United States District Court, D. Vermont
DECISION ON MOTION FOR SANCTIONS AND MOTION TO ADOPT
AMENDED SCHEDULING ORDER (Docs. 280, 284)
Geoffrey W. Crawford, Judge
defamation case arises out of the distribution of an
anonymous nine-page letter dated April 11, 2011 (the
"Letter"). The principal claim has long been that
Defendants distributed the Letter to numerous residents of
the Town of Addison. (See Doc. 34, Am. Compl.,
¶¶ 38-41.) In addition, however, Plaintiffs allege
that Defendant Carol Kauffman read selections from the Letter
to the Addison Town Selectboard at public meetings in June,
July and August 2011. (Id. ¶ 42.)
Motion for Sanctions (Doc. 280)
allegations in paragraph 42 turned out to be incorrect.
Selectboard meetings are recorded in Addison. Plaintiffs also
made their own recordings. The parties now agree that these
recordings demonstrate that Ms. Kauffman did not read
selections from the Letter at the public meeting. This
discovery came a little late in the legal process. Paragraph
42 provided the primary basis for a motion to strike the
claims against the Kauffmans on the ground that Vermont's
anti-SLAPP statute, 12 V.S.A. § 1041, protected them
from a defamation action. The court granted the motion in
part. Ernst v. Kauffman, 50 F.Supp.3d 553 (D. Vt.
2014). The Second Circuit dismissed the parties'
interlocutory appeal for lack of appellate jurisdiction.
Ernst v. Carrigan, 814 F.3d 116 (2d Cir. 2016).
case returned to the District Court in March 2016. On May 10,
2016, Ms. Kauffman through counsel served Requests to Admit
including a request to admit that Ms. Kauffman did not read
from the Letter at the three Selectboard meetings. (Docs.
144, 280-1.) Plaintiffs responded to the requests to admit as
follows: "Admit that Carol Kauffman did not specifically
reference the April 11, 2011 defamation letter. However, Mrs.
Kauffman made repeated statements concerning many of the
issues raised in that letter." (Doc. 280-2.) Ms.
Kauffman now seeks sanctions "incurred in proving the
truth of the assertions in Defendant's previously filed
Requests to Admit." (Doc. 280 at 1.)
difficulty with Ms. Kauffman's motion is that she
Obtained the admission she sought. Plaintiffs admitted that
she did not specifically reference the April 11, 2011
defamation letter. They did not deny it. By the time the
attorneys from both sides finally reviewed the transcripts of
the Selectboard meetings, there could be no doubt that-as
Plaintiffs admitted-"Carol Kauffman did not specifically
reference the April 11, 2011 defamation letter."
Ms. Kauffman through her counsel has two different complaints
about Plaintiffs' conduct. She argues that Plaintiffs
should never have alleged in their original and amended
complaints that they were defamed at the Selectboard
meetings. She contends that "[t]he entire allegation
contained in paragraph 42 ... is false in its entirety as it
pertains to alleged statements made by Barbara
'Carol' Kauffman at these three [Selectboard]
proceedings." (Doc. 280 at 3.) But a motion for
sanctions under Rule 37(c)(2) addresses only a failure to
admit. Rule 37 authorizes sanctions for discovery violations,
not for false or mistaken allegations in the complaint.
Kauffman also identifies Plaintiffs' attempt to qualify
their response to the request to admit as a basis for
sanctions. It is true that Plaintiffs added qualifying
language to their admission. They stated repeatedly in their
responses that "However, Mrs. Kauffman made repeated
statements concerning many of the issues raised in that
letter." (Doc. 280-2.)
the court's perspective, the request for admissions did
its job. It established that Ms. Kauffman never read from the
Letter at the Selectboard meetings. The qualification that
Ms. Kauffman made other critical statements about Plaintiffs
at the meetings is irrelevant since these are not alleged to
be defamatory. Shortly after serving the responses to the
requests to admit, Plaintiffs sought to withdraw all claims
that Ms. Kauffman defamed them before the Selectboard. (Doc.
268.) The court granted the motion (Doc. 287), and the
allegations of paragraph 42 are no longer part of the case.
court denies the motion for sanctions because there was never
a denial of the request to admit followed by its proof at
trial or at some other stage of the case. Instead, there was
an admission followed by a complete withdrawal of the
allegation in the complaint which gave rise to the issue.
That the admission was followed by a legally irrelevant
qualification is not the equivalent of a denial. If
Plaintiffs had not withdrawn the allegations about the
Selectboard meetings, their admission alone, backed up with
the transcript of the meeting, would have been sufficient to
support a motion for summary judgment.
Defendant Carol Kauffman cannot demonstrate that her request
to admit was met with a denial and that she then proved the
matter to be true, she has no legal basis for recovering
sanctions under Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(c). The Motion for Sanctions
(Doc. 280) is DENIED.
Motion to Adopt Amended Scheduling Order (Doc. 284)
court GRANTS the motion to amend the discovery schedule (Doc.
284) and has signed the proposed order. There is no need to
foreclose further interrogatories on the basis of date alone.
The issue of number of interrogatories is not before the
court is acutely aware of the need to bring this highly
emotional and contentious case to a trial or other just
resolution as quickly as possible consistent with due
process. It will ...