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Pajas v. County of Monterey

United States District Court, N.D. California

April 20, 2017

MARK VASQUEZ PAJAS, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
COUNTY OF MONTEREY, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON PLAINTIFFS' MOTION FOR REASONABLE EXPENSES AND SANCTIONS AGAINST DEFENDANT CFMG RE: DKT. NO. 118

          SUSAN VAN KEULEN United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiffs move for an order granting monetary sanctions against Defendant CFMG. ECF 118. Defendant CFMG filed an opposition, and Plaintiffs filed a reply. ECF 123, 127. Defendant CFMG also filed a motion to strike evidence submitted with Plaintiffs' reply. ECF 128. Both motions are deemed suitable for determination without oral argument. Based on the moving and responding papers, the Court grants the motion for sanctions for the reasons and in the amount set forth below.

         I. RELEVANT FACTUAL AND PROCEDURAL BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Rosemary Lopez, individually and as Administrator of the Estate of Mark Vasquez Pajas, Sr.; Yvette Pajas; Mark Pajas, Jr.; Janel Pajas; and Xavier Pajas (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), successors in interest to Mark Vasquez Pajas, Sr. (“Decedent”), allege that Defendants County of Monterey, Steve Bernal, King City, King City Police Department, Tony Sollecito, Steve Orozco, California Forensic Medical Group (“CFMG”), and Christina Kaupp are liable under federal and state law for the death of Decedent.

         Plaintiffs bring this action as successors in interest to Decedent Mark Vasquez Pajas, Sr. Compl., ECF No. 1, ¶¶ 9-14. Plaintiff Rosemary Lopez is Decedent's wife and the Administrator of Decedent's Estate. Id. ¶¶ 9-10. Plaintiffs Yvette Pajas and Janel Pajas are Decedent's daughters. Id. ¶¶ 11, 13. Plaintiffs Mark Pajas, Jr. and Xavier Pajas are Decedent's sons. Id. ¶¶ 12, 14.

         Defendant County of Monterey is a public entity organized and existing under the laws of the State of California. Id. ¶ 15. The County contracts with Defendant CFMG to provide medical, mental health, and dental services for the Monterey County Jail. Id. ¶ 20. Defendant CFMG is a California corporation headquartered in Monterey, California. Id.

         Plaintiffs initiated this action in February 2016. On June 23, 2016, the Court issued a case management order setting the close of fact discovery for March 3, 2017. ECF 55 at 2. The parties stipulated to and the Court ordered procedures to govern discovery of electronically stored information (“ESI”) on August 29, 2016. ECF 61, 67. On January 13, 2017, the Court granted the parties' stipulation to amend the case schedule, moving the close of fact discovery to March 31, 2017. ECF 83. The Court emphasized that no further extensions would be granted. ECF 83 at 2.

         Plaintiffs served their First Requests for Production of Documents (“RFPs”) on CFMG on November 11, 2016, noticed a 30(b)(6) deposition on December 7, 2016, and proposed ESI terms and custodians to CFMG on December 8, 2016. On December 14, 2016, the day CFMG's responses to Plaintiffs' first set of RFPs were due, CFMG requested and Plaintiffs granted a one week extension. On December 21, 2016, CFMG served responses to Plaintiffs' RFPs, consisting almost entirely of objections to the requests. CFMG indicated it would produce some responsive documents shortly thereafter. CFMG subsequently produced policy and procedure documents and its contract with Monterey County Jail.

         On January 6, 2017, Plaintiffs provided notice to CFMG that Plaintiffs intended to file a joint statement outlining discovery disputes pursuant to then-presiding Magistrate Judge Cousins's standing order. Plaintiffs provided their portion of the letter to CFMG on January 10, 2017, informing CFMG that they intended to file the letter on January 13, 2017. CFMG did not provide its portion of the letter, and Plaintiffs filed their letter on January 13, 2017. ECF 84.

         Once the matter was reassigned to the undersigned, the Court requested a response from CFMG by January 27, 2017. On January 16, 2017, CFMG supplemented its document production to Plaintiffs. ECF 118 at 9. CFMG filed its statement informing the Court of its supplemental production and the status of the conflict on January 27, 2017. ECF 90. Together the parties' submissions are the briefing on the motion to compel which gives rise to Plaintiffs' request for sanctions.[1]

         The parties' numerous disputes and disagreements arose out of the scope of the requests for production. An exemplar request[2] is RFP No. 36 which sought documents related to “any death(s) of inmates who were experiencing opiate, alcohol, and/or benzodiazepine withdrawal and/or detoxification at California jails at which CFMG provided health care services.” ECF 90 at 8. The parties' disputes coalesced around three issues: 1) the number of jails serviced by CFMG that were covered by the requests; 2) the scope of inmate deaths covered by the requests; and 3) production of ESI. As to the second category, the scope of inmate deaths, this issue further divided into two sub-issues: a) the types of withdrawal that were covered by the requests; and b) whether the types of withdrawal were experienced by inmates at the time of death versus whether the types of withdrawal were an actual cause of death.

         The Court held the first hearing on Plaintiffs' motion to compel on January 31, 2017.

         a. January 31 Hearing and Order

         At the January 31, 2017 hearing, the parties informed the Court that they had met and conferred further and resolved most of the issues raised in Plaintiffs' January 13 submission. Plaintiffs requested that the Court impose deadlines for CFMG to provide further written responses, a supplemental production of documents, and ESI searches.

         The Court agreed with Plaintiffs' approach and issued a minute entry order, setting deadlines as follows:

• CFMG to produce any additional responsive documents to outstanding RFPs that the parties addressed in the submitted papers or during meet and confer efforts by February 3, 2017;
• CFMG to provide supplemental responses to Plaintiffs' RFPs as necessary by February 3, 2017; and
• CFMG to identify custodians and search terms used for its ESI searches by February 3, 2017. ECF 91.

         In light of the impending discovery cutoff of March 31, 2017, the Court set the next discovery hearing for February 7, 2017, to ensure compliance with the deadlines set forth in the order.

         b. February 7 Hearing and Order

         At the February 7, 2017 hearing, Plaintiffs reported that CFMG had failed to comply with the above-referenced deadlines. Plaintiffs argued that CFMG should have at least produced documents from publicly reported deaths that occurred at jails serviced by CFMG, which Plaintiffs asserted fell within the scope of RFP No. 36. CFMG argued that it understood the parties' agreement to limit CFMG's production to only those documents related to inmates suffering from opiate detoxification and/or withdrawal rather than opiate, alcohol, and/or benzodiazepine withdrawal and/or detoxification. Based upon this ...


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