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Hughes v. Research Triangle Institute

United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina

September 3, 2014

TINA CARTER HUGHES, Plaintiff,
v.
RESEARCH TRIANGLE INSTITUTE, Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

L. PATRICK AULD, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Defendant's Motion to Compel Plaintiff to Respond to Plaintiff's Written Discovery (Docket Entry 43), Defendant's Motion to Compel and for Sanctions for Plaintiff's Failure to Appear for Deposition (Docket Entry 45), and Defendant's Motion for Extension of Time to Complete Discovery, Mediation, and File Dispositive Motions (Docket Entry 50). For the reasons that follow, the Court will grant Defendant's Motions to Compel and will grant in part Defendant's Motion for Extension of Time.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff's pro se Second Amended Complaint alleges racial discrimination and retaliation by Defendant, her former employer, in violation of Title VII. (Docket Entry 33 at 2-5.) At the Initial Pretrial Conference, held on January 27, 2014, the Parties agreed to a discovery deadline of July 31, 2014. (Text Order dated Jan. 28, 2014 (adopting Docket Entry 41, except as to mediator).)

Defendant served on Plaintiff its First Set of Interrogatories and its First Request for Production of Documents on May 1, 2014. (Docket Entry 43 at 2; see also Docket Entry 43-1 (interrogatories); Docket Entry 43-2 (requests for production).) On May 28, 2014, Defendant wrote Plaintiff and asked her to select from several proposed deposition dates. (Docket Entry 45-1 at 2.) Defendant and Plaintiff spoke via telephone, on May 30, 2014, concerning those written discovery and deposition requests. (Docket Entry 43 at 2-3; Docket Entry 45 at 2-3.) According to Defendant, Plaintiff stated that she would not produce documents in response to Defendant's requests and that she would not appear for a deposition. (Docket Entry 43 at 2-3; Docket Entry 45 at 2.) Plaintiff cited the distance from her home, her inability to miss work, and her need for 30-days advance notice as reasons for not attending a deposition, before she apparently hung up the telephone on Defendant. (Docket Entry 45 at 2; see also Docket Entry 48 at 1.) That same day, Defendant memorialized the telephone conversation in a letter to Plaintiff (Docket Entry 45-2) and noticed its intent to depose her on June 17, 2014 (Docket Entry 45-3 at 2).

Plaintiff did not respond to Defendants' written discovery requests (Docket Entry 43 at 3; see also Docket Entry 48 at 1-2) and did not appear for her deposition (Docket Entry 45 at 3-4; see also Docket Entry 48 at 1). Defendant filed its instant Motion to Compel Written Discovery on June 13, 2014 (Docket Entry 43) and its instant Motion to Compel Plaintiff's Deposition on June 20, 2014 (Docket Entry 45). Plaintiff responded to the latter Motion to Compel (Docket Entry 48), in which filing she also addressed her objection to the requested document production (id. at 1-3). On June 28, 2014, Defendant filed its instant Motion for Extension of Time (Docket Entry 50), seeking alteration of the discovery, mediation, and dispositive-motion deadlines, based on Plaintiff's noncompliance with her discovery obligations (id. at 1-5). The Clerk's Office attempted to contact Plaintiff to assess her position with respect to the instant Motion for Extension of Time and found that the telephone number she provided no longer remained in service. (Docket Entry dated July 31, 2014.) Plaintiff has not responded to Defendant's instant Motion for Extension of Time. (See Docket Entries dated July 28, 2014, to present.)

DISCUSSION

"The purpose of discovery is to provide a mechanism for making relevant information available to the litigants." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 advisory committee's note, 1983 amend. Further, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has declared that "[d]iscovery under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure is broad in scope and freely permitted." Carefirst of Md., Inc. v. Carefirst Pregnancy Ctrs., Inc. , 334 F.3d 390, 402 (4th Cir. 2003). In applying the foregoing principles, district judges and magistrate judges in the Fourth Circuit (including members of this Court) have repeatedly ruled that the party or person resisting discovery, not the party moving to compel discovery, bears the burden of persuasion. See Kinetic Concepts, Inc. v. ConvaTec Inc. , 268 F.R.D. 226, 243-44 (M.D. N.C. 2010) (citing cases).

A. Defendant's Motion to Compel Written Discovery

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure permit a party to direct interrogatories to the opposing party and requires that "[e]ach interrogatory must, to the extent it is not objected to, be answered separately and fully in writing under oath." Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(3). Similarly, the Rules provide that "[a] party may serve on any other party a request... to produce and permit the requesting party or its representative to inspect, copy, test, or sample [designated documents or electronically stored information] in the responding party's possession, custody, or control." Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a). To ensure compliance with those discovery obligations, "[a] party seeking discovery may move for an order compelling an answer, designation, production, or inspection... if... a party fails to answer an interrogatory submitted under Rule 33[] or [] a party fails to respond that inspection will be permitted - or fails to permit inspection - as requested under Rule 34." Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B).

Plaintiff acknowledges that she has not responded to Defendant's requests for written discovery. (See Docket Entry 48 at 1-2.) Plaintiff's Response asserts that she did not respond to Defendant's discovery requests because Defendant already has all the information it should have (id. at 1 ("Defendant was given 900 pages of [Plaintiff's] employee file along with other documentation (emails, etc.), ha[s] copy of the EEOC filing (or access to it), and ha[s] the questions answered from their original discovery paper work see exhibit [sic].")), she does not have access to some of the requested documents (see id. ("Certain files were unable to obtain [sic] like employee work search as they are all electronic and all certifications to Employment Security Exchange Commission were given through computerized system.")), and she believes that certain medical records do not bear relevance to this suit (see id. ("Medical records were not turned over because it does not weigh in the charge against this company and no one can prove that my other ailments were a result of [Defendant's] treatment or not and have consulted with one of my physicians.")).

Plaintiff's arguments in this regard lack merit. First, if Plaintiff had grounds for objecting to particular interrogatories or document requests, Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 33 and 34 required her to state those grounds specifically in response to each discovery request, before the response deadline. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(2), (3), and (4); Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(A) and (B). Further, Plaintiff cannot expect Defendant to comb through nearly one thousand pages of documents to determine which documents relate to each of its requests. As part of Plaintiff's discovery obligations, she must identify the documents which respond to each request. See, e.g., Hagemeyer N. Am., Inc. v. Gateway Data Scis. Corp. , 222 F.R.D. 594, 598 (E.D. Wis. 2004) ("When producing documents, the responding party cannot attempt to hide a needle in a haystack by mingling responsive documents with large numbers of nonresponsive documents."). Additionally, Plaintiff has not explained why she could not produce electronic records in response to Defendant's requests. See, e.g., S.E.C. v. Collins & Aikman Corp. , 256 F.R.D. 403, 417 (S.D.N.Y. 2009) (noting that "electronically stored information is subject to discovery" and finding unacceptable responding party's "blanket refusal" to provide such information). Moreover, Plaintiff's bare assertion that her medical records bear no relevance to this action, without any further explanation, does not suffice. See, e.g., Mancia v. Mayflower Textile Servs. Co. , 253 F.R.D. 354, 359 (D. Md. 2008) (stating that party resisting production of documents must state reasons for objection with particularity). Finally, Plaintiff has not stated any grounds for her failure to answer Defendant's interrogatories. (See Docket Entry 48 at 1-3.)

For these reasons, Plaintiff has not satisfied her burden of persuasion as the party resisting discovery. Plaintiff thus must properly respond to Defendant's interrogatories ...


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