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Andrew Contasti; Annette Contasti; and v. City of Solana Beach

January 24, 2013

ANDREW CONTASTI; ANNETTE CONTASTI; AND JOE HERNANDEZ, PLAINTIFFS,
v.
CITY OF SOLANA BEACH,
DEFENDANT.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Barbara L. Major United States Magistrate Judge

ORDER GRANTING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR LEAVE TO DESIGNATE TWO EXPERT WITNESSES, PROPOUND DOCUMENT DEMANDS, ) AND TAKE UP TO FOUR DEPOSITIONS [ECF No. 80]

Currently before the Court is Plaintiffs' Motion for Leave to Designate Two Expert Witnesses, Propound Document Demands, and Take up to Four Depositions. ECF No. 80. The Court finds this matter appropriate for decision without oral argument. Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); Local Civil Rule 7.1(d)(1). Having found good cause after considering the moving, opposing, and replying papers, the Court GRANTS Plaintiffs' Motion for the reasons set forth below.

BACKGROUND

On January 28, 2010, Plaintiffs filed an amended complaint*fn1 alleging, inter alia, that Defendant violated their Due Process and Equal Protection rights by denying their application for a building permit on one of their two adjacent properties located in the City of Solana Beach. ECF No. 15. On April 29, 2011, Defendant filed a motion for summary judgment against Plaintiffs. ECF No. 32. Plaintiffs' then-attorney, Frederik Jacobsen, failed to file an opposition to the motion. On July 26, 2011, District Judge William Q. Hayes granted the motion for summary judgment against Plaintiffs. ECF No. 36.

On January 24, 2012, Plaintiffs filed a motion for relief from judgment stating that their then-attorney, Frederik Jacobsen, had suffered a stroke and failed to apprise Plaintiffs of the status of the case. ECF No. 45 at 8-9. On June 28, 2012, Plaintiffs relieved Frederik Jacobsen as counsel and began representing themselves pro se. ECF Nos. 58-60. On July 9, 2012, Judge Hayes granted Plaintiffs' motion for relief from judgment after finding that Plaintiffs had "demonstrated excusable neglect and extraordinary circumstances sufficient to warrant relief from judgment." ECF No. 61 at 6. On July 18, 2012, Plaintiffs retained new counsel and on August 6, 2012, Plaintiffs filed an opposition to Defendant's motion for summary judgment. ECF No. 69. On September 18, 2012, Judge Hayes denied the motion for summary judgment and ordered the parties to contact this Court for a scheduling conference. ECF No. 71. On October 3, 2012, this Court conducted the scheduling conference and after verifying that neither wanted to conduct additional discovery, issued an order directing the parties to file their pretrial conference order no later than January 4, 2013, and setting the final pretrial conference before District Judge Hayes on January 11, 2013. ECF No. 73.

In their current briefing, Plaintiffs assert that after defeating Defendant's motion for summary judgment, Plaintiffs ran out of money and could not afford to pay their counsel to designate expert witnesses, conduct discovery, or take the case to trial. ECF No. 80, Decl. Andrew Contasti at ¶ 13. Consequently, Plaintiffs were forced to find an attorney who would take the case on a contingency basis. Id. at ¶ 14. On December 7, 2012, Plaintiffs retained their current counsel. ECF No. 77.

On December 21, 2012, Plaintiffs filed the Motion currently before the Court. ECF No. 80. On January 9, 2013, Defendant filed an opposition. ECF No. 85. Plaintiffs filed a reply on January 16, 2013. ECF No. 86.

DISCUSSION

Plaintiffs' instant motion seeks leave to "designate appraiser Robert Backer and Andrew Contasti as expert witnesses, to propound one set of document demands on Defendant City of Solana Beach[], to depose up to three percipient witnesses, and to depose Defendant's rebuttal appraisal expert Gary L. Rasmuson." ECF No. 80 at 2. Plaintiffs contend that "this motion is based on the same 'excusable neglect and extraordinary circumstances' that District Judge Hayes found in granting Plaintiffs relief from judgment." Id. Specifically, Plaintiffs claim that their former attorney, Frederik Jacobsen, failed to designate any expert witnesses or take any discovery prior to the discovery cutoff date because he was incapacitated by a serious illness. ECF No. 80 at 2. Plaintiffs further contend that Defendant will not be prejudiced by the relief sought because Defendant was made aware of Plaintiffs' intention to "designate Mr. Backer and Mr. Contasti as witnesses, to take the deposition of Defendant's employees, and to propound written discovery requests." Id. at 3; Decl. Fred Jacobsen at 5; Ex. A, Joint Discovery Plan at 2-3.

In its opposition, Defendant argues that (1) Plaintiffs should have completed all discovery prior to the April 29, 2011 discovery cutoff date; (2) Plaintiffs conducted all necessary discovery during the state court litigation; and (3) Plaintiffs "fail to indicate what information they are seeking and what expert testimony is need (sic) to prepare for trial." ECF No. 85 at 2. However, Defendant fails to identify any specific prejudice Defendant will incur if Plaintiffs are permitted to engage in the limited discovery identified in Plaintiffs' pleadings.

In their reply brief, Plaintiffs contend that no discovery was taken during the state court litigation because it was a writ of mandate action which involved only the underlying administrative record.*fn2 ECF No. 86 at 2. Plaintiffs also identified the three percipient witnesses they wish to depose and the subject matter of the requests for documents.

Id. at 4. Plaintiffs further contend that Defendant has failed to show any prejudice. Id. at 5.

A case management schedule may be modified only for good cause and with the judge's consent. Fed.R.Civ.P. 16(b)(4). "The district court may modify the pretrial schedule 'if it cannot reasonably be met despite the diligence of the party seeking the extension." Johnson v. Mammoth Recreations, Inc., 975 F.2d 604 (9th Cir. 1992) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P 16 advisory committee's notes (1983 amendment)). "Although the existence or degree of prejudice to the party opposing the modification might supply additional reasons to deny a motion, the focus of the inquiry is upon the moving party's reasons for seeking modification." Id. at 609.

In this case, Plaintiffs' former counsel fell gravely ill, failed to conduct any discovery, and failed to apprise his clients of the status of the case. ECF No. 80, Decl. Fred Jacobsen at ΒΆ 3-7. Plaintiffs' current counsel waited only two weeks after substituting into the case before filing the instant motion to correct the mistakes made by Plaintiffs' former counsel. In addition, other than stating that "this case has been pending long ...


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