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Williams v. County of San Diego

United States District Court, S.D. California

November 13, 2019

KATY WILLIAMS, et al., Plaintiffs,
COUNTY OF SAN DIEGO, et al., Defendants.



         Before the Court is a motion to quash deposition subpoena and for protective order regarding the deposition of minor D.C. and a motion for reconsideration of the Court's October 2, 2019 Minute Order. (ECF Nos. 110, 135.) Non-party minor D.C requests that the Court quash a deposition subpoena served on him by Defendant County of San Diego (“Defendant” or “County”) and enter an order protecting D.C. from being deposed in this action. Defendant opposes. (See ECF Nos. 113, 125.)

         The Court held a hearing on the motion on October 2, 2019. Following the hearing, the Court ordered the parties to meet and confer and file a joint supplemental statement informing the Court of their respective positions on the location for D.C.'s deposition. (ECF No. 129.) On October 9, 2019, the parties filed a joint supplemental statement in which D.C. and Plaintiffs indicated that they intended to move for reconsideration and/or file objections to the Court's October 2, 2019 Minute Order and therefore did not participate substantively in the meet and confer. (ECF No. 133.) Thereafter, D.C. filed a motion for reconsideration of the Court's October 2, 2019 Minute Order and a supplemental brief in support of his motion to quash and for a protective order. (ECF No. 135.) Defendant filed an opposition to the motion for reconsideration on October 23, 2019. (ECF No. 141.)[1]

         For the reasons set forth below, the motion to quash deposition subpoena and for protective order regarding the deposition of minor D.C. is GRANTED and the motion for reconsideration of the Court's October 2, 2019 Minute Order is GRANTED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         Plaintiffs Katy Williams (“Williams”), Gary Evans (“Evans”), and minor plaintiffs A.C., Am.E., and Aa.E., by and through their Guardian ad Litem, John Garter (collectively, “Plaintiffs”), filed this action against Defendant alleging claims for: (1) Monell liability based upon violations of Plaintiffs' Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment rights pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983; and (2) injunctive relief. (See ECF No. 24 (“FAC”).)

         Williams is the natural mother of A.C., Am.E., and Aa.E (collectively, “Minor Plaintiffs”). (Id. at ¶ 8.) Williams has another minor child, D.C., born in 2012, who is not a plaintiff in this action. (Id.) Evans is the natural father of Am.E. and Aa.E. (Id. at ¶ 9.) Williams and Evans share custody of Am.E. and Aa.E, and Williams has sole custody of A.C. (Id. at ¶¶ 10-11.) On April 24, 2017, the Court appointed Mr. John Garter as Guardian ad Litem for Minor Plaintiffs. (See ECF No. 4.)

         In 2013, Defendant first became acquainted with Williams and her children after an incident involving D.C.'s father, Jason Clark (“Clark”). (FAC at ¶ 12.) Clark became violent with Williams and threatened to kill her. (Id.) As a result, Williams obtained a restraining order against Clark. (Id.)

         In June 2014, the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (“HHSA”) filed a petition on D.C.'s behalf alleging D.C. sustained bruises to his head, “which would not ordinarily be sustained except as a result of the unreasonable acts of D.C.'s father[.]” (Id. at ¶ 13.) Juvenile dependency proceedings commenced shortly thereafter. (See id.) D.C. lived with Williams during this time, and Clark was no longer able to have unsupervised visits with his son. (See id.) Clark then began making “false allegations against Williams and her boyfriend.” (Id. at ¶¶ 14-15.)

         In January 2016, Clark reported a bruise near D.C.'s eye to HHSA. (See Id. ¶ 18.) D.C. “hit his left eye on a corner of a kitchen island while playing with Minor Plaintiff Aa.E.” (Id. at ¶ 18.) Social worker Daniel Bernal (“Bernal”) inspected the bruise on January 8, 2016. (Id.) During Bernal's investigation, Bernal informed Williams that he wished to interview minor plaintiff Aa.E. alone, but Williams did not consent to such an interview. (Id. at ¶ 19.) On January 11, 2016, Evans and Williams' attorney sent a letter to the County, HHSA, and Bernal, indicating that “Minor Plaintiffs were represented by counsel and that no interviews of Minor Plaintiffs A.C., Am.E. or Aa.E. should take place without counsel present.” (Id. at ¶ 20.)

