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Second Circuit: Rule 41 Dismissal Requires Five Factor Analysis

Second Circuit: Rule 41 Dismissal Requires Five Factor Analysis

by Mark Wilson

In September 24, 2014, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals held that a district court had improperly dismissed a New York prisoner’s lawsuit for failure to prosecute, without weighing the required factors.

Federal prisoner Harry Baptiste filed suit in federal court against a prison warden and three Bureau of Prisons (BOP) doctors, alleging deliberate indifference for misdiagnosing his lung condition and prescribing medication that may have exacerbated his symptoms.

On December 11, 2010, the district court dismissed all of the claims except a deliberate indifference claim against one doctor for refusing to order a biopsy that would have led to an accurate diagnosis.

The court allowed Baptiste to file an amended complaint alleging state law negligence or medical malpractice claims against two other doctors within 60 days.

On January 14, 2011, Baptiste filed a document entitled “Amended Complaint,” though it was actually a legal brief purporting to rebut the allegations of the defendants’ answer.

The district court directed the clerk to return the pleading and Baptiste never filed an amended complaint. After nearly two years of inactivity, the court issued a November 16, 2012 order to show cause why the suit should not be dismissed for failure to prosecute, under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 41(b).

Baptiste finally retained counsel who responded to the court’s show cause order. Citing Baptiste’s worsening medical condition and treatment, and noting he had just secured counsel, his attorney requested leave to file an amended complaint.

The court then ordered Baptiste’s counsel to submit “a memorandum showing good faith merit against particular defendants” and a plan to resolve the litigation within 60 days.

His attorney submitted a lengthy brief, outlining the basis of Baptiste’s claims against each defendant and representing that he and defense counsel agreed that it was impossible to resolve the case within 60 days.

The defendants acknowledged this impossibility but argued that the suit should be dismissed due to Baptiste’s failure “to do the admittedly impossible.” The district court then dismissed the action for failure to prosecute pursuant to Rule 41(b).

Noting that a district court must weigh five factors before dismissing under Rule 41(b), the Second Circuit reversed because the lower court’s order did “not refer to any of the factors relevant to a Rule 41(b) dismissal.”

Analyzing each of the five Rule 41(b) factors, the Court of Appeals concluded that “had the district court performed the required analysis, it would not have dismissed the case.” Baptiste’s suit was remanded to the district court, where it remains pending. See: Baptiste v. Sommers, 768 F.3d 212 (2d Cir. 2014).


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Related legal case

Baptiste v. Sommers