Death Penalty Sanctions Not Justified by Blown Deadlines

In a lengthy opinion arising from a legal malpractice case, the court of appeals has reversed the judgment of the district court striking the plaintiffs’ experts and granting judgment for the defendants due to the lack of expert testimony. The experts had been struck after the plaintiff’s attorney had missed two previous disclosure deadlines, then failed to provide expert reports as required by the trial court’s amended scheduling order. The plaintiff argued that the trial court had issued improper “death penalty” sanctions, and the court of appeals agreed. There was nothing in the record indicating that the plaintiff herself bore any responsibility for her attorney’s failure to timely designate the experts, so there was no direct relationship between the plaintiff’s conduct and the sanction imposed. The court of appeals also held that the sanctions were excessive in any event, because the trial court had not previously awarded any lesser sanctions for the previous failures to timely designate the experts. It was not enough, the court of appeals held, for the trial court to simply recite that no lesser sanction would suffice because this was not the type of egregious and exceptional discovery abuse that would make death penalty sanctions “clearly justified” and “fully apparent.” However, the court of appeals also affirmed the trial court’s denial of the plaintiff’s motion for leave to file an amended petition after the pleading deadline, where the petition sought to add new claims and causes of action to the case.

Gunn v. Fuqua, No. 05-11-00162-cv

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