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Williams v. Johanns

April 27, 2006

ROBERT WILLIAMS, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MIKE JOHANNS, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



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

MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case was referred to me for resolution of discovery disputes. Currently pending before me is Defendants' Motion to Compel. For the reasons stated herein, defendants' motion will be granted.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Robert and Laverne Williams (collectively "plaintiffs") brought this lawsuit against the United States, the Secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture ("USDA"), the USDA's Deputy Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights, and the USDA's Deputy Director of the Office of Civil Rights alleging denial of due process and equal protection in violation of the Fifth Amendment and denial of their USDA loan application based on their race (African-American) in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1972 ("ECOA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1691 et seq.*fn1 Plaintiffs' First Amended Complaint ("Am. Compl.") ¶¶ 32-41. On April 30, 2004, defendants filed a motion to dismiss. On July 5, 2005, defendants' motion was granted and, as a result, plaintiffs' only remaining claim is that the denial of their 2003 application for a Farm Service Agency ("FSA") loan was in violation of the ECOA. Williams v. Veneman, C.A. No. 03-2245 (D.D.C. July 5, 2005) (order granting motion to dismiss).

On September 23, 2005, defendants served their first set of interrogatories and requests for production of documents on plaintiffs. Defendants' Memorandum in Support of Their Motion to Compel ("Defs. Mem.") at 3. Plaintiffs provided their responses to defendants' discovery requests on February 16, 2006. Id. at 5. After reviewing plaintiffs' responses, defendants informed plaintiffs that the responses were inadequate and, on March 6, 2006, plaintiffs provided revised responses. Id. at 1-2. The revised responses, however, were also inadequate and, therefore, on March 21, 2006, defendants filed the present motion to compel. Shortly thereafter, on March 23, 2003, Judge Kollar-Kotelly granted defendants' unopposed motion to extend the deadline for discovery from July 19, 2006 to September 20, 2006.

II. DISCUSSION

A. The Basic Requirements of Rules 33 and 34

Under Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, plaintiffs are required to answer each interrogatory "separately and fully in writing under oath, unless it is objected to, in which event the objecting party shall state the reasons for objection and shall answer to the extent the interrogatory is not objectionable." Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(b)(1). Similarly, under Rule 34, plaintiffs must "state, with respect to each item or category, that inspection and related activities will be permitted as requested, unless the request is objected to, in which event the reasons for the objection shall be stated" and "inspection permitted for the remaining parts." Fed. R. Civ. P. 34(b). Failing to respond as required may have several consequences. First, if the requesting party has to resort to filing a motion to compel in order to obtain the requested information, the responding party may be ordered to reimburse the moving party for the expenses incurred in bringing the motion to compel, including reasonable attorney's fees. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(4)(A).

Failure to respond could also result in more severe sanctions, such as an order deeming certain facts as established against the responding party, prohibiting the responding party from introducing evidence of particular claims, striking sections of the responding party's pleadings, or even entering judgment by default against the responding party. Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(d).

B. Plaintiffs' Discovery Responses

The following chart provides each of defendants' interrogatories, plaintiffs' initial answers to those interrogatories, and plaintiffs' revised answers.*fn2

