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Munguia-Brown v. Equity Residential

United States District Court, N.D. California

June 20, 2017

JAVANNI MUNGUIA-BROWN, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
EQUITY RESIDENTIAL, et al., Defendants.

          DISCOVERY ORDER RE: DKT. NOS. 52, 53, 54, 55, 56

          MARIA-ELENA JAMES United States Magistrate Judge

         INTRODUCTION

         Pending before the Court are five discovery letter briefs. See Dkt. Nos. 52-56. The Court scheduled a telephonic conference for June 20, 2017 to address the parties' disputes (Notice, Dkt. No. 57), but Counsel for Plaintiffs informed the undersigned's courtroom deputy by email that the parties would be unavailable to speak with the Court at that time because they would be attending a deposition in this matter. In the interest of time, the Court resolves these letter briefs without the benefit of oral argument. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 78(b); Civ. L.R. 7-1(b).

         Having considered the parties' positions, the relevant legal authority, and the record in this case, the Court issues the following order.

         BACKGROUND

         In this putative class action, Plaintiffs allege that since 2008, Defendants have charged their tenants late fees that violate California Civil Code § 1671. See First Ltr. Br. at 1, Dkt. No. 52. Whether the provision is lawful under California law depends in part on whether Defendants adopted the late fee as an attempt to recover actual costs they incurred as a result of late rent payments, or whether late fees serve as a source of profits. See Second Ltr. Br. at 1, Dkt. No. 53. The Presiding Judge in this matter referred discovery matters to the undersigned. See Referral Order, Dkt. No. 49. Plaintiffs' deadline for moving for class certification is August 18, 2017. First Ltr. Br. at 4.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 provides that a party may obtain discovery “regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case[.]” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Factors to consider include “the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.” Id. Discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable. Id. However, “[t]he parties and the court have a collective responsibility to consider the proportionality of all discovery and consider it in resolving discovery disputes.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 advisory committee notes (2015 amendments). Thus, there is “a shared responsibility on all the parties to consider the factors bearing on proportionality before propounding discovery requests, issuing responses and objections, or raising discovery disputes before the courts.” Salazar v. McDonald's Corp., 2016 WL 736213, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 25, 2016); Goes Int'l, AB v. Dodur Ltd., 2016 WL 427369, at *4 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 4, 2016) (citing advisory committee notes for proposition that parties share a “collective responsibility” to consider proportionality and requiring that “[b]oth parties . . . tailor their efforts to the needs of th[e] case”).

         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). “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).

         DISCUSSION

         The Court explicitly ordered the parties to discuss the proportionality of the disputed requests during their in-person meet and confer efforts. See Order, Dkt. No. 50. Despite this prior guidance, Plaintiffs do not address the proportionality of their requests in the letter briefs.

         A. Emails of Custodians Involved in Decision to Change Late Fee Policy in 2008

          Plaintiffs (1) seek the identity of employees involved in the decision to adopt the late fee policy in 2008; (2) request that Defendants certify whether the email accounts for those employees have been destroyed, and if not, the format in which the emails still exist; (3) ask the Court to order Defendants to search any emails that exist in searchable format using six search terms; and (4) demand Defendants explain to the Court in writing “whether such emails have, in fact, been deleted, or whether they are recoverable.” See First Ltr. Br. at 3-4.

         Defendants respond that they have not refused to identify custodians, that the at-issue custodians stopped working for Equity Residential (the “Company”) “long before” Plaintiffs filed this lawsuit, and that emails from the relevant time period no longer exist unless they were specifically saved into an electronic file or printed and saved in a hard copy folder. Id ...


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