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Jennings v. Valdez

United States District Court, N.D. Texas, Dallas Division

February 8, 2019

RICKEY LAVELL JENNINGS (BOP Register No. 55384-177), Plaintiff,
LUPE VALDEZ, Defendant.



         This pro se civil rights action has been referred to the undersigned United States magistrate judge for pretrial management under 28 U.S.C. § 636(b) and a standing order of reference from United States District Judge David C. Godbey.

         Plaintiff Rickey Lavell Jennings, a federal prisoner, brings claims against former Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez concerning medical care he received while at the Dallas County jail from December 2016 to February 2017. See Dkt. No. 3.

         The Court granted his motion to proceed in forma pauperis under the Prison Litigation Reform Act. See Dkt. Nos. 4 & 5. And, on December 10, 2018, entered a screening questionnaire to determine the nature of his deliberate indifference claim and the liability, if any, of Sheriff Valdez. See Dkt. No. 6.

         Through that questionnaire, the Court ordered Jennings to file verified responses to all questions no later than January 9, 2019 and warned him that “[f]ailure to provide complete and verified answers to all questions may result in the dismissal of this case for failure to prosecute under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b).” Id. at 1.

         It is now almost one month past the deadline for Jennings to comply, and he has yet to comply with the Court's order or otherwise contact the Court.

         The undersigned therefore enters these findings of fact, conclusions of law, and recommendation that the Court should dismiss this action without prejudice under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 41(b).

         Legal Standards and Analysis

         Rule 41(b) “authorizes the district court to dismiss an action sua sponte for failure to prosecute or comply with a court order.” Griggs v. S.G.E. Mgmt., L.L.C., 905 F.3d 835, 844 (5th Cir. 2018) (citing McCullough v. Lynaugh, 835 F.2d 1126, 1127 (5th Cir. 1988) (per curiam)); accord Nottingham v. Warden, Bill Clements Unit, 837 F.3d 438, 440 (5th Cir. 2016) (failure to comply with a court order); Rosin v. Thaler, 450 Fed.Appx. 383, 383-84 (5th Cir. 2011) (per curiam) (failure to prosecute). That authority “flows from the court's inherent power to control its docket and prevent undue delays in the disposition of pending cases.” Boudwin v. Graystone Ins. Co., Ltd., 756 F.2d 399, 401 (5th Cir. 1985) (citing Link v. Wabash R.R. Co., 370 U.S. 626 (1962)); see also Lopez v. Ark. Cnty. Indep. Sch. Dist., 570 F.2d 541, 544 (5th Cir. 1978) (“Although [Rule 41(b)] is phrased in terms of dismissal on the motion of the defendant, it is clear that the power is inherent in the court and may be exercised sua sponte whenever necessary to ‘achieve the orderly and expeditious disposition of cases.'” (quoting Link, 370 U.S. at 631)).

         A Rule 41(b) dismissal may be with or without prejudice. See Long v. Simmons, 77 F.3d 878, 879-80 (5th Cir. 1996).

Although “[l]esser sanctions such as fines or dismissal without prejudice are usually appropriate before dismissing with prejudice, ... a Rule 41(b) dismissal is appropriate where there is ‘a clear record of delay or contumacious conduct by the plaintiff and when lesser sanctions would not serve the best interests of justice.'”

Nottingham, 837 F.3d at 441 (quoting Bryson v. United States, 553 F.3d 402, 403 (5th Cir. 2008) (per curiam) (in turn quoting Callip v. Harris Cnty. Child Welfare Dep't, 757 F.2d 1513, 1521 (5th Cir. 1985))); see also Long, 77 F.3d at 880 (a dismissal with prejudice is appropriate only if the failure to comply with the court order was the result of purposeful delay or contumacious conduct and the imposition of lesser sanctions would be futile); cf. Nottingham, 837 F.3d at 442 (noting that “lesser sanctions” may “‘include assessments of fines, costs, or damages against the plaintiff, conditional dismissal, dismissal without prejudice, and explicit warnings'” (quoting Thrasher v. City of Amarillo, 709 F.3d 509, 514 (5th Cir. 2013))).

         When a dismissal is without prejudice but ‘the applicable statute of limitations probably bars future litigation, '” that dismissal operates as - i.e., it is reviewed as - “a dismissal with prejudice.” Griggs, 905 F.3d at 844 (quoting Nottingham, 837 F.3d at 441).

         By not responding to the questionnaire, as ordered by the Court, and thereby preventing this action from proceeding, Jennings has failed to prosecute his lawsuit and also has failed to obey a court order. A Rule 41(b) dismissal of this lawsuit without prejudice is warranted under these ...

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