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Morgan Hill Concerned Parents Association v. California Department of Education

United States District Court, E.D. California

July 20, 2017

MORGAN HILL CONCERNED PARENTS ASSOCIATION, an unincorporated association, and CONCERNED PARENTS ASSOCIATION, an unincorporated association, Plaintiffs,


         Three requests for reconsideration of the magistrate judge's August 17, 2016 rulings are before the court. See Aug. 17, 2016 Order (“MJ's Order”), ECF No. 229; Pls.' Req., ECF No. 236; Def.'s First Req., ECF No. 239, Def.'s Second Req., ECF No. 240. The court has already denied a portion of plaintiffs' request. March 12, 2017 Order, ECF No. 300. This order addresses the balance of the requests and, for the reasons discussed below, DENIES all of them.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. The Magistrate Judge's Order

         On August 17, 2016, the magistrate judge issued an order addressing three of the parties' motions. See generally MJ's Order. For reasons explained in her order, the magistrate judge denied defendant's motion for a protective order, id. at 2-7; granted in part and denied in part defendant's motion to compel, id. at 7-14; and granted plaintiffs' motion for sanctions on a limited basis and for a reduced amount, id. at 14-23.

         Each set of parties asks for reconsideration of portions of the magistrate judge's order, as the court explains below. See Pls.' Req.; Def.'s First Req.; Def.'s Second Req.

         II. STANDARD

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) directs district judges to consider timely objections to nondispositive pretrial orders issued by magistrate judges and to “modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law.” See also Local Rule 303(f) & 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A). The “contrary to law” standard permits independent review of purely legal determinations by a magistrate judge. See, e.g., Computer Economics, Inc. v. Gartner Grp., Inc., 50 F.Supp.2d 980, 983 (S.D. Cal. 1999) (citing, inter alia, Haines v. Liggett Grp., Inc., 975 F.2d 81, 91 (3d Cir. 1992)). The “clearly erroneous” standard applies to the magistrate judge's factual determinations and discretionary decisions. See Maisonville v. F2 Am., Inc., 902 F.2d 746, 748 (9th Cir. 1990). “A finding is ‘clearly erroneous' when although there is evidence to support it, the reviewing [body] on the entire evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.” Concrete Pipe and Prods. v. Constr. Laborers Pension Trust, 508 U.S. 602, 622 (1993) (quoting United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)) (alteration in original). “[R]eview under the ‘clearly erroneous' standard is significantly deferential[.]” Id. at 623. “To succeed [on a motion for reconsideration], a party must set forth facts or law of a strongly convincing nature to induce the court to reverse its prior decision.” Enriquez v. City of Fresno, No. CV F 10-0581 AWI DLB, 2011 WL 1087149, at *3 (E.D. Cal. Mar. 23, 2011). Furthermore, when filing a motion for reconsideration, a party must show “what new or different facts or circumstances are claimed to exist which did not exist or were not shown upon such prior motion, or what other grounds exist for the motion.” Local Rule 230(j)(3). “A motion for reconsideration ‘may not be used to raise arguments or present evidence for the first time when they could reasonably have been raised earlier in the litigation.'” Marlyn Nutraceuticals, Inc. v. Mucos Pharma GmbH & Co., 571 F.3d 873, 880 (9th Cir. 2009) (quoting Kona Enters., Inc. v. Estate of Bishop, 229 F.3d 877, 890 (9th Cir. 2000)).


         A. Defendant's Motion to Compel

         Each set of parties asks the court to reconsider portions of the magistrate judge's order granting in part defendant's motion to compel. See Pls.' Req. at 19-21; Def's First Req. The court briefly summarizes the magistrate judge's ruling on that motion.

         1. The Magistrate Judge's Ruling

         The magistrate judge granted in part defendant's motion to compel discovery regarding plaintiffs' members, including members' identities and the factual bases for members' allegations in the operative complaint. MJ's Order at 7-14. To determine whether to compel discovery, the magistrate judge looked to the two-part test articulated in NAACP v. Alabama, 357 U.S. 449 (1958). As the magistrate judge explained, under NAACP, the court first asks whether compelled disclosure would restrain a party's rights of association; if it does, the court next asks whether the information has a “substantial bearing” on the issues involved in the litigation to warrant disclosure. MJ's Order at 8-9 (citing NAACP, 357 U.S. at 462-66).

         Applying NAACP's first step, the magistrate judge found plaintiffs' declaration of Linda McNulty, the current president of plaintiff Concerned Parents Association, presented uncontroverted evidence that disclosure would restrain plaintiffs' rights of association. MJ's Order at 9 (citing McNulty Decl., ECF No. 221-1). Applying NAACP's second step, the magistrate judge found defendant established a convincing need for the information. Id. at 10-11. As the magistrate judge explained, although the case is statewide, plaintiffs' complaint specifically alleged violations of the rights of seventeen individual students, and defendant “needs to know” the facts underlying those allegations in order to defend itself. Id. (citing First Am. Compl. (“FAC”) Ex. A, ECF No. 6-1). The magistrate judge concluded disclosure was appropriate and turned to an issue the NAACP Court never reached: how to protect the association's rights in light of the disclosure. Id. Because of the “uncontroverted risk of retaliation by the LEAs [Local Education Agencies], ” the magistrate judge ordered defendant, “under pain of contempt, to ensure that LEAs do not retaliate against any disclosed plaintiff or school child.” Id. at 12, 25. The magistrate judge next evaluated each discovery request in turn, largely granting the motions to compel regarding the seventeen students. Id. at 12-14.

         2. Plaintiffs' Request for Reconsideration

         Plaintiffs ask the court to reconsider the magistrate judge's order largely granting defendant's motion to compel. Pls.' Req. at 19-21. Plaintiffs argue (1) the magistrate judge wrongly concluded the discovery requests were limited to seventeen students rather than all of plaintiffs' members and (2) the magistrate judge misapplied NAACP when ...

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