Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, or its state or local equivalents, empowers trial court judges to dismiss a case when a party commits contempt of court or otherwise violates court orders. Pietrangelo v. Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale & Dorr, an April 11 decision of the D.C. Court of Appeals, highlights a trial court’s discretion under the rule to dismiss for contumacious conduct.
James E. Pietrangelo, II sued WilmerHale, alleging legal malpractice arising out of the firm’s representation of Pietrangelo in his challenge to the now-repealed “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell,” law. The court dismissed 20 of Pietrangelo’s 23 counts for failure to state a claim, and D.C. Superior Court Judge Joan Zeldon granted summary judgment in favor of WilmerHale on one other count. Pietrangelo’s problems arose at the trial of the remaining two counts.