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Blanton v. Torrey Pines Property Management, Inc.

United States District Court, S.D. California

May 10, 2017

MONYA BLANTON and DIANE JOA, Plaintiffs,
v.
TORREY PINES PROPERTY MANAGEMENT, INC., et al., Defendants.

          ORDER ON DISCOVERY DISPUTE NO. 2: DENYING PLAINTIFFS' MOTION TO COMPEL [DKT. NO. 84]

          HON. NITA L. STORMES UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         Before the Court is the parties' Joint Motion for Determination of Discovery Dispute No. 2. (Dkt. No. 84.) Having considered the arguments presented by both parties and for the reasons set forth herein, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs' motion to compel further responses to Interrogatory Nos. 22 and 23.

         I. Relevant Factual and Procedural Background

         This case presents claims related to the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) and alleged discrimination based on familial status. (See Dkt. No. 29.) At the outset of this case, Plaintiffs Blanton and Joa alleged identical claims against Defendants, including claims for discrimination in violation of the FHA and the California Fair Employment and Housing Act (“CFEHA”). (See Dkt. No. 29.)

         This discovery dispute arose previously, and Defendants raised the question of Plaintiffs' standing to pursue FHA and CFEHA based claims for discriminatory housing practices. (Dkt No. 65.) In response, this Court denied the pending motion to compel without prejudice, and set a deadline for briefing regarding Plaintiffs' standing to continue to pursue their discrimination claims. (Dkt. No. 66.) Defendants moved to dismiss each of the Plaintiffs' FHA and CFEHA claims. (Dkt. No. 72.) The Court dismissed Ms. Joa's claims, but permitted Ms. Blanton's claims to proceed. (Dkt. No. 83.) This dispute now arises for the second time.

         Plaintiffs Blanton and Joa both seek to compel further responses to interrogatories propounded solely by Ms. Joa. (Dkt. No 84, pg. 2:12-13; pg. 10:26-27; Dkt. 84-3, Ex. 1.) Specifically, Plaintiffs move to compel responses to Interrogatory Nos. 22 and 23, which seek information for each of TPPM's rental units relating to, in sum, the size/layout and occupancy of each unit within 14 geographical zip code areas.[1] (Dkt. No. 84, at II.C.)

         Plaintiffs argue that responses to the interrogatories are relevant to Ms. Blanton's remaining discrimination claims, and are necessary for expert statistical analysis of disparate impact. (Id. at II.D.) Defendant Torrey Pines Property Management (“TPPM”) objects to Ms. Blanton's continued pursuit of responses to interrogatories based upon lack of standing to compel responses as Ms. Blanton was not the propounding party. TPPM also objects that the discovery is irrelevant, over-broad, oppressive and unduly burdensome, and invades the Defendant's privacy and requests commercially protected information.[2] (Id. at II.F-G.)

         II. Discussion

         A. Plaintiff Blanton Lacks Standing to Compel a Response

         Motions to compel responses to interrogatories are governed by Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As a threshold matter, the party pursuing a motion to compel must have standing to bring the motion. Payne v. Exxon Corp., 121 F.3d 503, 510 (9th Cir. 1997) (“Only ‘the discovering party' … may bring a motion to compel.”); Loop AI Labs v. Gatti, No. 15-cv-00798-HSG (DMR), 2016 WL 4474584, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114247, at *8 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 25, 2016) (“under Rule 37(a) … a party lacks standing to move to compel answers to a different party's discovery requests”).

         The parties do not dispute that Interrogatory Nos. 22 and 23 were propounded by Ms. Joa only. (See Dkt. 84-3, Ex. 1.) Ms. Blanton is not the propounding party, and lacks standing to compel responses under Rule 37. Payne v. Exxon Corp., 121 F.3d 503, 510 (9th Cir. 1997); Loop AI Labs v. Gatti, No. 15-cv-00798-HSG (DMR), 2016 WL 4474584, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114247, at *8 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 25, 2016). See also, In re Urethane Antitrust Litig., 237 F.R.D. 454 (D. Kan. 2006) (non-settling defendants lack standing to seek enforcement of settled defendant's discovery requests).

         Plaintiffs argue that in any event Ms. Joa should get the discovery because she and Ms. Blanton overlapped in time at the subject apartments and were subject to the same occupancy policy. (See Dkt. 29, ¶¶ 14-17, 19-21.) The Court does not find this timing overlap to be enough of a tie between the Plaintiffs so as to allow the requested discovery. Even though Ms. Joa and Ms. Blanton are co-plaintiffs, their alleged claims arise out of different sets of facts. (Id.) While Ms. Joa and Ms. Blanton were arguably tied together by the same question of law regarding whether they each suffered familial status discrimination due to the occupancy policy, that tie was severed when the district judge found that Ms. Joa did not suffer any concrete injury for any alleged violation of the FHA or CFEHA. (Dkt. No. 83.) Further, at the time of the filing of the complaint and propounding of the discovery, Plaintiffs were aware of the fact that Ms. Joa did not suffer any concrete injury for any alleged violation of the FHA or FEHA because TPPM did not begin to enforce its occupancy policy against Ms. Joa until 2014, when all of her children had already reached the age of majority. (See Dkt. No. 29, ¶ 20.) While aware of these distinct factual scenarios, Plaintiffs decided to serve the interrogatories that related to the discrimination claims and issue of disparate impact only in Ms. Joa's name. Plaintiffs' should have been aware that Ms. Joa did not have standing to assert such claims. In sum, not only is there no standing, but there is no common set of facts or common question of federal law that binds these Plaintiffs together as to these interrogatories.

         Additionally, Plaintiffs cite to no authority permitting a party to compel responses to discovery propounded in another party's name. This Court found only one case that permitted a motion to compel to proceed when the interrogatories were propounded in another party's name. In Morden v. T-Mobile USA, Inc. (“Morden”), No. C05-2112RSM, 2006 WL 1727987, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42047, at *4 (W.D. Wash. June 22, 2006), plaintiff Morden propounded discovery requests for the purposes of class certification relating to “off the clock” claims in a Fair Labor Standards Act case. Id. at *1-2. The discovery was propounded prior to the time that Plaintiff Siddiqui, who asserted the “off the clock” violations, joined the action. Id. at *3-4. There, the Washington District Court held that in the absence of any authority from the parties regarding standing, and in light of the ability of Plaintiff Siddiqui to propound identical discovery, the Court's time and resources were best served by addressing the merits of the motion. Id. at *4.

         The facts of the case before the Court are distinguishable from Morden, and compel a different result. Here, Defendant TPPM cited to relevant authority that precludes the unnamed party from pursuing a motion to compel. (Dkt. 84, pgs. 11:13-12:6, citing Payne v. Exxon Corp., 121 F.3d 503, 510 (9th Cir. 1997) and In re Urethane Antitrust Litig., 237 F.R.D. 454 (D. Kan. 2006).) Fact discovery closed November 30, 2016; precluding Plaintiff Blanton from issuing identical discovery and eliminating any saved resources for the Court or parties. (See Dkt. 51, Scheduling Order.) Plaintiffs also assert that they have not exceeded the permitted 25 written interrogatories because each Plaintiff may propound 25 separate written interrogatories. (Dkt. 84, pg. 10:20-24.) Plaintiffs thereby ...


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