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Whitney Duenez et al v. City of Manteca et al

February 22, 2013


The opinion of the court was delivered by: Allison Claire United States Magistrate Judge


This case arises from the shooting death of Ernesto Duenez, Jr. ("decedent"), and is brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983. Plaintiffs are the widow and successor-in-interest to the decedent, decedent's son, and decedent's parents. Defendants are the City of Manteca ("the City"); Chief David Bricker of the Manteca Police Department; Officer Moody of the Manteca Police Department, being sued individually and in his official capacity; and Does 2-100. This case is before the undersigned on plaintiffs' November 5, 2012 motion to compel and motion for sanctions, which the undersigned heard on February 20, 2013. Benjamin Nisenbaum appeared for plaintiffs. Sean Conley appeared for defendants. On review of the motions, the joint discovery statement, upon hearing the arguments of counsel, and good cause appearing therefor, THE COURT FINDS AS FOLLOWS:


A Factual Allegations

The court incorporates by reference the factual allegations as provided in the February 23, 2012 order issued by the Honorable Lawrence K. Karlton denying defendants' motion to dismiss and motion for more definite statement but granting their motion to strike. ECF No. 35.

B. Relevant Procedural Background

Plaintiffs initiated this federal civil rights action on July 11, 2011 and are proceeding on a first amended complaint ("FAC") filed November 18, 2011 against the City, Bricker, and Moody. Plaintiffs bring causes of action under the following theories: (1) "Wrongful Death 42 U.S.C. Section 1983," because Defendants Moody and Does "acted under color of law by killing decedent without lawful justification and subjecting decedent to excessive force thereby depriving Plaintiff [Whitney Duenez and Minor Plaintiff D.D.] and the decedent of . . . [t]he right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures" and "[t]he right to medical care . . . in violation of substantive Due Process guarantees of the Fourteenth Amendment"; (2) Violations of "All Plaintiffs'" "civil rights to familial relationship--42 U.S.C. section 1983"; (3) "Monell -- 42 U.S.C. section 1983," as against "Defendant[s] City, Bricker, and Does 51-100"; (4) "Survival action: Violation of decedent's civil rights," brought pursuant to 42 U.S.C. Section 1983; (5) negligent infliction of emotional distress, brought by Plaintiff Whitney Duenez against Defendants Moody and Does 1-10; (6) "Violation of Civil Code Section 52.1," brought by Whitney Duenez, as successor-in-interest to Decedent Ernesto Duenez, Jr., against Defendant Moody, for which Plaintiffs seek injunctive relief; (7) "Negligence-Wrongful Death"; and (8) intentional infliction of emotional distress. Id. at 11-18.

As to damages, Plaintiffs seek: (1) the reasonable value of funeral and burial expenses; (2) wrongful death damages; (3) damages incurred by Mr. Duenez "before he died as the result of being assaulted and battered, for deprivation without due process of his right to life, and [for] any penalties or punitive damages to which he would have been entitled to recover, had he lived"; (4) compensation for their loss of Mr. Duenez's financial support; (5) an award of punitive damages; and (6) attorneys' fees. Id. at ¶¶ 36-41. Plaintiffs also, generally, seek injunctive relief. See, e.g., id. at 19.

On October 29, 2012, a protective order issued based on the stipulation of the parties. ECF No. 45.

On December 21, 2012, defendants filed a motion to dismiss, motion to strike, and motion for more definite statement. ECF No. 27. On February 23, 2012, Judge Karlton denied defendants' motion to dismiss and motion for more definite statement but granted their motion to strike.

C. Discovery Background

On June 26, 2012, plaintiffs propounded their Request for Production of Documents ("RFP") to defendant City, and granted defendant an extension of time to respond by August 29, 2012. On August 28, 2012, the City served its responses and objections. On August 30, 2012, plaintiff sent a meet and confer letter addressing the objections raised in the City's response. On October 18, 2012, the City responded substantively and provided a declaration and a privilege log.

Still dissatisfied with the City's responses and the parties' meet and confer efforts, plaintiffs filed the instant motion to compel and motion for sanctions on November 5, 2012. This matter was initially scheduled before the magistrate judge previously assigned to this case, Magistrate Judge Kendall J. Newman, who directed the parties to file a joint discovery statement in compliance with Local Rule 251.

DISCUSSION A. Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel

Plaintiffs bring this motion to compel the City to provide supplemental responses to plaintiffs' RFP. At issue are defendants' objections to RFP Nos. 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 18, 26, 30, and 38. Plaintiffs argue that these requests are relevant to their claim that the City and Chief Bricker ratified the shooting and treatment of decedent in this case, and that they were deliberately indifferent in their duty to train, supervise and discipline their officers. Plaintiffs assert that proof of these claims is necessarily shown through these requested documents, which will reveal notice and other issues regarding the City's policies of hiring, training, supervision, and control.

