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Manzo v. County of Santa Clara

United States District Court, N.D. California, San Jose Division

July 3, 2019

LEOPOLDO MANZO, JR., Plaintiff,
v.
COUNTY OF SANTA CLARA, et al., Defendants.

          ORDER RE DISCOVERY DISPUTE RE PRODUCTION OF SABOT CONSULTING REPORT RE: DKT. NO. 45

          VIRGINIA K. DEMARCHI UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff Leopoldo Manzo, Jr. sued defendants County of Santa Clara (“the County”) and several individual corrections officers for constitutional violations and violations of federal and state law relating to Mr. Manzo, Jr.'s detention in jails operated by the County. The parties dispute whether the County should be required to produce a report prepared by Sabot Consulting in connection with settlement negotiations in another lawsuit, describing the facilities, programs, policies, procedures, and practices of three Santa Clara County jails with respect to access by mobility-disabled inmates (“the Sabot Report”). The parties jointly briefed the dispute to the Court, and the County submitted a copy of the Sabot Report to the Court for in camera review. Dkt. Nos. 45, 46. The Court held a hearing on the matter on July 2, 2019. Dkt. No. 47.

         The Court grants Mr. Manzo, Jr.'s motion to compel production of the Sabot Report.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Mr. Manzo, Jr. was detained between December 2014 and December 2016 in the Santa Clara County Main Jail. Dkt. No. 1 ¶ 23. In his complaint, Mr. Manzo, Jr. asserts claims for violation of his constitutional right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, including excessive force; disability discrimination and failure to accommodate under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Rehabilitation Act; and violations of state law. Id. ¶¶ 111-148.

         According to the parties' joint submission, an independent consulting firm prepared the Sabot Report at the joint request of the parties to Cole v. County of Santa Clara, No. 16-cv-06594-LHK (N.D. Cal.) in connection with pre-lawsuit settlement discussions involving a putative class of disabled prisoners in Santa Clara County jails. The Sabot Report describes the consultant's review, evaluation, and recommendations regarding the facilities, programs, policies, procedures, and practices of three Santa Clara County jails with respect to access by mobility-disabled inmates. Apparently, the Cole parties agreed to treat the report as confidential settlement-related material for as long as their settlement negotiations continued prior to a lawsuit being filed. Dkt. No. 45 at 2, 5. Mr. Manzo, Jr. quotes from a purported agreement between the Cole parties (which neither party submitted to the Court) that if the Cole parties failed to settle before a suit was filed, “the Expert's assessment and report will no longer be treated as confidential settlement communications and may be used in a court of law, subject to a protective order and/or redaction as appropriate.” Id. at 2-3. Mr. Manzo, Jr. says that the settlement negotiations failed, and the Cole lawsuit was filed on November 14, 2016. Id. at 3. The County does not dispute Mr. Manzo, Jr.'s characterization of the Cole parties' agreement, except to say that the parties continued to negotiate even after the lawsuit was filed and continued to treat the Sabot Report as confidential. Id. at 5. Mr. Manzo, Jr. disputes that the Cole parties have kept the report confidential, observing that the Cole plaintiffs filed described at length many of the report's findings in the complaint they filed on the public docket. Id. at 3 (citing Cole v. County of Santa Clara, No. 16-cv-06594-LHK, Dkt. No. 1 at ¶¶ 64-100, 127 (N.D. Cal. Nov. 14, 2016).

         II. DISCUSSION

         Mr. Manzo, Jr. moves to compel production of the Sabot Report on the ground that it contains information relevant to the claims and defenses in this case. In particular, he argues that the Sabot Report describes the County's policies and practices with respect to ADA requirements during the period of his detention. Dkt. No. 45 at 1. Mr. Manzo, Jr. says that the jails have been “modified significantly” since he left, and that the report therefore includes relevant information that is no longer discoverable by other means. Id. He also says that the report describes potential sources of additional discovery relevant to his claims in this case. Id. at 3.

         The County opposes production of the report on several grounds. First, the County says that the Sabot Report is not responsive to any pending request for documents. Id. at 6. This argument is not well-taken. The report, which includes a description and evaluation of the County's policies and procedures concerning compliance with the ADA, is responsive to Mr. Manzo's Request for Production No. 4 (“All DOCUMENTS of any kind EVIDENCING the policies and/or procedures of COUNTY CONCERNING jail ADA compliance, include what, as of 2010, was policy No. 13.11.”). In any event, this particular argument appears to have been mooted by Mr. Manzo, Jr.'s service of a document request specifically asking for the Sabot Report. Id. at 4, 6 n.2.

