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Williams v. Johanns

September 4, 2007

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 all discovery disputes. Plaintiffs bring claims 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 for denial of due process and equal protection in violation of the Fifth Amendment, and denial of Plaintiffs' USDA loan application based on their race in violation of the Equal Credit Opportunity Act of 1972 ("ECOA"), 15 U.S.C. § 1691 et seq.*fn1 Currently before me is Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel Answers to Interrogatories and for Sanctions and Request for Expedited Ruling [#131] ("Pls. Mot."). In it, Plaintiffs seek supplementation of Defendant's answers to Interrogatories 4, 5, 8, and 10. The motion shall be granted in part and denied in part.

I. BACKGROUND

The discovery in this case has a unique and difficult history that I detailed in a prior opinion. See Williams v. Johanns, ___ F. Supp. 2d ___, Civ. A. No. 03-2245, 2007 WL 2172800, at *1-*2 (D.D.C. July 26, 2007).*fn2 Plaintiffs have been sanctioned by this Court in limiting the evidence they may present at trial. Williams v. Johanns, Civ. A. No. 03-2245, 2006 WL 3826967, at *5-*7 (D.D.C. Dec. 28, 2006). Specifically, the Court (1) limited production of evidence regarding similarly situated white farmers; (2) limited production of evidence regarding medical treatment of Plaintiffs; (3) prohibited Plaintiffs from introducing any additional evidence regarding the legal contention in the Amended Complaint that, by law, "all such [Farm Service Agency] loans are extended to first time and socially disadvantaged farmers"; (4) limited production of evidence relating to damages; and, (5) following extended opportunities to provide witness lists that Plaintiffs did not utilize, required Plaintiffs to forego the introduction of witnesses at trial. Id. Plaintiffs moved for reconsideration of the sanctions, and, as Plaintiffs were still in violation of court orders at the time they requested reconsideration of sanctions issued for those violations, the Court denied the request. Williams, 2007 WL 2172800, at *2-*3. Plaintiffs have indicated their intention to file objections to the Court's ruling and have until September 28, 2007, to do so. See Williams v. Johanns, Civ. A. No. 03-2245, 2007 WL 2376668, at *1 (D.D.C. Aug. 16, 2007).

Plaintiffs now contend that the government failed to adequately respond to four interrogatories. The government counters that it "provided full and complete responses to the interrogatories in question." Defendant's Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel Answers to Interrogatories and for Sanctions [#137] ("Defs. Opp.") at 2. An examination of each interrogatory and its response requires finding for Plaintiffs on nearly each request, with limitations.

II. INTERROGATORY 4

Interrogatory 4 requests that Defendant provide the following:

Please identify by loan number, race and county all State of Texas farm loan applications, whether said loans were approved or disapproved, submitted by farm loan applicants to Defendant from the years 1998 to present. (Names may be redacted to comport with the Privacy Act.) Please include in your answer: (a) the dates of said loan applications; (b) the dates said applications were approved or disapproved; (c) if approved, the dates proceeds of such loans were distributed.

Pls. Mot. at 5. Defendant responded to the interrogatory by stating that the "comparator farmers did not file applications for loan assistance in the relevant time period." Pls. Mot. at 5. Plaintiffs argue the response is insufficient in preventing Plaintiffs from showing that "white farmers received better treatment than they in the loan application process."*fn3

Id. In response, the government contends that it has provided all of the information it is obligated to provide "[b]ecause the Court limited the comparator farmers to Messr. Richbird and Martin" pursuant to the order of December 28, 2006, imposing sanctions. Defs. Opp. at 2.

Defendant is correct that the only evidence relating to comparator farmers Plaintiffs are allowed to introduce at trial is that of the two names provided in interrogatory responses by Plaintiffs. The Court had found that Plaintiffs' initial response, two names and "all white farmers in Nolan County who use FSA services," insufficient to the point of being "cavalier." Williams v. Johanns, 235 F.R.D. 116, 123

(D.D.C. 2006).*fn4 Plaintiffs were ordered to supplement their response, yet when doing so they provided the exact same answer previously held insufficient. As a result, the Court limited Plaintiffs' production of comparator evidence at trial to the two names provided in their interrogatory responses as comparator farmers. Williams, 2006 WL 3826967, at *6.

Nonetheless, the Plaintiffs have the right to review the information requested for discovery purposes, especially as pertains to the denial of loans for other African Americans, for purposes of showing intent. Though evidence of other "bad acts" is never admissible to establish propensity for similar behavior, evidence of other acts of discrimination similar to the discrimination charged may be admitted to show motive or intent, provided the relevance of the evidence outweighs its tendency to prejudice the opponent of the evidence unfairly, pursuant to Federal Rules of Evidence 403 and 404(b). See Miller v. Poretsky, 595 F.2d 780 (D.C. Cir. 1978); Allen v. Perry, 279 F. Supp. 2d 36, 46 (D.D.C. 2003); White v. United States Catholic Conf., Civ. A. No. 97-1253, 1998 WL 429842, at *5 (D.D.C. May 22, 1998). Thus, further response to the interrogatory may yet yield admissible evidence to Plaintiffs beyond that relating to the two comparator farmers previously identified without offending Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) because it may disclose discriminatory treatment of African-American farmers upon which these Plaintiffs may rely to prove their case.

Any response to interrogatories must follow reasonable temporal and geographical limitations. See Glenn v. Williams, 209 F.R.D. 279, 282 (D.D.C. 2002); White, 1998 WL 429842, at *4. To establish similar motivation, discovery of other like discriminatory acts must be related in time and place. See Johnson v. Washington Times, 208 F.R.D. 16, 19 (D.D.C. 2002). Plaintiffs request ten years of documents to support a showing of intent, which is an inordinate length of time to reasonably establish a pattern of discrimination. See Glenn, 209 F.R.D. at 282 (limiting discovery of similar discriminatory ...


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