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Pontones v. San Jose Restaurant, Inc.

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

April 9, 2019




         This matter is before the court on Plaintiffs motion to compel discovery [DE-49], Defendants' response in opposition [DE-55], and the parties' joint status report [DE-64]. For the reasons that follow, the motion is denied.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiff alleges Defendants failed to pay Plaintiff and other similarly situated employees the requisite minimum wage and overtime compensation and unlawfully withheld a portion of Plaintiff s tips in violation of state and federal wage and hour laws, specifically the Fair Labor Standards Act ("FLSA"), 29U.S.C. § 201 etseq., and the North Carolina Wage and Hour Act ("NCWHA"), N.C. Gen. Stat. § 95-25.1 etseq., and seeks to bring a collective action under 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) and a class action under Fed.R.Civ.P. 23. Am. Compl. [DE-7]. The parties engaged in pre-certification discovery limited to the factual circumstances underlying a potential motion for class certification. PL's Am. Mem [DE-59] at 4.[1] In the course of pre-certification discovery, Plaintiff served on Defendants a First Set of Request for Production of Documents and a First Set of Interrogatories. Id. Defendants produced written responses, including objections, and later produced amended responses. Id.

         After unsuccessful attempts by counsel to resolve Plaintiff s perceived deficiencies, Plaintiff filed the instant motion to compel, which asserts that Defendants inadequately responded to fourteen interrogatories and ten document requests. [DE-49], In their response, Defendants endorsed some of their prior obj ections and noted that Plaintiff s meet-and-confer letter and memorandum in support did not address several of Defendants' objections, but Defendants also indicated they would supplement their prior responses to a number of Plaintiff s requests. [DE-55]. Plaintiff then filed an amended memorandum in support of the motion, which asserted that no additional information or documents had been produced by Defendants at that time. [DE-59]. The court ordered counsel for the parties to engage in further meet-and-confer efforts regarding the matters raised in Plaintiffs motion and to file a status report with the court detailing which matters had been resolved and which remained in dispute for the court's determination. [DE-61]. The parties have now informed the court that there remain in dispute two interrogatories, Nos. 3 and 13, and two document requests, Nos. 7 and 12. [DE-64]. The court commends counsel on their work in resolving several of the issues originally presented.


         "Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). "Relevancy under this rule has been broadly construed to encompass any possibility that the information sought may be relevant to the claim or defense of any party." Equal Emp 't Opportunity Comm'n v. Sheffield Fin. LLC, No. 1:06CV00889, 2007 WL 1726560, at *3 (M.D. N.C. June 13, 2007); Mainstreet Collection, Inc. v. Kirkland's, Inc., 270 F.R.D. 238, 240 (E.D. N.C. 2010) ("During discovery, relevance is broadly construed 'to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case.'") (quoting Oppenheimer Fund., Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978)).

         "A party seeking discovery may move for an order compelling an answer, designation, production, or inspection" if a party fails to answer an interrogatory or to produce or make available for inspection requested documents. Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B)(iii), (iv). For purposes of a motion to compel, "an evasive or incomplete disclosure, answer, or response must be treated as a failure to disclose, answer, or respond." Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(4). However, the Federal Rules also provide that

the court must limit the frequency or extent of discovery otherwise allowed by these rules or by local rule if it determines that: (i) the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, or can be obtained from some other source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive; (ii) the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information by discovery in the action; or (iii) the proposed discovery is outside the scope permitted by Rule 26(b)(1).

Fed. R Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C). "Additionally, the court has 'substantial discretion' to grant or deny motions to compel discovery." English v. Johns, No. 5:ll-CT-3206-D, 2014 WL 555661, at *4 (E.D. N.C. Feb. 11, 2014) (quoting Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon, Inc. v. Alpha of Va., Inc., 43 F.3d 922, 929 (4th Cir. 1995)). Finally, the party seeking the court's protection from responding to discovery "must make a particularized showing of why discovery should be denied, and conclusory or generalized statements fail to satisfy this burden as a matter of law." Mainstreet Collection, 270 F.R.D. at 240 (citation omitted). Accordingly, as the party objecting to discovery, it is Defendants' i burden to show why discovery should be denied.

         A. Interrogatory No. 3

          In Interrogatory No. 3, Plaintiff seeks information to identify potential putative class members.

INTERROGATORY NO. 3: During the Relevant Time Period, identify all putative plaintiffs/class members or current and/or former employees who performed work for Defendants. This includes, but is not limited to, those individuals who were non-exempt, paid a salary, or only received tips as wages, and/or were charged any percentage of total sales from each table. In so identifying these individuals, include the individual's full name, last known address, telephone number (including cell phone number) and e-mail address.

         Jt. Status Rpt. [DE-64] at 3. Plaintiff contends this information is "highly relevant to a motion for class or collective action certification" and that the court has allowed such discovery in similar matters. Id. (citing Mondragon v. Scott Farms, Inc., No. 5:17-CV-00356-FL, 2019 WL 366870, at *8 (E.D. N.C. Jan. 5, 2019)); PL's Am. Mem. [DE-59] at 7. Defendants contend this interrogatory is premature because the actual names and addresses of its employees are not necessary for Plaintiffs class certification motion. Jt. Status Rpt. [DE-64] at 4-5 (citing Mitchell v. Acosta Sales,LLC, No. CV 11-1796-GAF (OPX), 2011 WL 13309060, at *5 (CD. Cal. Aug. 29, 2011)). Defendants ...

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