The death penalty of which we speak here has nothing to do with the death penalty that is imposed in a criminal case. A death penalty that is imposed in a civil case is a sanction in which the trial court dismisses a case, or otherwise cripples the case, without ever deciding the case on the merits. This usually occurs where a party fails to properly respond to discovery requests after that party has been repeatedly ordered by the trial court to do so.
The imposition of death penalty sanctions by a trial court is subject to some rather stringent standards and if those standards are not met, the sanctions can be reversed. One requirement is the death penalty sanctions must be “just”, which means, in part, that the penalty must be imposed on the offender. Frequently, an attorney will be responsible for the failure to properly respond to discovery requests and the client will often be unaware of the problem. This is not a proper case in which to impose a death penalty sanction. In order to impose a death penalty sanction, the trial court is required to attempt to determine whether the offensive conduct is attributable to counsel only, the client only, or to both.
Mr. Ryan has successfully reversed the imposition of death penalty sanctions in the following cases:
- New v. Albina, 1993 Tex. App. LEXIS 1847 (Tex. App.-Houston [14th Dist.] 1993, no writ) This was a medical malpractice case in which the trial court entered an order prohibiting the plaintiff from offering any expert testimony at trial or in response to any motion. On appeal, Mr. Ryan argued that this order was a death penalty sanction which effectively crippled plaintiff’s case since expert testimony is required in a medical malpractice case. Mr. Ryan also argued that the case did not meet the standards to impose a death penalty sanction. The Court of Appeals agreed and reversed and remanded the case.
- Hoa Dao v. Maryland Casualty Company, No. 09-13-00353-CV, (Tex. App.-Beaumont 2015, no pet.) In this case, a Montgomery county district court struck Ms. Dao’s pleading and dismissed her case for alleged discovery abuse. The trial court thus imposed a death penalty sanction. The Court of Appeals held that the imposition of death penalty sanctions was not warranted. The Court of Appeals thus reversed and remanded the case to the trial court.
Mr. Ryan is interested in reviewing cases that involve the obtaining, opposing, or appealing of summary judgments, either traditional summary judgments or no evidence summary judgments. He is also interested in reviewing cases that involve the obtaining, opposing, or appealing of death penalty sanction. Mr. Ryan primarily practices in the courts of the State of Texas rather than in federal courts.