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Williams v. Johanns

December 28, 2006

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



MEMORANDUM OPINION

This case was referred to me for resolution of discovery disputes. Currently pending before me are four motions, including Defendants' Second Motion to Compel [#74] ("Second Motion to Compel"), Defendant's Motion for an Independent Medical Examination*fn1 of Plaintiffs, and for an Extension of Certain Deadlines [#78] ("Motion for IME"), Plaintiff's Motion to Amend Scheduling Order [#82] ("Motion to Amend"), and plaintiffs' Emergency Motion to Quash Depositions [#87] ("Motion to Quash"). Also outstanding is a request for attorneys' fees owed by plaintiff relating to defendants' first Motion to Compel [#58]. See Minute Order, May 15, 2006. For the reasons stated herein, defendants' Motion to Compel will be granted; defendants' Motion for IME will be granted in part and denied in part; plaintiffs' Motion to Amend will be granted in part and denied in part; and plaintiffs' Motion to Quash will be denied as moot. Plaintiffs' counsel will also be ordered to pay attorneys' fees relating to defendant's first Motion to Compel in the amount of $2,186.54.*fn2

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs Robert and Laverne Williams (collectively "plaintiffs") initially 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.*fn3 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. See Williams v. Veneman, 235 F.R.D 116, 117 (D.D.C. 2006). Plaintiffs provided their responses to defendants' discovery requests on February 16, 2006. Id. After reviewing plaintiffs' responses, defendants informed plaintiffs that the responses were inadequate and, on March 6, 2006, plaintiffs provided revised responses. Id. The revised responses, however, were also inadequate and, therefore, on March 21, 2006, defendants filed their first Motion to Compel [#58]. 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. On April 27, 2006, I issued an Order with a Memorandum Opinion granting plaintiffs' first Motion to Compel. Id. Following plaintiffs' submission of supplemental discovery responses to defendants in an effort to comply with court orders, defendants filed their Second Motion to Compel currently at issue on May 12, 2006. On July 5, 2006, defendants filed their Motion for IME, which included: (1) a request for an order directing plaintiffs to submit to a medical examination pursuant to Rule 35, and (2) a request to extend the deadline for defendants to serve the independent medical examiner's report. Motion for IME at 1. On July 27, 2006, plaintiffs filed a Motion to Amend the discovery schedule to extend all deadlines by 90 days. Following the filing of plaintiffs' Emergency Motion to Quash Depositions on August 21, 2006, this Court entered a stay of all discovery on August 24, 2006.

II. DISCUSSION

A. Defendant's Second Motion To Compel

1. Federal Rules Regarding Discovery

As this Court previously stated, 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) (emphasis added). Similarly, in response to requests for documents 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). As has already been the case here, 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). In addition, Rule 37 permits the court to impose further sanctions when a party refuses to obey a discovery order. FED. R. CIV. P. 37(b)(2).

2. Plaintiffs' Discovery Responses

Plaintiff has been sanctioned once already in this case for failing to respond adequately to discovery requests. See Williams v. Veneman, 235 F.R.D. at 124; Minute Order, May 15, 2006. Following the defendants' first Motion to Compel, this Court ordered plaintiffs to correct the insufficiency of their discovery responses and specifically provided reasons why supplementation was necessary. Defendants now ask the Court again to compel discovery responses from plaintiffs due to insufficient answers provided in response to this Court's Order. See Defendants' Memorandum in Support of Their Second Motion to Compel ("Defs. Mem. to Compel"). Plaintiffs did not file any response or opposition to defendants' Second Motion to Compel.

The following chart provides each of defendants' interrogatories at issue , plaintiffs' interrogatory responses on which this Court based its previous ruling, and plaintiffs' supplemental answers in response to that Order, provided to defendant on May 12, 2006.*fn4