         On January 12, 2016, D.C. sustained additional injuries to his head when “he ran into a doorknob at his home[.]” (Id. at ¶ 21.) Williams took D.C. to the hospital, and the doctor discharged D.C., indicating that D.C. had “sustained a ‘normal childhood injury.'” (Id.) Clark, once again, reported the incident to the HHSA hotline. (See id.)

         On January 19, 2016, Bernal traveled to A.C.'s middle school, instructed staff to remove her from her classroom, and “detained her against her will” without court order or parental consent, knowledge, or presence. (Id. at ¶ 22.) That same day, Bernal also visited Am.E. and Aa.E.'s elementary school, instructed staff to remove them from their classrooms, and “detained them against their will” without court order, or parental consent, knowledge, or presence. (Id. at ¶ 23.) Once the children were removed from their classrooms, Bernal, social worker Janet Barragan (“Barragan”), and social worker Miriam Partida (“Partida”) “interrogated” the children, despite the fact that Bernal, the County, and HHSA “were informed in writing” that Evans and Williams “did not want their minor children to be interviewed by social workers with the County and HHSA without a parent and/or attorney being present at that interview.” (Id. at ¶ 24.) Notably, there were not, nor have there ever been, any allegations that Minor Plaintiffs were abused or neglected by their parents, or any other individuals. (See id.)

         During the interviews, the social workers inquired about whether the Minor Plaintiffs' felt safe at home, how their parents disciplined them and D.C., and whether D.C. “was an active child.” (Id. at ¶ 25.) The social workers did not inform the Minor Plaintiffs that they could decline to be interviewed, nor were they given a choice about being interviewed “once they were detained and confronted by the County workers.” (Id. at ¶ 26.) Further, the Minor Plaintiffs “were not informed that they could have a parent and/or an attorney present for the interviews.” (Id.) At the time of the interviews, the social workers “did not have exigency, Court Order, parental consent, knowledge or presence, or even reasonable suspicion that the Minor Plaintiffs were the subject of abuse or neglect.” (Id. at ¶ 27.)

         Clark “continues to make false allegations” and, on December 29, 2017, social worker Lisette Alvarez (“Alvarez”) contacted Williams to inquire about conducting an in-person interview regarding disciplinary issues involving the Minor Plaintiffs and D.C. (Id. at ¶ 28.) On January 11, 2018, Alvarez “reiterated her intent” to interview Williams and her children regarding Clark's latest allegations regarding D.C. (See Id. ¶ 29.) Williams indicated that she agreed to a meeting with herself, D.C., and her counsel, but that she would not agree to interviews of her other children. (See id.) Alvarez, however, “refused to agree not to go to the schools” of the Minor Plaintiffs pursuant to Defendant's “policies that allowed her to conduct such interviews[.]” (Id. (emphasis in original).) Based on these allegations, Plaintiffs commenced the instant action.


         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 45 governs discovery of nonparties by subpoena. Fed.R.Civ.P. 45; see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(a)(1) (“[A] deponent's attendance [at a deposition] may be compelled by subpoena under Rule 45”). The Advisory Committee Notes to Rule 45 state that “the scope of discovery through a subpoena is the same as that applicable to Rule 34 and the other discovery rules, ” which in turn is the same as under Rule 26(b). Advisory Committee Notes to 1970 Amendment; Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a). Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b) allows a party to obtain discovery concerning “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); see also Moon v. SCP Pool Corp., 232 F.R.D. 633, 637 (C.D. Cal. 2005) (noting “courts have incorporated relevance as a factor when determining motions to quash a subpoena”). “Relevancy, for the purposes of discovery, is defined broadly, although it is not without ultimate and necessary boundaries.” Gonzales v. Google, Inc., 234 F.R.D. 674, 679-80 (N.D. Cal. 2006) (internal quotation marks and citation omitted); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C).

