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Cartagena v. Centerpoint Nine, Inc.

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 13, 2014

ALFONSO ROBERTO GAFARRETTE CARTAGENA, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
CENTERPOINT NINE, INC., Defendant.

MEMORANDUM OPINION

JOHN D. BATES, District Judge.

Plaintiffs Alfonso Roberto Gafarrette Cartagena ("Cartagena") and Noe Humberto Leiba ("Leiba") bring this action against their former employer, defendant Centerpoint Nine, Inc. ("Centerpoint"), seeking unpaid overtime wages and statutory damages under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 ("FLSA") and the D.C. Minimum Wage Act Revision Act of 1992 ("DCMWA"). Now before the Court is [15] Centerpoint's motion to compel discovery and partial motion to dismiss, filed after a dispute arose when Centerpoint sought discovery from both plaintiffs regarding their immigration status. Leiba opposed the discovery requests; Cartagena did not respond. Accordingly, Centerpoint seeks an order compelling discovery against plaintiff Leiba, and dismissing all of plaintiff Cartagena's claims. For the reasons set forth below, the Court will grant the motion to compel and deny the motion to dismiss.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiff Cartagena filed this action on July 12, 2013, naming Centerpoint as the only defendant. See Compl. [ECF No. 1]. Cartagena, then represented by Mr. Gregg C. Greenberg of The Zipin Law Firm, LLC, sought statutory damages under the FLSA and unpaid overtime wages under the DCMWA. Id. at 1. Cartagena alleged that he worked for Centerpoint (as a dishwasher and a food preparer) for about 99 weeks, for 60 hours per week, at a flat rate of $375 per week ($6.25 per hour). Id . ¶¶ 9-11. Centerpoint denied these allegations. See Answer [ECF No. 7] ¶¶ 9-11.

An amended complaint was filed, with the only change being the addition of plaintiff Leiba (also represented by Mr. Greenberg). See Am. Compl. [ECF No. 9]. Leiba alleged that he had worked for Centerpoint (also as a dishwasher and a food preparer) for 25 weeks, for 60 hours per week, at a flat rate of $450 per week ($7.50 per hour). Id . ¶¶ 19-21. Centerpoint filed an amended answer, and once again denied these allegations. See Answer to Am. Compl. [ECF No. 10] ¶¶ 19-21.

Discovery began on October 18, 2013, and is currently ongoing. See Oct. 18, 2013 Scheduling Order [ECF No. 12]. The first hiccup came on December 5, 2013, when Mr. Greenberg filed a consent motion to withdraw as counsel for his original client, Cartagena. See Mot. to Withdraw [ECF No. 13]. Mr. Greenberg explained that a "serious and irreparable rift has developed" between him and plaintiff Cartagena, and that "communication difficulties" between the two of them "made it impossible for [Greenberg] to represent [Cartagena] effectively and ethically." Id . ¶ 1. Mr. Greenberg made clear that he wished to continue representing plaintiff Leiba. Id. at 1 n.1.

Upon consideration of Cartagena's apparent non-responsiveness to his attorney's communications, Mr. Greenberg's desire to withdraw, and Centerpoint's consent, the Court granted the motion to withdraw. See Dec. 5, 2013 Order [ECF No. 14]. The Court ordered Cartagena to "file a notice with the Court by not later than January 3, 2014, confirming either that new counsel has been obtained or that he intends to proceed pro se." Id . The Clerk of the Court mailed a copy of this Order to plaintiff Cartagena at his last known address. See id. Cartagena never filed the requested notice or communicated with the Court in any way, and no attorney has entered an appearance on his behalf since Mr. Greenberg's withdrawal. And according to counsel for Leiba and Centerpoint, Cartagena is nowhere to be found, and has not responded to any discovery requests.

Meanwhile, on December 13, 2013, counsel for Leiba and Centerpoint called chambers to discuss a discovery dispute, consistent with the Court's instruction for handling such matters. See Oct. 18, 2013 Scheduling Order. Specifically, Leiba had objected to discovery requests regarding his immigration status and whether he had legal authorization to work in the United States. Pursuant to the Court's instructions, Centerpoint filed a motion to compel discovery, and the parties-or, to be precise, Leiba and Centerpoint-briefed the issue. The motion to compel is now fully briefed and ripe for resolution.

Centerpoint also filed a motion to dismiss all claims of plaintiff Cartagena, for failure to prosecute and failure to respond to discovery requests. Centerpoint mailed a copy of the motion to Cartagena's last known address. Cartagena filed no response.

LEGAL STANDARDS

A. Motion to Compel

"The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure encourage the exchange of information through broad discovery." In re England , 375 F.3d 1169, 1177 (D.C. Cir. 2004). Rule 26(b)(1) provides that "[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense." To be relevant for discovery purposes, "information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Put differently, "a party may discover information which is not admissible at trial if such information will have some probable effect on the organization and presentation of the moving party's case." Smith v. Schlesinger , 513 F.2d 462, 473 (D.C. Cir. 1975) (citations omitted).[1] The term "relevant" thus has a different meaning-and a broader scope-under Rule 26(b) than it does under Rule 401 of the Federal Rules of Evidence. See, e.g., Hodgdon v. Northwestern Univ. , 245 F.R.D. 337, 341 (N.D. Ill. May 29, 2007); Lineen v. Metcalf & Eddy, Inc., No. 96-2718, 1997 WL 73763, at *1 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 21, 1997); Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, 8 Federal Practice & Procedure § 2008 (3d ed.). When a request for discovery is propounded, the party opposing the request should lodge a timely objection. The party moving to compel production of documents bears the initial burden of explaining how the requested information is relevant. See Bethea v. Comcast , 218 F.R.D. 328, 329 (D.D.C. 2003). Once that showing is made, however, the burden shifts to the objecting party to explain why discovery should not be permitted. See Doe v. District of Columbia , 231 F.R.D. 27, 30 (D.D.C. 2005); Alexander v. FBI , 192 F.R.D. 50, 53 (D.D.C. 2000).

B. Failure to Prosecute

Local Civil Rule 83.23 provides that "[a] dismissal for failure to prosecute may be ordered by the Court upon motion by an adverse party, or upon the Court's own motion." This rule "essentially embodies the standard of Rule 41(b) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which allows a district court to dismiss an action for failure to prosecute." Smith-Bey v. Cripe , 852 F.2d 592, 593 (D.C. Cir. 1988); see also Fed.R.Civ.P. 41(b) ("For failure of the plaintiff to prosecute or to comply with these rules or any order of court, a defendant may move for dismissal of an action or of any claim against the defendant."). "A lengthy period of inactivity may also be enough to justify dismissal under Rule 41(b)." Smith-Bey , 852 F.2d at 593. "This is particularly true if the plaintiff... previously had been warned by the court that he or she must act with greater diligence, ... has presented no legitimate excuse for the delay, or if there are other factors aggravating the offending party's inaction." Charles Alan Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Mary Kay Kane, 9 Federal Practice & Procedure § 2370 (3d ed.). Finally, "[b]ecause disposition of claims on the merits is favored, the harsh sanction of dismissal for failure to prosecute is ...


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