NumberInterrogatoryInitial AnswerRevised Answer 1Identify persons with knowledge relevant to allegations relating to plaintiffs' 2003 farm operating loan application. State the facts of which each such person has information or knowledge."Plaintiff objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through use of deposition testimony." Names four persons. States: "Will supplement.""Plaintiff objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and vague." Names certain persons but does not provide the facts of which those persons have knowledge. 2State factual bases for contention that defendant violated the ECOA by denying 2003 farm operating loan application on basis of race and indicate date of each discriminatory incident and the discriminatory act performed by USDA employee claimed to be racially motivated."Plaintiff objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through use of deposition testimony." Repeats the allegations in the complaint. States: "Will supplement.""Plaintiff objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and vague." Repeats the allegations of the complaint. States: "See Original and Amended Complaint." 3State whether plaintiffs contend that the handling of their 2003 loan application is an ECOA claim distinct from the denial of their 2003 farm operating loan. If so, state factual bases for that contention and identify discriminatory acts."Plaintiff objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through use of deposition testimony." States: "Yes. See answer to Interrogatory Number 2.""Yes. See answer to Interrogatory Number 2." 4State whether plaintiffs contend that USDA violated the ECOA in handling of administrative complaint and state factual bases for that contention."Plaintiff objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through use of deposition testimony." States: "Yes. See answer to Interrogatory Number 2. FSA has all such documents in its file.""Yes. See answer to Interrogatory Number 2. FSA has all such documents in its file." 5Describe facts relating to 2003 farm operating loan application; state factual bases for contention that plaintiffs were told to reapply."Yes. See Original and Amended Complaint and answer to Interrogatory Number 2. FSA has all such documents in its file.""Yes. See Original and Amended Complaint and answer to Interrogatory Number 2. FSA has all such documents in its file." 6State whether plaintiffs contend that their application was complete and established eligibility, whether plaintiffs have previously filed incomplete applications, and whether plaintiffs have discussed such applications with USDA."Plaintiff objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through use of deposition testimony." States: "Yes. Will supplement.""Yes. See Original and Amended Complaint as well as Office of Civil Rights Complaint file." 7State bases for contention that "rather than being permitted to amend this error" application was denied and state whether plaintiffs contend that they were entitled to or should have been permitted to amend the error."Objection, relevance. Plaintiff objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through use of deposition testimony." States: "Will Supplement.""Yes. See Original and Amended Complaint and Office of Civil Rights file." 8State name of every similarly situated white farmer whose application for a farm operating loan was treated more favorably than plaintiffs' application."Plaintiff objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through use of deposition testimony." Provides two names and states: "All white farmers in Nolan County who use FSA services. FSA maintains all such files."Provides two names and states: "All white farmers in Nolan County who use FSA services. FSA maintains all such files." 9State whether plaintiffs administratively appealed the denial of their 2003 farm operating loan application."No appeal was made.""No appeal was made."*fn3 10Identify each injury for which plaintiffs seek damages and the injuries underlying their contention of injury to business relations, credit reputation, and standing in the community. Specify dollar amount for each such injury."Plaintiff objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through use of deposition testimony. Loss of all farm income. Will supplement with details.""Loss of all farm income for 2003 through present." 11Describe financial status since denial of 2003 farm operating loan application."Plaintiff objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through use of deposition testimony." States: " Will supplement.""None." 12Describe treatment sought or obtained from any health care provider as a result of USDA's alleged violation of ECOA with respect to plaintiffs' 2003 farm operating loan application."Plaintiff objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through use of deposition testimony. Dr. Wayne Hinson. See Production for Complete Report.""Dr. Waymon Hinson. See production for complete report." 13Identify witnesses."Plaintiff objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through use of deposition testimony. Will supplement.""Will supplement." 14State bases for allegation that "by law, all [farm operating] loans are extended to first time and socially disadvantaged farmers, including black farmers . . . .""Plaintiff objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through use of deposition testimony. See 7 CFR.""See 7 CFR." 15Identify documents relied upon in responding to interrogatories or otherwise related to plaintiffs allegations or damages claims with respect to their 2003 farm operating loan application."Will supplement.""In responding to the Defendant's interrogatories, the Plaintiff's file was used." 16Identify persons contacted or involved in responding to interrogatories or solicited for information in support of lawsuit or who investigated any aspect of it."None.""None."

The following chart provides each of defendants' requests for production of documents, plaintiffs' initial responses to those requests, and plaintiffs' revised responses.*fn4

NumberRequestInitial ResponseRevised Response 1Documents used to answer interrogatories."None.""Documents used to answer interrogatories are work product and protected as privileged." 2Documents that refer to the denial, handling, and processing of plaintiffs' 2003 farm loan application."Plaintiff further objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through the use of deposition testimony. Without waiving object [sic], all such documents are in the possession of the USDA/FSA."See affidavits of plaintiffs; "Plaintiff previously produced all other documents and Defendant has possession of all other documents through the Office of Civil Rights." 3Written complaints of discrimination submitted to USDA concerning 2003 farm operating loan application."Plaintiff further objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through the use of deposition testimony. All such documents are in the possession of the USDA Office of Civil Rights."See affidavits of plaintiffs. 4Documents that refer to handling or processing of any complaints of discrimination made by plaintiffs regarding their 2003 loan application."Plaintiff further objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through the use of deposition testimony. See Response to # 3."See affidavits of plaintiffs. 5Documents pertaining to damages."Plaintiff further objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through the use of deposition testimony. Will supplement.""See psychological evaluation by Dr. Waymon R. Hinson, Ph.D." 6Documents pertaining to treatment received."Plaintiff further objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through the use of deposition testimony. Without waiving objection, the Report of Dr. Waymon Hinson is produced.""Plaintiff objects to this request on the basis that said request is overly broad and burdensome. Without waiving the objection, plaintiff encloses the Psychological Evaluation by Dr. Waymon Hinson, Ph.D." 7Documents that describe any physical or emotional disorder plaintiffs suffered with respect to ECOA claim relating to 2003 farm operating loan application."Plaintiff further objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through the use of deposition testimony. Will supplement.""Plaintiff objects to this request on the basis that said request is overly broad and burdensome. Without waiving the objection, plaintiff encloses the Psychological Evaluation by Dr. Waymon Hinson, Ph.D." 8Income tax returns for 2003 and 2004."Plaintiff further objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through the use of deposition testimony. Will supplement."blank 9Documents that relate to plaintiffs' financial status since the denial of their 2003 farm operating loan application."Plaintiff further objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through the use of deposition testimony. Will supplement.""Plaintiff objects to this request on the basis that said request is overly broad and burdensome." 10Documents that refer or relate to monetary relief plaintiffs seek with respect to their ECOA claim(s) regarding the 2003 farm operating loan application."Plaintiff further objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through the use of deposition testimony. Will supplement."blank 11Documents that relate to claim for injunctive relief."Plaintiff further objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through the use of deposition testimony."blank 12Documents that refer or relate to similarly situated white farmers whose applications or complaints were treated more favorably."Plaintiff further objects on the basis that said request is overly broad and seeks information of a descriptive nature that is more appropriately sought through the use of deposition testimony. All such documents are in the possession of USDA."blank 13Documents prepared or considered by an expert witness."Will supplement."blank 14Documents intended to ...


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