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Lopez v. Chertoff

UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT EASTERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA


June 2, 2009

JUAN CARLOS VALADEZ LOPEZ, PLAINTIFF,
v.
MICHAEL CHERTOFF, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.

The opinion of the court was delivered by: Honorable Ronald S.W. Lew Senior, U.S. District Court Judge

ORDER DENYING COMPEL PRODUCTION OF PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO DOCUMENTS AND ) ELECTRONICALLY-STORED INFORMATION FROM FEDERAL DEFENDANTS, AND FROM ICE RECORDS CUSTODIAN

Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Production of Documents and Electronically-Stored Information From Federal Defendants, and From ICE Records Custodian [Do. No. 124] was set for hearing on May 15, 2009, Having taken the matter under submission on May 13, 2009, and having reviewed all papers submitted pertaining to this motion the Court, NOW FINDS AND RULES AS FOLLOWS:

I. Plaintiff's Motion to Compel in Regards to ICE

The Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion to Compel in Regards to the Custodian of Records and the Field Office Director of the San Francisco District Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement ("ICE Records Custodian" or "ICE").

5 U.S.C. §301 "authorizes the head of each executive department to prescribe regulations governing the procedure by which its records will be made available to the public."*fn1 United States v. Henson, 123 F.3d 1226, 1237 (9th Cir. 1997). While this "does not allow an agency to refuse to disclose [discoverable] information, it does allow an agency to choose who may disclose the information and the procedure to be followed for such disclosure." United States v. Henson, 123 F.3d 1226, 1237 (9th Cir. 1997). For example, § 301 allows a federal agency to create internal regulations for responding to a subpoena request, as well as procedures for litigants serving such subpoena requests. See 6 C.F.R. §§ 5.41-5.49 (containing the Department of Homeland Security's regulations regarding disclosure of records in litigation promulgated pursuant to § 301).

In United States v. Henson, the Ninth Circuit found that a district court did not abuse its discretion in quashing a subpoena that did not follow the federal agency's Touhy procedures. See also Lerner v. District of Columbia, 2005 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 10154, 10-11 (D.D.C. Jan. 7, 2005) (court denied motion to compel because plaintiff did not comply with federal agency's Touhy regulations for requesting documents. Specifically, plaintiff did not comply with 6 C.F.R. § 5.45, stating that Plaintiff "set forth in writing, and with as much specificity as possible, the nature and relevance of the official information sought.").

Plaintiff is correct that a federal agency cannot promulgate procedures that allow it to prevent litigants from obtaining discoverable information. However, courts are clear that internal agency procedures that regulate how an agency will respond to a subpoena request are valid. This includes regulations on how a litigant can request information.

In this case, ICE is not hiding under its Touhy Regulations in order to assert that it does not need to comply with a valid subpoena request. Instead, ICE refused to respond to the subpoena until Plaintiff complied with the proper procedures for requesting his A-File.*fn2 This included, pursuant to 6 C.F.R. §§ 5.41- 5.49, the requirement that a litigant "set forth in writing, and with as much specificity as possible, the nature and relevance of the official information sought." 6 C.F.R. § 5.45(a). Instead, Plaintiff only requested for the ICE Custodian of Records to produce:

the original complete 'file' of plaintiff Juan Carlos Valadez Lopez (A98-255-081) which defendant Yakov Grinberg 'oversaw' as described in his Statement of Undisputed Facts, Document 20-2 at 1:20-21, filed in the above captioned matter...

Plaintiff did not amend his request, despite the fact that ICE's Counsel instructed Plaintiff that ICE would comply if Plaintiff followed the agency's regulations. The Supreme Court in Touhy has upheld the use of these regulations, and the Ninth Circuit in Henson has stated that an agency may choose the procedures to be followed for [information] disclosure. Therefore, the Court will not compel ICE to respond to the subpoena request because the request did not follow ICE's Touhy Regulations for document requests.*fn3*fn4

Lastly, Plaintiff argues that the ICE waived all its objections by failing to comply with the deadlines set forth in Rule 45(c)(2)(B). On March 17, 2009, Plaintiff served his subpoena to the ICE Records Custodian. The subpoena sought production of Plaintiff's A-File by March 26, 2009. ICE filed written objections on March 31, 2009.