         Rule 45 provides that “[o]n timely motion, the court for the district where compliance is required must quash or modify a subpoena that . . . subjects a person to undue burden.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 45(d)(3)(A)(iv). The question of “whether a subpoena is burdensome depends on the facts of the case.” Lillie v. ManTech Int'l. Corp., No. 2:17-cv-02538-CAS-SSX, 2019 WL 653085, at *1 (C.D. Cal. Feb. 15, 2019) (quoting Green v. Baca, 226 F.R.D. 624, 653-54 (C.D. Cal. 2005), order clarified, No. CV 02-204744 MMM (MANx), 2005 WL 283361 (C.D. Cal. Jan. 31, 2005)). “[A] court determining the propriety of a subpoena balances the relevance of the discovery sought, the requesting party's need, and the potential hardship to the party subject to the subpoena.” ATS Prod., Inc v. Champion Fiberglass, Inc., 309 F.R.D. 527, 531 (N.D. Cal. 2015) (quoting Gonzales, 234 F.R.D. at 680); see also Amini Innovation Corp. v. McFerran Home Furnishings, Inc., 300 F.R.D. 406, 409 (C.D. Cal. 2014) (“In determining whether a subpoena poses an undue burden, courts weigh the burden to the subpoenaed party against the value of the information to the serving party.” (internal quotations and citation omitted)). However, “if the sought-after [information is] not relevant . . . then any burden whatsoever imposed . . . would be by definition ‘undue.'” Compaq Computer Corp. v. Packard Bell Elec., Inc., 163 F.R.D. 329, 335-36 (N.D. Cal. 1995) (emphasis in original).

         “[C]oncern for the unwanted burden thrust upon non-parties is a factor entitled to special weight in evaluating the balance of competing needs, ” and a court may quash a subpoena where the court determines that the same evidence could be obtained from a party to the litigation. Amini Innovation Corp., 300 F.R.D. at 409-10; see also Lemberg Law LLC v. Hussin, No. 16-mc-80066-JCS, 2016 WL 3231300, at *5 (N.D. Cal. June 13, 2016) (“The Ninth Circuit has long held that nonparties subject to discovery requests deserve extra protection from the courts.” (citing United States v. C.B.S., Inc., 666 F.2d 364, 371-72 (9th Cir. 1982))).

         “The party issuing the subpoena must demonstrate that the information sought is relevant and material to the allegations and claims at issue in the proceedings.” Optimize Tech. Sols., LLC. v. Staples, Inc., No. 14-mc-80095-LHK (HRL), 2014 WL 1477651, at *2 (N.D. Cal. Apr. 14, 2014) (citation omitted). The party moving to quash the subpoena bears the “burden of persuasion” under Rule 45(d)(3). Moon, 232 F.R.D. at 637 (citations omitted). “[B]road discretion is vested in the trial court to permit or deny discovery.” Hallett v. Morgan, 296 F.3d 732, 751 (9th Cir. 2002); see also Exxon Shipping Co. v. U.S. Dep't of Interior, 34 F.3d 774, 779 (9th Cir. 1994) (“Rule 26(c) and Rule 45([d])(3) give ample discretion to district courts to quash or modify subpoenas causing ‘undue burden.'”).

         A non-party moving to quash a subpoena may also seek a protective order under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 45, Advisory Committee Notes, 1937 Adoption (“Under this amendment, the person subpoenaed may obtain the protection afforded by any of the orders permitted under Rule 30(b) [the provisions of Rule 30(b) were transferred to Rule 26(c)] or Rule 45(b)”). Pursuant to Rule 26, a “court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense, ” arising out of a discovery request. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(2)(C). District courts have “broad latitude” to issue a protective order. Phillips ex rel. Estates of Byrd v. Gen. Motors Corp., 307 F.3d 1206, 1211 (9th Cir. 2002). The party seeking a protective order has the burden of proving “good cause, ” which requires a showing “that specific prejudice or harm will result” if the protective order is not granted. In re Roman Catholic Archbishop of Portland in Or., 661 F.3d 417, 424 (9th Cir. 2011).


         A. Defendant's Arguments

         On July 11, 2019, Defendant served a deposition subpoena on D.C., who is a minor and non-party to this case. (ECF Nos. 110-3; 113 at 3.) D.C. is currently seven years old. (ECF No. 110-1 at 2.) D.C. was three years old on January 19, 2016 when Defendant interviewed the Minor Plaintiffs. (Id.) Defendant contends that it is entitled to ...

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