Dismissal of Complaint Affirmed Due to Discovery Failures

A recent decision, Williams v. Suttle, 2019 NY Slip Op 00163 (App. Div. 2d Dept. Jan. 9, 2019), illustrates the perils of failing to comply with discovery orders.

From the decision:

Here, the willful and contumacious character of the plaintiffs’ actions can be inferred from their repeated failures to comply with the defendant’s notices to appear for depositions and the deadlines set forth in the compliance conference orders over an extended period of time (see Wolf v Flowers, 122 AD3d 728, 729; Matone v Sycamore Realty Corp., 87 AD3d 1113, 1114). Furthermore, the plaintiffs failed to provide an adequate explanation for their repeated failures to comply with court-ordered discovery. While the plaintiffs established that the medical condition of Lawrey, who is a resident of the State of Georgia, required her to avoid travel and that her deposition could be conducted via live video conferencing (see Duncan v 605 Third Ave., LLC, 49 AD3d 494, 496), they did not provide any explanation for their failure to produce Williams, a resident of Westchester County, for a deposition.

Contrary to the plaintiffs’ contention, the defendant, who had first noticed depositions after serving her answer, had priority of depositions (see CPLR 3106[a]; Scalone v Phelps Mem. Hosp. Ctr., 184 AD2d 65, 76-77), and the filing of an amended complaint did not automatically stay discovery.

In any event, when the plaintiffs failed to appear for depositions within the time specified in the conditional order of dismissal, the conditional order became absolute (see Corex-SPA v Janel Group of N.Y., Inc., 156 AD3d at 602; Wei Hong Hu v Sadiqi, 83 AD3d 820, 821; Matter of Denton v City of Mount Vernon, 30 AD3d 600). To be relieved of the adverse impact of the conditional order directing dismissal of the complaint, the plaintiffs were required to demonstrate a reasonable excuse for their failure to appear for depositions and that their cause of action was potentially meritorious (see Gibbs v St. Barnabas Hosp., 16 NY3d 74, 80; Kirkland v Fayne, 78 AD3d 660, 661; Lerner v Ayervais, 16 AD3d 382; Smith v Lefrak Org., 96 AD2d 859, affd 60 NY2d 828). The plaintiffs failed to demonstrate a reasonable excuse for their failure to appear for depositions on or before February 29, 2016.