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Ragatz v. Uninsured Employers' Fund

Court of Workers Compensation of Montana

October 17, 1997

MICHAEL RAGATZ Petitioner
v.
UNINSURED EMPLOYERS' FUND Respondent/Insurer for BEVERLY LUNCEFORD Claimant.

          ORDER IMPOSING SANCTIONS AND COMPELLING DISCOVERY

          Mike McCarter JUDGE

         Summary: Counsel for claimant, who is respondent in this case, failed to respond to interrogatories or to seek additional time based on claimant's alleged illness. Petitioner moved to compel and sought sanctions.

         Held: Sanctions in the amount of $300 are ordered against claimant's counsel personally, with direction that the cost not be passed on to claimant.

         Topics:

Discovery: Sanctions. Counsel for claimant, who is respondent in this case, failed to respond to interrogatories or to seek additional time based on claimant's alleged illness. Sanctions in the amount of $300 are ordered against claimant's counsel personally, with direction that the cost not be passed on to claimant.

         On September 30, 1997, the petitioner moved to compel answers to interrogatories and requests for production propounded upon the claimant, who is a respondent in this matter. The motion also sought sanctions.

         The Court ordered claimant to reply to the motion by October 3, 1997, and on that date it received Claimant's Brief in Opposition to Petitioner's Motion to Compel Discovery Responses and for Sanctions. At a pretrial conference held on October 6, 1997, this Court's hearing examiner directed claimant to answer the interrogatories by October 20, 1997. On October 9, 1997, the Court issued an Order to Show Cause as to why sanctions should not be imposed upon claimant and scheduled a hearing on the matter at 10:00 a.m., October 14, 1997, in Missoula.

         A hearing was held as scheduled. Mr. Jeffrey B. Hays appeared for petitioner, Mr. Kevin Braun for respondent Uninsured Employers' Fund, and Mr. Paul Tranel for claimant. Mr. Tranel appeared in place of Mr. Milton Datsopoulos, who is claimant's attorney of record in this case, because Mr. Datsopoulos had a conflicting commitment. At the conclusion of the hearing, the Court imposed sanctions against claimant's attorney in the amount of $300 and ordered that claimant's attorney pay that amount and not pass the amount on to claimant. It reaffirmed its hearing examiner's oral Order that claimant answer discovery by October 20, 1997.

         Facts

         On August 29, 1997, the petitioner served interrogatories and requests for production upon claimant. Under Rules 24.5.303, 24.5.323, and 24.5.324, claimant's responses to the discovery requests were due September 22, 1997. On September 23, 1997, counsel for petitioner wrote to counsel for claimant advising that he had not received the responses and requesting the responses be served no later than September 26, 1997. The letter noted that the case was set for trial during the week of October 13, 1997, and that time was of the essence. The letter also warned that if responses were not received by September 26, 1997, petitioner would move to compel the responses and would seek sanctions.

         No response or other communication was forthcoming from claimant's counsel and on October 1, 1997, the petitioner filed his motion to compel and request for sanctions. In his October 3, 1997 response to the motion, claimant's attorney indicated that claimant was too ill to provide responses.

         At the pretrial conference held on October 6th, claimant requested a continuance of the trial. Opposing counsel did not object, subject to agreement by UEF not to pursue enforcement of a lien against petitioner from district court. The request was granted. Had this Court denied the motion, this case would have gone to trial on October 14, 1997.

         Discussion

         Rule 24.5.326 governs sanctions for failure to respond to ...


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