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Washington v. Thurgood Marshall Academy

October 31, 2005

JESSICA WASHINGTON, PLAINTIFF,
v.
THURGOOD MARSHALL ACADEMY, DEFENDANT.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case was referred to me for discovery. Currently for resolution is Plaintiff's Motion for Reconsideration and/or in the Alternative a Motion to Alter and/or Amend the Magistrate's July 20, 2005 Order ("Pl.'s Mot. for Recons.") striking Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Defendant Thurgood Marshall Academy to Answer Interrogatories and Produce Documents and for Sanctions ("Pl.'s Mot. to Compel"). For the reasons stated below, plaintiff's motion for reconsideration will be granted and plaintiff's previously stricken motion to compel, after being considered on its merits, will be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff, Jessica Washington, brought this lawsuit against her former employer, the Thurgood Marshall Academy, alleging that she was wrongfully discharged in violation of her employment contract and in retaliation for her advocacy on behalf of special education students and their parents. Complaint at ¶¶ 38-72. On February 4, 2005, plaintiff filed a motion to compel responses to certain interrogatories and document requests, but failed to file the memorandum of law in support of her motion. Washington v. Thurgood Marshall Acad., 230 F.R.D. 18, 21 (D.D.C. 2005). On July 20, 2005, the court ordered plaintiff's motion to compel stricken for failure to comply with the United States District Court for the District of Columbia's Local Rule 7.1(a), which requires that each motion include or be accompanied by a statement of the specific points of law and authority that support the motion. Id. Two days after her motion was stricken, plaintiff moved the court to reconsider its order and rule on the merits of her motion to compel. Defendant did not file an opposition to plaintiff's motion for reconsideration.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Motion for Reconsideration

Plaintiff relies on Rule 60(a) and (b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure in moving the court to reconsider its July 20, 2005 order striking her motion to compel. Plaintiff's Memorandum of Points and Authorities in Support of Her Motion for Reconsideration and/or in the Alternative a Motion to Alter and/or Amend the Magistrate's June 20, 2005 Order ("Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Recons.) at 2. Under Rule 60(a), the court is authorized to correct "[c]lerical mistakes in judgments, orders or other parts of the record arising from oversight or omission." Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(a). Similarly, under Rule 60(b)(1), the court is authorized to relieve a party from a judgment, order, or proceeding for "mistake, inadvertence, surprise, or excusable neglect." Fed. R. Civ. P. 60(b)(1). The district court is afforded broad discretion in correcting errors and granting relief from judgment under Rule 60. Muwekma Tribe v. Babbitt, 133 F. Supp. 2d 42, 48 (D.D.C. 2001) (citing Twelve John Does v. District of Columbia, 841 F.2d 1133, 1138 (D.C. Cir. 1988)).

Plaintiff argues that her failure to file the memorandum of law was an inadvertent error that she was unaware of until the court ordered her motion stricken. Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Recons. at 2. Plaintiff further argues that defendant would not be prejudiced if the court grants her motion for reconsideration and considers her motion to compel on the merits because, although plaintiff did not file the memorandum of law with the court, plaintiff did serve it on defendant. Id. In addition, at a hearing on July 22, 2005, defendant represented to the court that it would not need to re-brief its opposition to plaintiff's motion to compel. Id. Because plaintiff's present motion for reconsideration is unopposed, her error appears to have been inadvertent, and her motion to compel will not require additional briefing, this court will exercise its discretion and grant plaintiff's motion for reconsideration. Accordingly, the court will now address the merits of plaintiff's motion to compel.

B. Motion to Compel

Plaintiff has moved the court to compel defendant to fully and completely answer plaintiff's Request for Answers to Interrogatories, Request for Production of Documents, and Second Set of Requests for Production of Documents. Plaintiff's Memorandum in Support of Motion to Compel Defendant to Answer Plaintiff's Discovery Requests and Sanctions ("Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Compel") at 1. Plaintiff also asks the court to compel defendant "to label and identify what documents are in response to each of plaintiff's document requests" and "to produce a list of any and all documents that are being withheld under and [sic] doctrine of privilege." Id. at 7. In opposition, defendant asserts that it has either fully responded or properly objected to each interrogatory and document request. Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Defendant Thurgood Marshall Academy to Answer Interrogatories and Produce Documents and For Sanctions (Def.'s Opp'n) at 2.

1. Plaintiff's Interrogatories

Plaintiff argues that defendant's answers to its interrogatories are evasive, incomplete, and non-responsive and that defendant merely objected to most of the interrogatories "upon the advice of counsel." Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Compel at 3; Reply to Defendant Thurgood Marshall Academy's Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Answers to Interrogatories and Request for Production of Documents ("Pl.'s Reply") at 6. That is plaintiff's entire argument - consisting of one short paragraph. In opposition, defendant argues that it has appropriately responded or objected to plaintiff's interrogatories and that, "plaintiff has failed to articulate how the responses are deficient so that defendant can assess the generalized claims of inadequacies." Def.'s Opp'n at 2.

The court agrees with defendant. The court has reviewed defendant's responses to plaintiff's interrogatories and finds that defendant's responses were not, as a general matter, evasive and non-responsive and that defendant's objections appear to be appropriate. See Pl.'s Mem. in Supp. of Compel, Exh. 4. Furthermore, contrary to plaintiff's implication that defendant objected solely "upon the advice of counsel," every single time defendant used that phrase in its answers, the phrase was followed by specific objections (e.g., overly broad, vague, not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence). Id. Because plaintiff has completely failed to explain how defendant's answers were evasive, incomplete, or non-responsive, it is impossible for the court to determine what information plaintiff wants compelled. Accordingly, the court will not compel defendant to provide further answers to plaintiff's interrogatories.

2. Plaintiff's First Request for Documents

Similarly, plaintiff asserts that defendant's response to her first request for documents was "evasive, deficient, or non-responsive." Pl.'s Reply at 3. However, unlike her complaints about defendant's interrogatory answers, plaintiff does provide examples of how defendant's document responses are deficient. In opposition, defendant argues that it has answered or properly objected to each of plaintiff's requests. Def.'s Opp'n at 2. Defendant argues that "[p]laintiff's requests are not limited in scope, [nor do they] limit the time nor the subject matter of the records to be produced" and that they further "request information regardless of whether it has any relevance to plaintiff's claims." Id. at 2-3. Defendant did not address plaintiff's specific examples of alleged deficiencies in its responses.

The court will first address plaintiff's allegation that defendant's responses were deficient generally. First, plaintiff argues that defendant's responses were "evasive, deficient, or non-responsive." Pl.'s Reply at 3. It is fundamental that, "[i]n drafting document requests, it is the party seeking discovery that bears the burden of fashioning the requests appropriately." Peterson v. Hantman, 227 F.R.D. 13, 17 (D.D.C. 2005). After reviewing plaintiff's requests and defendant's responses, the court finds that many of plaintiff's requests are so confusingly worded that it would have been impossible for defendant to fashion a truly responsive answer and, as a general matter, defendant's responses are not "evasive, deficient, ...


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