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DISCOVERY ABUSE & SANCTIONS
Discovery are authorized by Texas Rule of Civil Procedure 215. If a trial court finds that a party is
abusing the discovery process in seeking, making, or resisting discovery, then the trial court may,
after notice and hearing, impose any appropriate sanction authorized by Rule 215.2(b)(1)-(5) and
(8).TEX.R.CIV.P. 215.3. Rule 215.2(b)(2) permits a trial court to order a disobedient party or the
attorney advising him to pay all or any portion of the expenses of discovery, taxable court costs, or
both. Section 215.2(b)(8) permits a trial court to require a party failing to obey an order or the
attorney advising him, or both, to pay the reasonable expenses, including attorneys’ fees, caused
by the failure to obey the order.
Sanctions are used to assure compliance with discovery and deter those who might be
tempted to abuse discovery in the absence of a deterrent. Cire, 134 S.W.3d at 839. However, a trial
court may not impose a sanction that is more severe than necessary to satisfy its legitimate
purpose. Id.; see TransAmerican Natural Gas Corp. v. Powell, 811 S.W.2d 913, 917 (Tex. 1991).
Rule of Civil Procedure 215.2 authorizes a trial court to enter “just” sanctions against the party or
the attorney advising the party when the party fails to comply with a discovery order. Am. Flood
Research, Inc. v. Jones, 192 S.W.3d 581, 584 (Tex. 2006).
In determining whether the trial court abused its discretion, we must ensure that the sanctions
were appropriate or just. Am. Flood Research, 192 S.W.3d at 583. To determine if the sanctions
were appropriate or just, we undertake a two-part inquiry. Am. Flood Research, 192 S.W.3d at 583.
First, there must be a direct nexus between the offensive conduct and the sanction imposed. Id. We
should “examine whether punishment was imposed upon the true offender and tailored to remedy
any prejudice” caused by the conduct. Id. Second, we must make certain that less severe sanctions
would not have been sufficient to promote compliance. Id. That is, a sanction imposed for discovery
abuse should be no more severe than necessary to satisfy its legitimate purposes, which includes
securing compliance with discovery rules, deterring other litigants from similar misconduct, and
punishing violators. TransAmerican, 811 S.W.2d at 917; see Spohn Hosp. v. Mayer, 104 S.W.3d
878, 882 (Tex. 2003); Chrysler Corp. v. Blackmon, 841 S.W.2d 844, 849 (Tex. 1992). The Texas
Supreme Court requires courts to consider whether less stringent sanctions would fully promote
compliance. TransAmerican, 811 S.W.2d at 917; see Cire, 134 S.W.3d at 839; Spohn Hosp., 104 S.
W.3d at 882. Furthermore, absent any evidence as to the amount of the attorneys’ fees reasonably
incurred as a result of the sanctionable conduct, the order is unjust. SeeTEX.R.CIV.P. 215; In re
Ford Motor Co., 988 S.W.2d 714, 718 (Tex. 1998); TransAmerican, 811 S.W.2d at 917; Darya, Inc.
v. Christian, 251 S.W.3d 227, 232 (Tex.App--Dallas 2008, no pet.); Hanley v. Hanley, 813 S.W.2d
511, 522-23 (Tex.App.--Dallas 1991, no writ).
DEATH PENALTY SANCTIONS
When the discovery process is abused, a trial court may order sanctions as provided for by TEX. R.
CIV. P. 215. Such sanctions are discretionary and are reviewed on appeal for an abuse of
discretion. Am. Flood Research, Inc. v. Jones, 192 S.W.3d 581, 583 (Tex. 2006). A trial court
abuses its discretion when it acts without reference to any guiding rules and principles. Downer v.
Aquamarine Operators, Inc., 701 S.W.2d 238, 241-42 (Tex. 1985). When imposing sanctions for
discovery abuses, a trial court must look to the Texas Rules of Civil Procedure for guiding rules and
principles. Id. at 242.
Rule 215.2 requires that the sanction imposed be "just." See TransAmerican Natural Gas Corp. v.
Powell, 811 S.W.2d 913, 917 (Tex. 1991) (applying a former, similar version of Rule 215 that also
required the sanction to be "just"). The court in TransAmerican set forth the following standards as
setting the bounds for permissible discretionary sanctions under Rule 215:
In our view, whether an imposition of sanctions is just is measured by two standards. First, a direct
relationship must exist between the offensive conduct and the sanction imposed. This means that a
just sanction must be directed against the abuse and toward remedying the prejudice caused the
innocent party. It also means that the sanction should be visited upon the offender. The trial court
must at least attempt to determine whether the offensive conduct is attributable to counsel only, or
to the party only, or to both. This we recognize will not be an easy matter in many instances. On the
one hand, a lawyer cannot shield his client from sanctions; a party must bear some responsibility
for its counsel's discovery abuses when it is or should be aware of counsel's conduct and the
violation of discovery rules. On the other hand, a party should not be punished for counsel's
conduct in which it is not implicated apart from having entrusted to counsel its legal representation.
The point is, the sanctions the trial court imposes must relate directly to the abuse found.
Second, just sanctions must not be excessive. The punishment should fit the crime. A sanction
imposed for discovery abuse should be no more severe than necessary to satisfy its legitimate
purposes. It follows that courts must consider the availability of less stringent sanctions and whether
such lesser sanctions would fully promote compliance.
Id. at 917. Death penalty sanctions should not be used to deny a trial on the merits unless the guilty
party's conduct is so bad that it "justifies a presumption that its claims or defenses lack merit."
Hamill v. Level, 917 S.W.2d 15, 16 (Tex. 1996); Chrysler Corp. v. Blackmon, 841 S.W.2d 844, 850
(Tex. 1992); TransAmerican, 811 S.W.2d at 918.
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