NumberInterrogatoryPrevious Answer (March 6, 2006)Court's Ruling (April 27, 2006)Supplemental Answer (May 8, 2006) 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 vague." Names certain persons but does not provide the facts of which those persons have knowledge.Insufficient; no facts provided in response to interrogatory.Names 8 individuals, describes who each person is, and describes generally some facts of which each is aware, while referring to other facts "here-to-for not developed." Adds that this interrogatory "will be supplemented in accordance with rules." 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 vague." Repeats the allegations of the complaint. States: "See Original and Amended Complaint."Allegations in complaint do not constitute answers to specific interrogatories posed.References to complaint removed; three sentences added as to plaintiffs' travel to another county for service; unspecified allegations of Mr. Kalina and Mr. Cumbie contriving to find a way to deny the Williams's loan application; and the occurrence of these events between January and March 2003. 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."Yes. See answer to Interrogatory Number 2." Allegations in complaint do not constitute answers to specific interrogatories posed"Yes. See answer to Interrogatory Number 2."Same as previous answer. 4State whether plaintiffs contend that USDA violated the ECOA in handling of administrative complaint and state factual bases for that contention."Yes. See answer to Interrogatory Number 2. FSA has all such documents in its file."Allegations in complaint do not constitute answers to specific interrogatories posed. Nor is it any answer to refer defendants to a "file.""No."*fn5 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."Allegations in complaint do not constitute answers to specific interrogatories posed. Existence of file not an answer to an interrogatory.Refers to loan file that is not in possession of plaintiffs. 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."Yes. See Original and Amended Complaint as well as Office of Civil Rights Complaint file."Allegations in complaint do not constitute answers to specific interrogatories posed. Nor is it any answer to refer defendants to a "file.""Yes. According to Mr. Kalina, the farm and home plan cash-flowed up and until the second lien search was done." 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."Yes. See Original and Amended Complaint and Office of Civil Rights file."Allegations in complaint do not constitute answers to specific interrogatories posed. Nor is it any answer to refer defendants to a "file.""The issue regarding the omission of the Key Brothers lien on this issue was left out of the initial loan application. Mr. Williams asked to include that information on a corrected application. His request was denied." 8State name of every similarly situated white farmer whose application for a farm operating loan was treated more favorably than plaintiffs' application.Provides two names and states: "All white farmers in Nolan County who use FSA services. FSA maintains all such files.""Cavalier" response as to "border on the contumacious."Provides two names and states: "All white farmers in Nolan County who use FSA services. FSA maintains all such files." Same as previous answer. 9State whether plaintiffs administratively appealed the denial of their 2003 farm operating loan application."No appeal was made."No ruling."No appeal was made." Same as previous answer.*fn6 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."Loss of all farm income for 2003 through present."Insufficient.List of dollar amounts of loan liabilities, lost income, and damages without any specification of how arrived at and with incorrect addition of figures. 11Describe financial status since denial of 2003 farm operating loan application."None.""None" is not a legitimate answer.States unspecified borrowing from friends and lists three First National Bank loans with their dollar amounts. 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."Dr. Waymon Hinson. See production for complete report.""Providing a psychological report concerning plaintiffs' mental health is not responsive,""Dr. Waymon Hinson. See production for complete report." Same as previous answer. 13Identify lay and expert witnesses."Will supplement."Insufficient."Will supplement." Same as previous answer. 14State bases for allegation that "by law, all [farm operating] loans are extended to first time and socially disadvantaged farmers, including black farmers . . . .""See 7 CFR."Providing an incorrect reference to the Code of Federal Regulations does not respond to the request made."See 7 CFR." Same as previous answer. 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."In responding to the Defendant's interrogatories, the Plaintiff's file was used."Saying "Plaintiff's file was used" does not respond to the request made."In responding to the Defendant's interrogatories, the Plaintiff's file was used." Same as previous answer. 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."Insufficient. Not reasonably possible."Our attorney."

3. Plaintiffs' Supplemental Answers to Defendants' Interrogatories Are Insufficient and in Direct Violation of this Court's Order

Plaintiffs' supplemental answers to defendants' interrogatories remain utterly deficient and, more egregiously, directly violate the orders of this Court. As described below, amended answers that nonetheless remain deficient are ordered supplemented within ten days. Answers that violate orders of this Court are sanctioned accordingly. Each is described in turn.

a. Supplemented Answers Remain Inadequate.

Even where plaintiffs supplement their answers with additional "details," plaintiffs continue to provide defendants with inadequate substantive information. In response to Interrogatory No. 1, which asks plaintiffs to identify persons with relevant knowledge and to state the facts of which those persons have knowledge, plaintiffs continue to state that additional supplementation will be provided. Though plaintiffs followed the Court's previous Order by supplementing its answer with facts known, the statement that the interrogatory "will be supplemented according to the ...


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