Rule 45(c)(2)(B) states that if a person objects to the subpoena's document request, "[t]he objection must be served before the earlier of the time specified for compliance or 14 days after the subpoena is served."

Plaintiff argues that the objections were waived because they were provided five days after the subpoena's stated date for production. Plaintiff emphasizes that Rule 45 states that "[t]he objection must be served before the earlier of the time specified for compliance or 14 days after the subpoena is served. In other words, the word "earlier" modifies both "time specified for compliance" and "14 days." Therefore, he argues, the time specified for compliance was before fourteen days, and therefore was the earlier of the two times.

"Under Rule 45, the nonparty served with the subpoena duces tecum may make objections to the subpoena duces tecum within 14 days after service or before the time for compliance, if less than 14 days." Moon v. SCP Pool Corp., 232 F.R.D. 633, 636 (C.D. Cal. 2005). In other words, the word "earlier" does not modify 14 days. This interpretation comports with the intention of the rule. The prior version of paragraph (c)(2) gave non-parties ten days to respond to a subpoena. When the rule was amended, the committee stated that "[t]he 10-day period for response to a subpoena is extended to 14 days to avoid the complex calculations associated with short time periods under Rule 6 and to allow a bit more time for such objections to be made." See Fed. R. Civ. Pro. 45 Advisory Committee Notes on 1991 amendments to Rules. Therefore, it is illogical in light of the Committee's intention to give parties' more time to respond, to accept Plaintiff's interpretation of Rule 45.

Therefore, Plaintiff's Motion to Compel in regards to ICE is DENIED.

II. Plaintiff's Motion to Compel in Regards to Federal Defendants

The Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion to Compel in regards to Federal Defendants.

Plaintiff has sued Federal Defendants in their individual capacities. Federal Defendants objected to Plaintiff's Rule 34 Request because it sought official government records of which they do not have custody or control. Federal Defendants' Counsel advised Plaintiff that the requested documents were under ICE's control. Plaintiff argues that Federal Defendants are being represented by Department of Justice attorneys who have access to Plaintiff's A-File, and therefore, Federal Defendants have custody or control of Plaintiff's A-File.*fn5

Individual federal employees do not have custody or control over government documents. See Lowe v. District of Columbia, 250 F.R.D. 36, 39 (D.D.C. 2008). In Lowe, the court explained, "As a government employee, ... [a defendant's] 'control' of documents created in the ordinary course of the government's business is secondary to that of his employer; he cannot on his own initiative remove government files and provide them to a third party." Id. Moreover, in Touhy, the Supreme Court examined "...whether the Attorney General [could] validly withdraw from his subordinates the power to release department papers" in their custody or control. Touhy, 340 U.S. at 468. The Court held that such action was proper. Id. at 463.*fn6

Similarly, in this case, Plaintiff cannot compel Federal Defendants to produce Plaintiff's A-File. ICE regulations specifically prohibit an employee from responding to a subpoena without authorization.*fn7

Moreover, Plaintiff sued Federal Defendants in their individual capacities, yet seeks to have them produce documents held by their employer, ICE. Plaintiff cannot use Rule 34 to discover matters from a nonparty. Hatch v. Reliance Ins. Co., 758 F.2d 409, 416 (9th Cir. 1985). As Federal Defendants' Counsel previously advised Plaintiff, he should have sought this information directly from ICE.

Plaintiff argues that Federal Defendants' objections should be waived because they did not provide their objections in a timely manner as required by Rule 34. Federal Defendants attach Exhibit 7 which purports to be an email from Plaintiff's Counsel granting them an extension to assert their objections. Plaintiff argues that Federal Defendants have misrepresented the nature of the email because it was granting an extension for Federal Defendants' response to interrogatories. Reviewing the arguments and emails, the Court cannot be certain which party is correct. However, the email does appear to grant a one week extension for "discovery responses," and there is no prejudice since the response was less than one week overdue.

Therefore, this Court DENIES Plaintiff's Motion to Compel in regards to Federal Defendants.

IT IS SO ORDERED.


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