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Motley v. Smith

United States District Court, E.D. California

June 22, 2016

MOTLEY, ET AL, Plaintiffs,
SMITH, ET AL, Defendants.


         Defendants seek reconsideration of the assigned magistrate judge's order of March 9, 2016, granting plaintiffs' motion to withdraw deemed admissions. (Doc. Nos. 35, 45.) For the reasons discussed below, the court denies defendants' request for reconsideration.

         I. Background

         This matter has a tangled procedural history. Plaintiffs filed their original complaint on June 14, 2015, and then filed a first amended complaint ("FAC") three days later. (Doc Nos. 1, 7.) On July 10, 2015, defendants filed a joint motion to dismiss/motion for judgment on the pleadings. (Doc. No. 11.) On August 20, 2015, this motion was taken under submission for decision by the previously assigned District Judge. However, on February 29, 2016, this case was reassigned to the undersigned. Shortly thereafter the motion was reset for hearing because no decision had yet been rendered at the time of the reassignment.

         The court's delay in issuing a decision on defendants' motion to dismiss/motion for judgment on the pleadings, however, did not stop the matter from proceeding. On July 27, 2015, the assigned magistrate judge ordered the parties to submit a joint status report. (Doc. No. 16.) The parties complied and filed a Rule 26(f) report on August 14, 2015; however, the report did not contain an agreed upon discovery schedule, and a scheduling order was never issued by the court. (Doc. No. 22.) Nonetheless, defendants set about pursuing discovery and mailed requests for admissions to plaintiffs' counsel on November 25, 2015. Plaintiffs failed to timely respond- depositing their responses in the mail on December 29, 2015, a day late-and defendants filed notices of deemed admissions on January 27, 2016. (Doc. Nos. 29, 30.)

         Plaintiffs subsequently filed a response to defendants' notice of deemed admissions, including an alternative request for relief under Federal Rules of Civil Procedure 6(b)(1)(B) and 36(b). (Doc. No. 31.) The assigned magistrate judge informed plaintiffs it would not act on their request for relief because they had failed to properly notice the motion pursuant to Local Rule 251. (Doc. No. 32.) Instead, on February 7, 2016, plaintiffs filed a motion to withdraw the deemed admissions-the motion that is at the center of defendants' current request. (Doc. No. 33.) Defendants filed an opposition (Doc. No. 34), to which plaintiffs filed a reply (Doc. No. 35), and the assigned magistrate judge order the parties to meet and confer and file a timely Joint Statement re Discovery Disagreement pursuant to Local Rule 251. (Doc. No. 36.)

         The parties filed their Joint Statement on March 4, 2016. (Doc. No. 42.) Prior to the filing of the document and as noted above, the matter was transferred from the Sacramento Division of the Eastern District of California to the Fresno Division. (Doc. No. 37.) Additionally, defendants filed a motion for summary judgment on March 3, 2016. (Doc. No. 38.) The motion to dismiss/motion for judgment on the pleadings and the motion for summary judgment were all reset for hearing and oral argument was heard by the undersigned on May 3, 2016. (Doc. No. 56.)

         On March 9, 2016, the assigned magistrate judge granted plaintiffs' motion to withdraw deemed admissions. (Doc. No. 45.) Defendants filed the current request for reconsideration on March 23, 2016. (Doc. No. 49.) To date, no discovery and scheduling order has yet to have been issued in this action.

         II. Legal Standard

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) states non-dispositive pretrial matters may be decided by a magistrate judge, subject to reconsideration by the district judge. See also Local Rule 303(c). The district judge shall, upon reconsideration, modify or set aside any part of the magistrate judge's order which is "found to be clearly erroneous or contrary to law." Local Rule 303(f); see also 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). Discovery motions are non-dispositive pretrial motions within the scope of Rule 72(a) and 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A), and thus subject to the "clearly erroneous or contrary to law" standard of review. Rockwell Intern., Inc. v. Pos-A-Traction Indus., Inc., 712 F.2d 1324, 1325 (9th Cir. 1983). The magistrate judge's factual determinations are reviewed for clear error, and the magistrate judge's legal conclusions are reviewed to determine whether they are contrary to law. United States v. McConney, 728 F.2d 1195, 1200-01 (9th Cir. 1984) overruled on other grounds by Estate of Merchant v. CIR, 947 F.2d 1390 (9th Cir. 1991). "[R]eview under the ‘clearly erroneous' standard is significantly deferential, requiring a ‘definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.'" Concrete Pipe & Prods. v. Constr. Laborers Pension Trust, 508 U.S. 602, 623 (1993) (quoting United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)). "A magistrate judge's decision is ‘contrary to law' if it applies an incorrect legal standard, fails to consider an element of applicable standard, or fails to apply or misapplies relevant statutes, case law, or rules of procedure." Martin v. Loadholt, No. 1:10-cv-00156-LJO-MJS, 2014 WL 3563312, at *1 (E.D. Cal. July 18, 2014) (internal quotations and citations omitted).

         III. Analysis

         Here, the assigned magistrate judge granted plaintiffs' motion to withdraw deemed admissions on two grounds. First, the magistrate judge held the withdrawal of the admissions would promote the presentation of the merits of the action because, contrary to defendants' expressed belief, defendants had failed to show the deemed admissions were identical to facts stated in plaintiffs' complaint, discovery responses, or readily obtainable police reports. (Doc. No. 45 at 4.) In the same vein, the magistrate judge noted the existence of a public policy favoring resolution of civil rights cases on their merits. (Id. at 4-5 (citing Hernandez v. City of El Monte, 138 F.3d 393, 401 (9th Cir. 1998)). Second, the magistrate judge noted withdrawal of the admissions would not inflict any prejudice upon defendants. (Id. at 5.) The magistrate judge labeled defendants' claim of prejudice "manufactured, " noting it was based primarily on the impact withdrawal would have on the motion for summary judgment defendants had filed just before the parties submitted the Joint Statement regarding the discovery dispute. (Id.) The magistrate judge also noted withdrawal would not upset the litigation of the action because "[n]o Rule 26 discovery plan ha[d] been established, no deadlines for the completion of discovery ha[d] been set and no trial ha[d] been scheduled." (Id.)

         In their request for reconsideration, defendants group the deemed admissions into three classes. The first class, according to defendants, consists of deemed admissions consistent with facts stated in plaintiffs' complaint or discovery responses. The second class, per defendants, consists of deemed admissions consistent with information contained in readily obtainable police reports. The third class consists of deemed admissions dealing with ultimate issues of fact. According to defendants, the magistrate judge committed clear error in withdrawing the first two classes of deemed admissions because they were consistent with facts pled and information already provided by plaintiffs or otherwise contained in police reports. Defendants also argue withdrawal of all three classes constitutes clear error because the magistrate judge failed to conduct a proper equitable balancing.

         The court holds the magistrate judge's decision to withdraw the first and second class of deemed admissions was not clearly erroneous. First, defendants' allegation that the magistrate judge "fail[ed] to review the cited evidence" is incorrect. (Doc. No. 49 at 17.) Indeed, as the magistrate judge stated in her order:

. . . [d]efendants have not shown how these deemed admissions are consistent with facts pled by Plaintiffs, facts included in Plaintiffs' discovery responses or facts available in police report evidence. [Citation omitted.] Absent such a showing, the Court will not parse through the cited pleadings, discovery responses or police reports to verify ...

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