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Baker v. Ensign

United States District Court, S.D. California

August 14, 2014



CYNTHIA BASHANT, District Judge.

Pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a), Defendant/Cross-claimant Jason Ensign challenges three discovery-related orders issued by United States Magistrate Judge William V. Gallo. The orders that Mr. Ensign challenges are dated May 12, 2014, June 20, 2014, and July 3, 2014. Mr. Ensign's challenge to the July 3, 2014 order is included in an ex parte motion for an "order shortening time" to file a Rule 72(a) motion. Even though the challenge itself is not pending before the Court, the Court will nonetheless address the merits of the Rule 72(a) challenge to determine whether granting the request to "shorten time" is warranted. The Court finds these motions suitable for determination on the papers submitted and without oral argument. See Civ. L.R. 7.1(d.1). For the following reasons, the Court DENIES Mr. Ensign's motions to reconsider the magistrate judge's May 12, 2014 and June 20, 2014 orders, and DENIES Mr. Ensign's ex parte motion for an order shortening time related to his anticipated Rule 72(a) challenge to the July 3, 2014 order.


This case involves an incident that occurred on November 29, 2009 at a football game that took place at Qualcomm Stadium. It is alleged that a scuffle ensued after security guards at the game attempted to evict Mr. Ensign for displaying an obscene hand gesture. The security guards took custody of Mr. Ensign and then transferred custody to the San Diego Police Department. Mr. Ensign alleges that he was falsely arrested and battered at Qualcomm Stadium by a team of private security guards.

In connection with this incident, Mr. Ensign was charged with seven crimes involving battery and vandalism. Andres Carnahan and Jonathan Lapin are the prosecutors who handled the case. After a bench trial, all charges against Mr. Ensign were dismissed. The court determined that the San Diego Municipal Code regulating fan behavior at Qualcomm Stadium was unconstitutionally vague, and thus, unenforceable. Subsequently, Mr. Ensign filed a petition for a finding of factual innocence. City Attorney Jan Goldsmith argued against Mr. Ensign's petition. The court found Mr. Ensign to be factually innocent.

On July 2, 2010, Plaintiff/Cross-defendant Cameron Baker filed an action in state court against Mr. Ensign. Thereafter, Mr. Ensign filed a civil-rights cross-complaint and third-party complaint against various third-party defendants, including the City of San Diego. The City of San Diego removed this action to federal court. On March 31, 2014, Mr. Ensign filed a Second Amended Cross Complaint and Second Amended Third Party Complaint against Third Party Defendants City of San Diego, San Diego Police Chief William Landsdowne, and David Spitzer (collectively, "City Defendants").


A party may object to a non-dispositive pretrial order of a magistrate judge within fourteen days after service of the order. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). The magistrate judge's order will be upheld unless it is "clearly erroneous or contrary to law." Id. ; 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). The "clearly erroneous" standard applies to factual findings and discretionary decisions made in connection with non-dispositive pretrial discovery matters. F.D.I.C. v. Fid. & Deposit Co. of Md. , 196 F.R.D. 375, 378 (S.D. Cal. 2000); Joiner v. Hercules, Inc. , 169 F.R.D. 695, 697 (S.D. Ga. 1996) (reviewing magistrate judge's order addressing attorney-client issues in discovery for clear error). Review under this standard is "significantly deferential, requiring a definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed." Concrete Pipe & Prods. of Cal., Inc. v. Constr. Laborers Pension Tr. of S. Cal. , 508 U.S. 602, 623 (1993) (internal quotation marks omitted).

On the other hand, the "contrary to law" standard permits independent review of purely legal determinations by a magistrate judge. See, e.g., Haines v. Liggett Group, Inc. , 975 F.2d 81, 91 (3d Cir. 1992) ("the phrase contrary to law' indicates plenary review as to matters of law."); Gandee v. Glaser , 785 F.Supp. 684, 686 (S.D. Ohio 1992), aff'd , 19 F.3d 1432 (6th Cir. 1994); 12 Charles A. Wright, et al., Federal Practice and Procedure § 3069 (2d ed., 2010 update). "Thus, [the district court] must exercise its independent judgment with respect to a magistrate judge's legal conclusions." Gandee , 785 F.Supp. at 686. "A decision is contrary to law if it fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law, or rules of procedure." United States v. Cathcart , No. C 07-4762 PJH, 2009 WL 1764642, at *2 (N.D. Cal. June 18, 2009).


A. Magistrate Judge's May 12, 2014 Order

On May 6, 2014, the magistrate judge was notified of the City Defendants' objections on numerous grounds to deposition notices for City Attorney Goldsmith, Mr. Lapin, and Mr. Carnahan, all of whom are not parties to this action and are not represented by the City of San Diego. Mr. Ensign asserted that the City Defendants did not have standing to challenge the deposition notices, among other things. The City Defendants responded that the attorneys had standing because they are either present or former employees of the City of San Diego, which is a party in this action. Thereafter, the parties submitted a Joint Statement for Determination of Discovery Dispute.

The magistrate judge agreed with the City Defendants, concluding that the they had standing to challenge the deposition notices. In reaching his conclusion, the magistrate judge discussed Doubleday v. Ruh , 149 F.R.D. 601 (E.D. Cal. 1993), a case that Mr. Ensign relied heavily on to address standing.

In Doubleday , the plaintiff brought a civil action after she was the subject of a criminal prosecution by the Sacramento County District Attorney's Office for assault and battery upon a peace officer. 149 F.R.D. at 604. That case concluded with a not-guilty finding. Id. In the subsequent civil action, the plaintiff asserted claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 and state-law claims against various officers of the County Sheriff's Department, alleging that the defendants "conspired to use excessive force in arresting [the plaintiff]... and that they conspired to coerce the district attorney's office to prosecute her criminally when it was not warranted." Id. By subpoena, the plaintiff sought to obtain "the complete prosecutorial file from the criminal case" from the district attorney's office. Id. The district attorney's office moved to quash. Id . However, the court denied the motion, rejecting the district attorney's office's reliance on the work-product doctrine. Id. at 606. Specifically, the court held that the County was not a party to the prior criminal litigation, nor could the County be considered to be the district attorney's office's client such that the work-product doctrine might apply. Id. This is the context in which the court stated that "this court previously ruled that the County had standing to move to quash the depositions of the deputy district attorneys because the County is an employer of those attorneys." Id. at 605.

Mr. Ensign attempts to factually distinguish the application of Doubleday on two grounds: (1) in Doubleday , "the prosecution was on behalf of The People of The State of California, NOT the City attorney"; and (2) "[t]he attorneys representing the party opposing discovery in the Doubleday [sic] case were completely separate from the District Attorney's Office." (Ensign's May 22, 2014 Mot. 7:22-8:8.) These distinctions are irrelevant.

Though Mr. Ensign is correct that the public entity involved in this case differs from the public entity in Doubleday , the critical similarity is that both are public entities with both criminal and civil prosecutorial authority. The two public entities-one serving a county, and the other serving a city-are strongly analogous for the purpose of determining whether a non-party has standing to challenge subpoenas or deposition notices when the lawsuit involves parties ...

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