Defendants object to plaintiffs' requests on grounds of relevance, privilege, and privacy.

1. Legal Standards

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b) establishes the scope of discovery and states in pertinent part:

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any non-privileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition and location of any documents or other tangible things and the identity and location of person who know of any discoverable matter.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1).

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. "Relevance for purposes of discovery is defined very broadly." Garneau v. City of Seattle, 147 F.3d 802, 812 (9th Cir. 1998).

"The party seeking to compel discovery has the burden of establishing that its request satisfies the relevancy requirements of Rule 26(b)(1). The party opposing discovery then has the burden of showing that the discovery should be prohibited, and the burden of clarifying, explaining or supporting its objections," Bryant v. Ochoa, 2009 WL 1390794 at * 1 (S.D. Cal. May 14, 2009), and are "required to carry a heavy burden of showing" why discovery should be denied. Blankenship v. Hearst Corp., 519 F.2d 418, 429 (9th Cir. 1975). ////

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 34(a) permits each party to serve the opposing party with document requests within the scope of Rule 26(b) that are "relevant to the subject matter involved in the action." Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b). Relevance within the meaning of Rule 26(b)(1) is considerably broader than relevance for trial purposes. See Oppenheimer Fund v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978) (citation omitted). For discovery purposes, relevance means only that the materials sought are reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Id. In responding to Rule 34 requests, "the response must either state that inspection and related activities will be permitted as requested or state an objection to the request, including the reasons." Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b)(2)(B). Under Rule 37(a)(3)(B)(iv), "[a] party seeking discovery may move for an order compelling an answer, designation, production, or inspection" if "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)(iv).

Discovery is not limited to the issues raised in the pleadings and many factual issues may arise during discovery that may not necessarily be related to the merits of the case. See Oppenheimer Fund, 437 U.S. at 351. In this way, "[d]iscovery itself is designed to help define and clarify the issues." Id. But discovery is not unlimited. See Hickman, 329 U.S. at 507 (stating that "discovery, like all matters of procedure, has ultimate and necessary boundaries"). "Discovery of matter not 'reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence' is not within the scope of Rule 26(b)(1)." Oppenheimer Fund, 437 U.S. at 351-52.

2. Plaintiffs' Requests for Production a. RFP No. 2

In RFP No. 2, plaintiffs ask the City for "[a]ny and all job applications pertaining to Defendant Officer MOODY." The City responded to this request as follows:

Responding party objects that this category seeks irrelevant information, violates Officer Moody's privacy and the official information privilege. Officer Moody was hired in February, 2001, more than a decade before the subject incident, and worked continuously for the Manteca Department since that time. The request seeks records containing personal information concerning Officer Moody's education, employment history, medical information, financial information, and these documents have been retained by the employing agency as private material, as required by State law, during the period of Officer Moody's employment. These documents will not be produced.

i. Relevance

Plaintiffs here argue that examination of Officer Moody's prior jobs will help (1) determine his experience with weapons such as "throwing" knives; and (2) may inform examination of his treatment of decedent after the shooting (dragging his body around, pulling down his pants, etc.). Lastly, plaintiffs assert that all of the background information known to the City when it hired Moody and kept him on is critical to their Monell claim. Plaintiffs argue that the information sought pertains to evidence of Officer Moody's prior misconduct and defendants' knowledge of and response thereto.

Defendant objects to this request on the ground that Officer Moody began working for the Manteca Police Department on February 25, 2001 and that any information contained in the job application is therefore stale and has no real value. The court overrules this objection on the ground that the potential probative value of these documents outweighs their potential staleness.

ii. Official Information Privilege

Rule 501 of the Federal Rules of Evidence provides that the federal law of privilege applies unless state law supplies the rule of decision as to the claim or defense, in which case the state law of privilege applies. Where the complaint alleges both substantive federal and state law claims concerning the same alleged conduct, the federal law of privilege controls. Agster v. Maricopa County, 422 F.3d 836, 839-40 (9th Cir. 2005), citing Wm. T. Thompson Co. v. Gen. Nutrition Corp., 671 F.2d 100, 104 (3d Cir. 1982). See also Williams v. University Medical Center, 760 F. Supp. 2d 1026, 1029-30 (D. Nev. 2010), citing Religious Technology Center v. Wollersheim, 971 F.2d 364, 367 n.10 (9th Cir. 1992); Advisory Committee Notes to Rule 501 (stating that state law applies only in diversity cases). Privileges are narrowly construed because they impede the full and fair discovery of the truth. Eureka Fin. ...

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