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Doe v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 31, 2017

ROBERT AND CARLA DOE, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROBIN M. MERIWEATHER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE.

         On January 10, 2017, this case was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge, pursuant to Local Civil Rule 72.2(a), for resolution of any discovery dispute.[1] Pending before the Court is the Doe Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel (“Motion”) [ECF No. 231], which challenges the adequacy of Defendant District of Columbia's response to Plaintiffs' Interrogatory No. 9. After reviewing the Motion, Plaintiffs' Memorandum in support thereof (“Memorandum”) [ECF No. 231-1], Defendant District of Columbia's Opposition to Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel (“Opposition”) [ECF No. 233], Plaintiffs' Reply (“Reply”) [ECF No. 234], the representations of counsel at the February 7, 2017 status conference, and the entire record herein, the Court will deny the Motion without prejudice for the reasons set forth below.

         I. BACKGROUND

         A. Factual and Procedural History

         The Doe Plaintiffs filed suit against Defendant District of Columbia (“Defendant” or the “District”) and several employees of the District's Child and Family Services Agency (“CFSA”) after CFSA temporarily removed two of their children from their home without a court order, alleging violations of District of Columbia law and the Constitution. See First Amended Complaint for Damages, Declaratory and Injunctive Relief [ECF No. 30], ¶ 96.[2] Judge Hogan dismissed the complaint in its entirety, and the Doe Plaintiffs appealed that decision. See Doe v. District of Columbia, 958 F.Supp.2d 178 (D.D.C. 2013), aff'd in part, vacated in part, Doe v. District of Columbia, 796 F.3d 96 (D.C. Cir. 2015); Doe v. District of Columbia, 796 F.3d 96 (D.C. Cir. 2015). The opinions issued by Judge Hogan and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit (“Circuit Court”) thoroughly describe the factual and procedural history of this case. Accordingly, this opinion discusses only the facts and procedural history pertinent to the resolution of Plaintiffs' motion to compel.

         When evaluating the viability of Plaintiffs' constitutional claims against the District under a theory of municipal liability, the Circuit Court concluded that the District's liability would turn on whether “District policy allows for the warrantless removal of children when there is no bona fide emergency, ” and, relatedly, whether the Doe children were “removed pursuant to a custom or policy of the District.” Doe, 796 F.3d at 105. The Circuit Court therefore reversed the award of summary judgment to the District on the Fourth and Fifth Amendment claims and remanded so that the District Court could determine whether those claims could proceed under a municipal liability theory.

         On remand, Judge Hogan granted Plaintiffs' motion to propound limited discovery that Plaintiffs characterized as being “focused on more fully developing facts and evidence that would be useful in answering the questions posted by the [Circuit Court].” Motion for Leave to Conduct Limited Discovery on Remand [ECF No. 223] at 1; 12/23/2015 Order [ECF No. 226] at 2. Plaintiffs propounded ten interrogatories on January 4, 2016. The discovery dispute involves Plaintiffs' Interrogatory No. 9.

         B. The Parties' Discovery Dispute and Efforts to Resolve that Dispute

         Interrogatory No. 9 requests that Defendant:

[P]rovide the material facts of each CFSA investigation for the time period of 2002 to 2007 that involved children being removed from their homes where a court order was not sought prior to the removal. The term “material facts” is used to mean (a) a case identifier that does not disclose the names of the parties involved, (b) the open and close dates for the case, (c) a description of the reason(s) CFSA got involved in the case, (d) a description of any exigent circumstances or immediate danger that played a role in the decision to remove, (e) the number of children involved, (f) the length of time the child(ren) remained in care outside the home, (g) a description of all services provided, if any, in order to avoid the need to remove the child(ren), and (h) a description of any safety plan the family had in place at the time of the removal.

         Plaintiffs' Interrogatories on Remand [ECF No. 227] at 2-3. On February 5, 2016, the District objected to Interrogatory No. 9, arguing that it was overly broad and unduly burdensome. See Defendant District of Columbia's Answers to Plaintiffs' Interrogatories on Remand [ECF No. 231-4]. Defendant challenged the relevance of including facts regarding removals that occurred between 2005 and 2007 because that time period postdated the 2004 removal of the Doe children from their home. See id.

         On February 17, 2016, Plaintiffs' counsel advised the District that the discovery dispute could be resolved “if the District would search its case files for the narrowed period of January 2003 through October 2004 and provide key dates including any pre- removal court hearing date, and facts relevant to the basis for removal and any exigency.” Memorandum at 3. On March 4, 2016, the District supplemented its response to Interrogatory No. 9 by providing a 147-page chart containing “data pulled from CFSA's electronic system (FACES)” regarding removals during the 2003-2004 time period. See Defendant District of Columbia's Supplemental Answers to Plaintiffs' Interrogatories [ECF No. 231-5] at 5-6. That supplemental response addressed some of the information requested in Interrogatory No. 9 but did not provide “a description of any exigent circumstances or immediate danger that played a role in the decision to remove.” Id. at 5-6.[3]

         The parties, with the assistance of Magistrate Judge Kay, strove to resolve their discovery dispute informally. Beginning in June, 2016, Magistrate Judge Kay convened numerous telephonic status conferences[4] in an effort to develop a workable plan for the production of additional records - such as complaints, removal placement screens, and affidavits of reasonable efforts - in response to Plaintiffs' Interrogatory No. 9. Magistrate Judge Kay sought to balance Plaintiffs' professed need for that information against the District's claim that it would be unduly time-consuming and expensive to retrieve the information requested by Plaintiffs because not all such information was available in a searchable form within the custody of CFSA. Magistrate Judge Kay also conducted an in camera review of certain documents, but was unable to ascertain whether the documents were responsive to all of the categories of information requested by the Plaintiffs.[5]

         By August 16, 2016, it had become apparent that this matter could not be resolved informally. Accordingly, Plaintiffs were permitted to file a motion to compel. Plaintiffs' Motion was filed on September 16, 2016, and ...


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