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Retiree Support Group of Contra Costa County v. Contra Costa County

United States District Court, Northern District of California

December 18, 2014

RETIREE SUPPORT GROUP OF CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, Plaintiff,
v.
CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, Defendant.

DISCOVERY ORDER RE DKT. NO. 108

MARIA-ELENA JAMES United States Magistrate Judge

I. INTRODUCTION

Pending before the Court is the parties' joint discovery letter, in which Defendant Contra Costa County ("the County") requests that the Court compel Plaintiff Retiree Support Group of Contra Costa County ("RSG") to designate a new witness to testify about all of the noticed matters contained in the County's deposition notice ("Notice") pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure ("Rule") 30(b)(6). Jt. Ltr., Dkt. No. 108. Having considered the parties' positions, relevant legal authority, and the record in this case, the Court issues the following order.

II. BACKGROUND

RSG is a non-profit organization that promotes and protects the welfare, benefits, and interests of retired employees of the County and their dependents. Sec. Am. Compl. ("SAC") ¶¶ 3, 20. RSG alleges that the County promised the retirees that they would receive retiree health care benefits for themselves and their dependents if they met certain criteria, and that the County would pay for 80% or more of the costs of these benefits for the lifetime of the retirees. Id. ¶ 1. In exchange for the 80% promise, the retirees "gave up wage increases and other employment compensation and benefits, " such as cost of living adjustments. Id. ¶¶ 1, 40.

On August 20, 2014, the County served RSG with its Notice, identifying 30 topics for examination and requesting the production of documents. Jt. Ltr., Ex. 1. On October 28, RSG produced its Rule 30(b)(6) designee, Jack Funk, an RSG Board member. Jt. Ltr. at 1, 5. The County began initial meet and confer efforts with RSG at the end of the deposition based on the County's belief that Mr. Funk was an inadequate Rule 30(b)(6) designee. Id., Ex. 2 at 316:19-323:12. On November 7, the County continued its meet and confer efforts by letter and requested that RSG produce a fully knowledgeable Rule 30(b)(6) witness. Jt. Ltr. at 1. The parties were unable to reach a resolution.

III. LEGAL STANDARD

Rule 26 provides that a party may obtain discovery "regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). "Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Id. A court "must limit the frequency or extent of discovery otherwise allowed by [the Federal] rules" if "(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 burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit, considering the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, and the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C).

"The court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense, " including by (1) prohibiting disclosure or discovery; (2) conditioning disclosure or discovery on specified terms; (3) preventing inquiry into certain matters; or (4) limiting the scope of disclosure or discovery to certain matters. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). "Rule 26(c) confers broad discretion on the trial court to decide when a protective order is appropriate and what degree of protection is required." Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinehart, 467 U.S. 20, 36 (1984).

IV. DISCUSSION

The County argues that Mr. Funk's testimony was inadequate and that RSG failed to undertake a good faith, conscientious effort to produce a knowledgeable or otherwise prepared designee for the Rule 30(b)(6) deposition. Jt. Ltr. at 2. It points to Mr. Funk's testimony in response to questioning about the "specific retiree health benefits RSG seeks to enforce, " to which Mr. Funk responded that he was unsure if those benefits included the cost of dental care, that he was unsure if the promise of those benefits was conveyed orally or in writing, and that the relevant timeframe "might be 1991 forward, but it would go back as well, it would seem to me." Jt. Ltr., Ex. 2 at 150:17-25; 152:13-23; 51:1-3. Similarly, when asked whether the 80% Promise" applied to employees enrolled in CalPERS, Mr. Funk testified that "it would depend on what the language was of the MOU. ... It's possible, but I didn't review the percentages therein. ... So maybe yes, maybe no. I'm not certain about." Id. at 251:15-23.

The County also argues that Mr. Funk admittedly made no efforts to become educated about the application of the "80% Promise" to unrepresented employees as he could not recall if he looked at the relevant resolutions and that the "notices were the factual basis and the factual basis is the content of the resolutions." Id. at294:6-ll; 296:11-21. Mr. Funk also testified that his only significant effort to become knowledgeable about these matters was his review of the deposition testimony of third party witness, Jim Hicks. Id. at 26:7-10; 29:19-25. Despite relying on this testimony, Mr. Funk undertook no efforts to confer with Mr. Hicks or any other witnesses. Id. at 18:9-19; 35:3-6. Finally, the County contends that Mr. Funk's inability to testify about the noticed matters was exacerbated by counsel's repeated blocking of testimony that sought the "factual basis" of the noticed matters. Jt. Ltr. at 3.

In response, RSG maintains that it complied with its duty to produce a knowledgeable or otherwise prepared designee, and what the County "is truly upset about are the inherent shortcomings of the discovery method it chose to pursue." Id. at 4. RSG argues that the Notice consists of discovery into the bases for its legal contentions and the allegations in the SAC, and that contention interrogatories are more appropriate for such discovery. Id. RSG notes that its central claim in this case is that the County promised to provide lifetime medical benefits to its retirees and to pay at least 80% of the monthly premiums for at least one health care plan, and that this promise is contained in the implied terms of express provisions of various Memoranda of Understanding ("MOUs") and County resolutions covering decades. Id. It argues that asking a layperson to describe the underpinnings of these complex legal claims, such as whether he reviewed one resolution out of hundreds, is an ineffective way to obtain this information. Id. It maintains that "the only individuals with detailed knowledge of the basis for legal contentions and factual allegations in a complex legal matter are the attorneys who drafted the complaint and developed and are pursuing the legal theories." Id. RSG contends that a Rule 30(b)(6) deponent will have little to no first-hand knowledge on these subjects, and it can therefore produce only a "prepared designee." Id. at 4-5.

RSG notes that Mr. Funk spent 30-40 hours reviewing documents, including a compendium of the relevant portions of MOUs and salary resolutions covering more than 30 years, discovery responses, the transcript of the only fact deposition to date (of the chief labor negotiator), and meeting with RSG's counsel on three separate occasions. Id. at 5. However, even with these tens of hours of preparation, RSG maintains that it is unsurprising that he was unable to provide complete and detailed answers to every question covering 30 deposition topics and decades of negotiations. Id. Instead, RSG argues that this demonstrates not a ...


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