         Second, the County argues that the Sabot Report is both inadmissible and irrelevant. The dispute before the Court raises only the question of whether the County must produce the Sabot Report, and not whether the report itself is admissible at trial for any purpose. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1) (“Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.”). Accordingly, the Court considers only whether the report is discoverable-i.e., nonprivileged matter that is relevant to a claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). On the issue of relevance, the County essentially argues that the report is not relevant because Mr. Manzo, Jr.'s claims lack merit. Dkt. No. 45 at 6-7.

         However, in evaluating whether discovery material is relevant to a claim or defense, the Court does not assess the ultimate merits of the claim or defense, but only whether the material tends to make the existence of any fact that is of consequence to the determination of the claim more or less probable. See Fed.R.Evid. 401. Here, the complaint pleads both constitutional violations and violations of the ADA and Rehabilitation Act, as well as state law claims. Dkt. No. 1 ¶¶ 111-148. It includes allegations concerning the County's alleged policies, practices, and procedures relating to the treatment of inmates with mental and physical disabilities in support of these claims. Id. The Sabot Report contains information regarding the County's facilities, programs, policies, procedures, and practices regarding treatment of mobility-disabled inmates as of 2015. The report discusses some of the same access issues and practices to which Mr. Manzo, Jr. refers in his complaint. Mr. Manzo, Jr. was housed in the jail facilities that the report discusses at the time the report was prepared, and he also has a disability that limits his mobility. The Court concludes that Mr. Manzo, Jr. has demonstrated that the report contains material that is relevant to his claims.

         Third, defendants argue that because the Sabot Report was prepared in connection with settlement negotiations in another matter, the report is either privileged or subject to production only upon a heightened showing of need. Dkt. No. 45 at 7. The Court considers each of these arguments separately.

         The parties agree that federal law governs the question of whether the Sabot Report is privileged from disclosure to Mr. Manzo, Jr. Federal Rule of Evidence 408 governs the admissibility of evidence of conduct or statements made during settlement negotiations. It provides that such evidence is not admissible when offered to prove liability, but may be admitted for other purposes. Fed.R.Evid. 408; Rhoades v. Avon Products, Inc., 504 F.3d 1151, 1161 (9th Cir. 2007). Rule 408 does not address the discoverability of settlement-related materials, and the Ninth Circuit has not found a federal privilege for settlement communications. See Rhoades, 504 F.3d at 1162 (holding that “statements made in settlement negotiations are only excludable under the circumstances protected by the Rule”). Several district courts in the Ninth Circuit have observed that an absolute privilege against discovery of such materials would be inconsistent with both Rule 408 and Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b). See Alfaro v. City of San Diego, No. 3:17-cv-00046-H-KSC, 2018 WL 4562240, at *5-6 (S.D. Cal. Sept. 21, 2018); Williams v. Bridgeport Music, Inc., No. CV 13-6004-JAK (AGRx), 2014 WL 12498232, at *2 (C.D. Cal. July 10, 2014) (collecting cases); Vondersaar v. Starbucks Corp., No. C 13-80061 SI, 2013 WL 1915746, at *3 (N.D. Cal. May 8, 2013) (finding no federal privilege preventing the discovery of settlement communications); Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Mediatek, Inc., No. C-05-3148 MMC (JCS), 2007 WL 963975, at *2-3 (N.D. Cal. Mar. 30, 2007) (same). Even if a settlement privilege existed, the County has not shown that the Sabot Report would qualify for protection. The report does not reflect any settlement communications between the Cole parties, and while it does include recommendations for changes to the County's jail facilities, policies, practices, and programs, these are the recommendations of an independent consultant and not offers of compromise or negotiating positions of any party. The County may not immunize from discovery a report describing the facilities, programs, policies, procedures, and practices of its jails simply because the report was considered by the Cole parties in their settlement negotiations. See Williams, 2014 WL 12498232 at *2 (observing that a party cannot immunize information from discovery by disclosing it in settlement discussions). The Court concludes that no federal privilege protects the Sabot Report from disclosure to Mr. Manzo, Jr. as part of discovery in this case.

         Regarding whether the Sabot Report is subject to production only upon a heightened showing of need, the County argues that the Ninth Circuit “has approved applying heightened requirements” to requests for production of “settlement materials, ” citing Lobatz v. U.S. West Cellular of California, Inc., 222 F.3d 1142 (9th Cir. 2000). However, Lobatz does little to inform the resolution of this discovery dispute. That case considered a request by a member of a plaintiff class for discovery of settlement negotiations between the parties so that she could challenge the fairness of the settlement ...


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