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Prasad v. The George Washington University

United States District Court, District of Columbia

March 8, 2018

RICCA PRASAD, Plaintiff,
v.
THE GEORGE WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          G. MICHAEL HARVEY UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Ricca Prasad (“Plaintiff”) was a student at George Washington University (“Defendant” or the “University”) between September 2010 and May 2015. She alleges that she suffered sexual abuse and harassment at the hands of another student (known as “V.T.”) during that period, and that Defendant failed to meet its responsibilities under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. § 1681 et seq., failed to provide her with promised protections, negligently inflicted emotional distress, and negligently retained one of its employees involved in the University's disciplinary processes.

         The matter was referred to the undersigned for the resolution of ongoing discovery disputes. After a prior discovery order that addressed, among other things, the overbreadth of Plaintiff's deposition notice pursuant to Rule 30(b)(6) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, see Pra-sad v. George Washington Univ., ___ F.R.D. ___, ___ 2017 WL 4570771, at *9-10 (D.D.C. 2017) (“Prasad I”), the parties began negotiations to narrow the topics on which Defendant would be deposed. Plaintiff first proposed five topics, which were further winnowed down to three after Plaintiff agreed to withdraw Topics II and V of the draft deposition notice. [Dkt. 54 at 32, 43-47, 59-64]. The parties continued to confer on Topics I, III, and IV and, although they were able to resolve a number of disputes, they ultimately sought this Court's guidance on two of the remaining topics-Topics III and IV. A telephone hearing was held on March 6, 2018, to address these issues.

         First, Defendant objects to the following underlined language in Topic III:

GW policies, procedures, and practices during the Relevant Period for: lessening disciplinary recommendations and amending imposed sanctions or Administrative General Actions; allowing a disciplined student to walk at graduation; deferring suspensions; removing suspension transcript notations; entering into and amending behavioral agreements; amending persona non grata status; degree revocation; and remedial measures available for disciplining alumni.

[Dkt. 55-1 at 4]. Additionally, Defendant objects to Topic IV in its entirety:

Policies, procedures, and practices during the Relevant Period related to training on sexual assault, sexual violence, sexual harassment, intimate partner violence, stalking, or other Title IX-related matters of GW employees, including University personnel who personally interact with students on a regular basis and University personnel involved in responding to allegations of sexual harassment.

Id. Defendant argues primarily that the challenged subject matter is irrelevant, but also contends that some of it is duplicative of information already received in document discovery and in depositions of fact witnesses previously taken pursuant to Rule 30(b)(1). [Dkt. 54 at 53-56].

         I. LEGAL STANDARD

         The topics on which a litigant must produce and prepare a 30(b)(6) deponent to testify are limited by the familiar relevance standard of Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, which allows discovery of “any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” See, e.g., Sanofi-Aventis v. Sandoz, Inc., 272 F.R.D. 391, 393 (D.N.J. 2011) (“The scope of questioning at ¶ 30(b)(6) deposition is coextensive with Rule 26(b)(1), but the witnesses must be prepared to testify to at least those topics identified in the notice.”); Overseas Private Inv. Corp. v. Mandelbaum, 185 F.R.D. 67, 68-69 (D.D.C. 1999) (noting that scope of a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition is guided by discovery standard of Rule 26(b)(1)). Relevance “‘has been construed broadly to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on' any party's claim or defense.” United States ex rel. Shamesh v. CA, Inc., 314 F.R.D. 1, 8 (D.D.C. 2016) (quoting Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978)); see also Food Lion, Inc. v. United Food & Commercial Workers Int'l Union, AFL-CIO-CLC, 103 F.3d 1007, 1012 (D.C. Cir. 1997) (“Generally speaking, ‘relevance' for discovery purposes is broadly construed.”). However, “the relevance standard of Rule 26 is not without bite, ” and will not allow “explor[ation] [of] matter which does not presently appear germane on the theory that it might conceivably become so.” Food Lion, 103 F.3d at 1012 (quoting In re Fontaine, 402 F.Supp. 1219, 1221 (E.D.N.Y. 1975)). While the initial responsibility of establishing relevance lies with the party seeking the information, “the burden is on the refusing party to show that the movant's request is burdensome, overly broad, vague or outside the scope of discovery.” United States v. Kellogg Brown & Root Servs., Inc., 284 F.R.D. 22, 33 (D.D.C. 2012).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Topic III

         As to the subject matter included in Topic III, each of the sub-topics that Defendant has objected to are relevant and proper subjects for deposition. Among the issues pertinent to Plaintiff's claim of deliberate indifference is whether the University was aware that Plaintiff's alleged harasser was violating disciplinary restrictions imposed on him and nevertheless lessened or vacated those sanctions in contravention of established policies. Defendant argues that these subtopics are premised on “inaccurate description[s] of the facts” as they have been developed in discovery so far. [Dkt. 54 at 53-54]. However, as discussed at the March 6 Hearing, Plaintiff has adequately shown that there are still factual issues regarding these sub-topics. For example, there is some evidence that the suspension notation on V.T.'s transcript was removed and reinstated, and that the notation was used as a negotiating tactic to encourage V.T. to comply with disciplinary restrictions. Id. at 44. There is also evidence that V.T.'s persona non grata status that was instituted after a 2012 incident with Plaintiff was lifted and thereafter reimposed after a subsequent incident. Id. at 43. This dispute is not the appropriate vehicle in which to determine such factual questions, and Plaintiff has established the relevance of these areas of inquiry.

         Two additional issues require discussion. At the hearing, Plaintiff asserted that she sought to expand this topic slightly to inquire as to Defendant's policies regarding allowing a student who had been disciplined or who had a disciplinary hearing pending to “walk at graduation.” She argues that, although V.T. had not yet had his disciplinary hearing at the time of his graduation, Defendant purposely delayed that hearing until after graduation. Id. at 61-62. In fact, V.T.'s disciplinary hearing for an alleged assault against Plaintiff on April 1, 2013, was held on May 21, 2013, three days after graduation. Id. at 62. In light of that timeline, Plaintiff may investigate policies and procedures regarding allowing a disciplined student or one with pending discipline to walk at graduation. Defendant also argues that the subtopic related to “lessening disciplinary recommendations and amending imposed sanctions or Administrative General Actions” is overbroad and being used as an improper “catch-all” provision. To the extent that this objection is based on the admonition in Prasad I that a Rule 30(b)(6) deposition is not to be used as a “catch-all technique, ” ___F.R.D. at ___, 2017 WL 4570771, at *10, the argument is not well-taken. Prasad I was concerned with a vastly overbroad deposition notice that appeared designed to allow Plaintiff “to reexamine at the end of discovery the universe of ...


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