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Click here for the full text of this decision FACTS:Gordon Duff Culwell and William Patrick Conrad, both white males, contended they were unlawfully discriminated against when they were fired from their jobs as building code inspectors. They alleged unlawful racial discrimination and retaliation under title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, 42 U.S.C. �2000(e) et seq., and the Texas Commission on Human Rights Act (TCHRA), Texas Labor Code ��21.001-21.556. The city claimed that it terminated plaintiffs solely because an investigation had revealed that they used their positions as building inspectors to keep properties out of the inspection process while they acquired title and then resold the properties at a substantial profit. On Nov. 23, 2004, the district court issued a scheduling order establishing that motions for summary judgment were to be filed by Sept. 8, 2005, and discovery was to be completed by Oct. 31, 2005. Until Aug. 11, 2005, plaintiffs neither made any document requests nor took any depositions. On Aug. 11, plaintiffs served the city with a request for production of documents. On Sept. 12, the city raised objections to 37 categories of documents sought. Meanwhile, on Sept. 8, the city moved for summary judgment. The requested documents the city produced arrived at plaintiffs’ lawyer’s offices on Sept. 23, 13 days later than had been specified in the plaintiffs’ document request. On Sept. 28, the last day of the 20-day period for response to a motion prescribed by Northern District of Texas Local Rule 7(e), plaintiffs filed a Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 56(f) motion for leave to extend time to file their response to the city’s motion for summary judgment. The motion was unfiled by the district court later that day for failure to comply with a prohibition against pleadings “signed by a law firm.” According to plaintiffs’ counsel, he did not learn that the district court had unfiled his rule 56(f) motion until Oct. 17, when he inquired about the disposition of the motion. On Oct. 18, plaintiffs filed a duplicate Rule 56(f) motion that apparently was not deemed by the district court to have been “signed by a law firm.” Nevertheless, on Oct. 19 the court issued a brief order denying plaintiffs’ motion as untimely and meritless. The same day, the court granted summary judgment. Culwell and Conrad appealed. HOLDING:Affirmed in part, reversed in part and remanded. The district court, the court stated, abused its discretion by unfiling Culwell and Conrad’s first Rule 56(f) motion as a sanction for violation of its pretrial order prohibiting motions signed by a law firm. As a result, the court stated, the court reversibly erred by deeming plaintiffs’ second Rule 56(f) motion untimely. The court also abused its discretion in ruling that the refiled Rule 56(f) motion was meritless with respect to plaintiffs’ claims of racial discrimination, the court stated. The court stated that “it seems a basic principle of fairness and good judgment that no party should lose a case solely because his lawyer listed the name and address of a law firm above, rather than below, the lawyer’s signature.” A court may not use dismissal with prejudice as a sanction under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 16(f) unless it finds that a lesser sanction would not serve the interests of justice and there is a clear record of delay or contumacious conduct by a party, the court further stated. Plaintiffs’ conduct did not even approach that necessary to warrant such a sanction, the court stated. The court also abused its discretion when it determined, with respect to the Oct. 18 motion, that even had it been timely filed, it would have been meritless, the court stated. Rule 56(f), the court noted, allows for further discovery to safeguard non-moving parties from summary judgment motions that they cannot adequately oppose. With respect to the claims of unlawful discrimination, the Rule 56(f) motion should have been granted. The plaintiffs, however, made no answer to the city’s showing that there was no evidence as to whether they were subjected to retaliation and a hostile work environment. The city is entitled to summary judgment on these claims, the court stated. OPINION:Smith, J.; Smith, Wiener and Owen, J.J.

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