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Second Circuit Issues a Significant Decision on Administrative Closure in Favor of Pro Bono Client

Paul, Weiss succeeded in vacating a district court administrative closure order of our pro bono client’s claims against prison officials. Our client’s claims related to a debilitating stroke he suffered while imprisoned in New York and retaliation he suffered when he filed a complaint about the inadequate medical care he received. The Second Circuit’s decision is the first time the court has addressed the standard that applies when a district court considers whether to administratively close a case due to a plaintiff’s unavailability.

While discovery was ongoing, our client, Jose Rodriguez, was released from prison and deported to the Dominican Republic. Subsequently, the district court sua sponte administratively closed the case due to the purported logistical difficulties arising from Mr. Rodriguez’s deportation, including that Mr. Rodriguez would not be able to return to the United States to be deposed or testify at trial, or to sit for a physical examination by a medical expert. The district court further specified in its order that the case could only be reopened if Mr. Rodriguez returns to the United States, which he is unable to do as a result of his felony convictions.

In vacating the district court’s administrative closure order and remanding the case, the Second Circuit held that “administrative closure in such circumstances is a last resort that is appropriate only when all other alternatives are virtually impossible or so impractical as to significantly interfere with the operations of the district court or impose an unreasonable burden on the party opposing the plaintiff’s claim.” Applying this standard, the Second Circuit found that the district court abused its discretion in administratively closing the case, because there are numerous workable alternatives that do not require Mr. Rodriguez to be physically present in the United States. In particular, the Second Circuit found no reason that Mr. Rodriguez could not be deposed and testify at trial through videoconferencing with the aid of his pro bono counsel. The Second Circuit also found that the district court had failed to explore ways for the defendants to conduct a physical examination of Mr. Rodriguez in the Dominican Republic, such as by sending an expert there or by hiring a local doctor.

The Paul, Weiss team includes litigation counsel Karen King and associates Robert O’Loughlin, who argued the appeal, Alicia Walker and Edward Nasser. Litigation partner Jane O’Brien supervised the matter.

August 31, 2020

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