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Rhodes v. Ingram

United States District Court, E.D. North Carolina, Southern Division

March 10, 2015

DAVID RHODES and DARLENE HOLLAND, Plaintiffs,
v.
JOHN INGRAM, in his official capacity as Sheriff of Brunswick County; TIMOTHY CLEMMONS; TINA EDWARDS; and WESTERN SURETY COMPANY, Defendants. TIMOTHY CLEMMONS, Counterclaim Plaintiff,
v.
DAVID RHODES, Counterclaim Defendant.

ORDER

JAMES E. GATES, Magistrate Judge.

In this case, plaintiffs David Rhodes ("Rhodes") and Darlene Holland ("Holland") (collectively "plaintiffs") assert claims under 28 U.S.C. § 1983 and North Carolina law against defendants Brunswick County Sheriff John Ingram and defendants Timothy Clemmons ("Clemmons") and Tina Edwards ("Edwards"), both officers within the Sheriff's Office (collectively "defendants"). ( See, e.g., Compl. (D.E. 1-2) ¶¶ 3-4, 78-113). The surety on the Sheriff's bond, Western Surety Company, is also a defendant. ( See id. ¶ 8). Clemmons has counterclaimed against Rhodes for defamation and slander. ( See Ctrclm. (D.E. 11 at 18-23)). The claims arise from execution of a state search warrant by officers of the Brunswick County Sheriff's Office at Holland's residence on 12 February 2013 when Rhodes, although not Holland, was present and a warrantless search of Rhodes' residence shortly thereafter. ( See, e.g., Compl. ¶¶ 27-28, 49-52). The warrant sought stolen property allegedly bought by plaintiffs at a flea market. ( See, e.g., id. ¶¶ 17, 22, 26). Plaintiffs claim that the search of Holland's residence exceeded the scope of the search warrant and was executed with undue force against Rhodes, and that the search of Rhodes' residence exceeded the scope of the consent Rhodes provided for it. ( See, e.g., id. ¶ 82). Plaintiffs seek compensatory and punitive damages and other relief. ( See id. 21-22, Prayer for Relief).

By order of presiding Senior District Judge W. Earl Britt (D.E. 40 at 2), the case comes before the undersigned magistrate judge for disposition pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A) of plaintiffs' motion (D.E. 31) to compel responses to their first set of interrogatories and requests for production to defendants, [1] including plaintiffs' request for attorney's fees and other expenses. Other motions were included in the same document as the motion to compel, but Judge Britt has addressed them. ( See D.E. 40 at 2-3). For the reasons and on the terms set forth below, the motion to compel will be allowed in part and denied in part.

APPLICABLE LEGAL STANDARDS

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure enable parties to obtain information, including documents, by serving requests for discovery on each other, among them interrogatories and requests for production of documents. See generally Fed.R.Civ.P. 26-37. Rule 26 provides for a broad scope of discovery:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense.... For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant to the subject matter involved in the action.

Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). The rules of discovery, including Rule 26, are to be given broad and liberal construction. Herbert v. Lando, 441 U.S. 153, 177 (1979); Nemecek v. Bd. of Governors, No. 2:98-CV-62-BO, 2000 WL 33672978, at *4 (E.D. N.C. 27 Sep. 2000).

While Rule 26 does not define what is deemed relevant for purposes of the rule, relevance has been "broadly construed to encompass any possibility that the information sought may be relevant to the claim or defense of any party.'" EEOC v. Sheffield Fin. LLC, No. 1:06CV889, 2007 WL 1726560, at *3 (M.D. N.C. 13 June 2007) (quoting Merrill v. Waffle House, Inc., 227 F.R.D. 467, 473 (N.D. Tex. 2005)). The district court has broad discretion in determining relevance for discovery purposes. Watson v. Lowcountry Red Cross, 974 F.2d 482, 489 (4th Cir. 1992). The party resisting discovery bears the burden of establishing the legitimacy of its objections. Brey Corp. v. LQ Mgmt., L.L.C., No. AW-11-cv-00718-AW, 2012 WL 3127023, at *4 (D. Md. 26 July 2012) ("In order to limit the scope of discovery, the party resisting discovery bears the burden of showing why [the discovery requests] should not be granted.'" (quoting Clere v. GC Servs., L.P., No. 3:10-cv-00795, 2011 WL 2181176, at *2 (S.D. W.Va. 2011))). In addition, the court may limit the extent of discovery otherwise allowable where "the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, considering the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, and the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C)(iii); see also Basile Baumann Prost Cole & Assocs., Inc. v. BBP & Assocs. LLC, No. WDQ-11-2478, 2013 WL 1622001, at *3 (D. Md. 9 Apr. 2013) ("Further, [a]ll discovery is subject to the [proportionality] limitations imposed by Rule 26(b)(2)(C).'" (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1))).

Rule 37 allows for the filing of a motion to compel discovery responses. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B)(iv).

DISCUSSION

I. Objections Based on N.C. Gen. Stat. § 153A-98

N.C. Gen. Stat. § 153A-98(c) protects the confidentiality of the personnel files of county employees, but provides an exception when disclosure is ordered by a court of competent jurisdiction. The statute reads:

All information contained in a county employee's personnel file, other than the information made public by subsection (b) of this section, is confidential and shall be open to inspection only in the following instances:
....
(4) By order of a court of competent jurisdiction, any person may examine such portion of an employee's personnel file ...

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