published.
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This article is based on the law as of the date posted at the top of the article. This article does not constitute the provision of legal advice, and does not by itself create an attorney-client relationship with Eskridge Law.