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Alliance for Global Justice v. Dist.

July 29, 2005


The opinion of the court was delivered by: John M. Facciola United States Magistrate Judge


This case has been referred to me by Judge Friedman pursuant to LCvR 72.2(a) in order to resolve defendant's Motion for a Protective Order [#178] ("Def.'s Mot. Protective Order"). For the reasons stated herein, defendant's motion is granted.


Plaintiffs' claims in this case arise from the actions taken by District and federal law enforcement personnel in response to demonstrations surrounding the IMF and World Bank meetings in Washington, DC in April 2000. Def.'s Mot. Protective Order at 2.

Plaintiffs have issued a notice of deposition to the Mayor of the District of Columbia, Anthony A. Williams, to appear for deposition. Id. at 1. Mayor Williams is not a party to this action in either his official or personal capacity. Id. Plaintiffs seek the Mayor's deposition because "he is directly responsible for the practices and customs that caused the mass arrests and other protest related violations," and he is "the top policy maker and has expressly approved of, and is personally involved in the maintenance of, the unconstitutional anti-free speech practices at issue in this litigation." Plaintiffs' Opposition to the Motion for a Protective Order ("Pls.' Opp'n") at 3. In response, defendant has filed a motion for a protective order in order to prevent the Mayor from being deposed. Defs.' Mot. Protective Order at 1.


I. Legal Standard

In general, "a party is entitled to depose a witness on all relevant issues to which the witness has knowledge." Alexander v. F.B.I., 1, 3 (D.D.C. 1998) (citation omitted). However, "[c]courts have consistently recognized the undue burden that falls on public officials as a consequence of compulsion to attend depositions." Springfield Terminal Ry. Co. v. United Transp. Union, Civ. No. 89-0073, 1989 WL 225031, at *2 (citing Cmty. Fed. Sav. & Loan Ass'n v. Fed. Home Loan Bank Bd., 96 F.R.D. 619 (D.D.C. 1983); Peoples v. United States Dep't of Agric., 427 F.2d 561, 567 (D.C. Cir. 1970); Capitol Vending Corp. v. Baker, 36 F.R.D. 45, 46 (D.D.C. 1964)).

As a result of this undue burden, courts have offered special protections to high-ranking government officials. "There is substantial case law standing for the proposition that high-ranking government officials are generally not subject to depositions unless they have some personal knowledge about the matter and the party seeking the deposition makes a showing that the information cannot be obtained elsewhere." Alexander, 186 F.R.D. at 4 (citations omitted). Courts have carved out this special rule for high-ranking government officials because, if they did not, "we would find that heads of government departments and members of the President's Cabinet would be spending their time giving depositions and would have no opportunity to perform their functions." Capitol Vending Corp., 36 F.R.D. at 46.

When moving for a protective order to limit discovery, the movant must establish good cause "by demonstrating the specific evidence of the harm that would result." Jennings v. Family Mgmt., 201 F.R.D. 272, 275 (D.D.C. 2001). The burden is on the movant to establish that a protective order should be granted. Fonville v. District of Columbia, No. CIV. A.02-2353, 2005 WL 1244816, at *1 (D.D.C. May 25, 2005). Furthermore, a party seeking a protective order prohibiting deposition testimony must establish a specific need for protection, as opposed to simply making conclusory or speculative statements. Alexander, 186 F.R.D. at 75 (citations omitted).*fn1

II. Analysis

Defendant argues that plaintiffs have not shown "exceptional or extraordinary circumstances" that would permit the deposition of a high-ranking government official. Def.'s Mot Protective Order at 4. Furthermore, defendant argues that there is no need to depose the Mayor based on plaintiffs' late request for the deposition and their failure to seek the Mayor's deposition in a similar case. Id. at 9-10. Specifically, defendant notes that plaintiffs made no effort to depose the Mayor in the first four years of litigation and only moved to depose the Mayor after the court's latest extension of the discovery period. Id. at 9. Defendant also argues that plaintiffs have not sought the Mayor's deposition in another civil action regarding constitutional violations related to policing of mass demonstrations in the District, demonstrating no real need for the deposition in this case. Id. at 10.

Plaintiffs argue that the Mayor has approved and was personally involved in the District's response to the April 2000 protests at issue. Pls.' Opp'n at 3. Plaintiffs base their assertions on the Mayor's public statements and interviews regarding the arrests. Id. Under the theory of municipal liability, plaintiffs seek to demonstrate that the Mayor, through a decision or the ratification of a decision, authorized the conduct that characterized the response to the demonstrations. Id. at 4.

The first issue is whether Mayor Williams qualifies as a high-ranking government official entitled to the special protections afforded to such individuals. Based on the pleadings, it appears that plaintiffs have conceded this point. Even if this is not the case, the court finds that Mayor Williams is a ...

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