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Buie v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

August 14, 2018

JAQUIA BUIE, Plaintiff,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA et al., Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION

          ROBIN M. MERIWEATHER UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         Plaintiff, Jaquie Buie (“Ms. Buie” or “Plaintiff”), raises tort claims and civil rights claims under 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendant District of Columbia (“the District” or “Defendant”) and Defendant and former Metropolitan Police Department ("MPD") Officer Darrell L. Best, based on Mr. Best's sexual assault of Ms. Buie when she was a minor. Pending before the Court is a motion (“Motion to Compel”) in which Ms. Buie seeks to compel the District to designate an individual to provide testimony at ¶ 30(b)(6) deposition and to produce documents related to the topics listed in her Notice of Deposition Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6) and Request for Production of Documents (“30(b)(6) Notice”). Ms. Buie also seeks to recover the expenses she incurred to bring the Motion to Compel. The District contends that the 30(b)(6) Notice is overly broad and that it seeks discovery that is disproportionate to the needs of the case, and therefore has cross-moved for a protective order to relieve it from the allegedly burdensome discovery obligations. See Def.'s Mot. for a Protective Order, ECF No. 46. The parties also disagree about how the presumptive seven-hour limit for depositions applies when a party designates multiple witnesses as 30(b)(6) deponents. Having considered the relevant pleadings, the parties' arguments and applicable law, the Court will GRANT-IN-PART and DENY-IN-PART Plaintiff's Motion to Compel, and GRANT-IN-PART and DENY-IN-PART Defendant's Motion for Protective Order.

         BACKGROUND

         This case arises from the sexual assault of Ms. Buie by Defendant Darrell L. Best (“Mr. Best”), who was then an officer with the District of Columbia MPD. See Buie v. District of Columbia, 273 F.Supp.3d 65, 66 (D.D.C. 2017). Mr. Best pled guilty to sexually abusing Ms. Buie and was sentenced to 18 years in prison. Id. As a result of this incident, Ms. Buie sued Mr. Best, the District, and Mayor Muriel Bowser.[1] The Complaint alleges, inter alia, that MPD had a practice and custom of failing to provide adequate training to prevent sexual misconduct by its officers, or to appropriately sanction or discipline officers who engaged in such conduct, thereby creating an environment that facilitated Mr. Best's assault of Ms. Buie. Compl. ¶¶ 48-55, 85-87, 98-100, ECF No. 1.

         On February 23, 2018, Ms. Buie served the District with the 30(b)(6) Notice at issue in this motion. See Mem. P. & A. in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. (“Pl.'s Mem.”) at 11-15, ECF No. 41-1 (copy of the 30(b)(6) Notice). The 30(b)(6) Notice asks the District to designate an official to testify regarding four topics: (1) Mr. Best's personnel, disciplinary, and training files; (2) the disciplinary files and documents concerning the training, supervision, termination, or resignation of other MPD members involved in instances of alleged sexual misconduct and harassment; (3) the methodology and procedures the MPD uses to make significant personnel decisions concerning MPD members involved in alleged sexual harassment or sexual misconduct; and (4) investigatory records pertaining to investigations into alleged instances of sexual misconduct and harassment by MPD members. Id. The 30(b)(6) Notice further requests, pursuant to Rule 34, that the District produce documents related to the four deposition topics. See Id. at 12. For each topic, the 30(b)(6) Notice seeks records and testimony spanning Mr. Best's tenure at MPD, from February 1987 through August 2015. See Id. at 14. The District objected to Ms. Buie's request in a letter dated March 6, 2018, challenging the clarity and specificity of the proposed deposition topics, and the relevance and proportionality of the discovery Ms. Buie seeks. See Pl.'s Mem. at 16-18 (copy of the District's letter).

         After advising the Court of the nature of the dispute in hearings before Judge Kollar -Kotelly and the undersigned Magistrate Judge, Ms. Buie filed the pending Motion to Compel. In that motion, Ms. Buie argued that the proposed deposition topics and requested documents are clearly defined, relevant to her claims, and proportional to the needs of the case. See Pl.'s Mot. to Compel Disc. at 3, ECF No. 41. The District opposed that motion and cross-moved for a protective order, arguing that the 30(b)(6) Notice is overly broad, vague, and unduly burdensome, and that it seeks testimony and documents that are disproportionate to the needs of the case. See Def.'s Opp'n to Pl.'s Mot. to Compel Disc. (“Def.'s Opp'n”) at 4-6, ECF No. 46. The District also asked the Court to narrow the date range for each topic to 2006 through 2015, and submitted declarations explaining that locating responsive personnel, disciplinary, and investigatory records predating 2006 would require a manual search of voluminous files that would take months to complete. See Id. at 12-14. In her reply, Ms. Buie agreed to narrow the scope of her request for testimony and documents by limiting the relevant time period for Topics Two and Four to 2006 through the present for records and testimony concerning all MPD members other than Mr. Best and members of his initial training class. See Pl.'s Reply in Supp. of Pl.'s Mot. to Compel Disc. (“Pl.'s Reply”) at 2-3, ECF No. 47. For records responsive to Topics One and Three, and records responsive to Topics Two and Four that pertain to Mr. Best and his initial training classmates, Ms. Buie seeks records from 1987 through the present. See id.

         The parties further clarified their positions at two motions hearings before the undersigned. The District confirmed that it partially agreed with Ms. Buie's proposed narrowing of the scope of the 30(b)(6) Notice, [2] but continued to object to providing records dating back to 1987 for any MPD member other than Mr. Best. In response to an Order requesting supplemental briefing, the District advised the Court of its intent to release additional records. See 7/24/18 Minute Order; Def. District of Columbia's Response to This Court's July 24, 2018 Minute Order (“Supp. Mem.”), ECF No. 53.

         LEGAL STANDARD

         I. Motion to Compel

         A party who seeks a deposition under Rule 30 and who believes that the opposing party has failed to meet its obligations under that Rule may, after conferring in good faith with the opposing party, seek to compel a response pursuant to Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 37. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(a)(1), 37(a)(3)(B)(i), (iii)-(iv). A party also may move to compel the production of documents requested pursuant to Rule 34. See id.; see generally Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(b)(2) (noting that parties may, in accordance with Rule 34, request documents in connection with a deposition notice). The nonmoving party's obligation to produce a 30(b)(6) witness, or produce documents, turns on whether the disputed deposition topics and document requests fall within the scope of Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b). See Prasad v. George Washington Univ., 325 F.R.D. 1, 3 (D.D.C. 2018) (“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.”); Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a) (permitting requests for production “within the scope of Rule 26(b)”).

         Rule 26(b), in turn, permits discovery into “any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Determining whether proposed discovery is relevant and proportional requires consideration of the importance of the issues at stake, the amount in controversy, the parties' access to the information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and the burden of the discovery relative to the likely benefit. Id. Information within this scope “need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Id. However, the court must limit the extent of discovery if: the discovery is unreasonably cumulative or duplicative or obtainable from another source that is more convenient, less burdensome, or less expensive; the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information by discovery in the action; or the discovery is outside the permitted scope of Rule 26(b)(1). Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C).

         II. Motion for Protective Order

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 provides that “for good cause” a court may issue a protective order “to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). The party requesting the protective order bears the burden of showing good cause “by demonstrating specific evidence of the harm that would result.” Jennings v. Family Mgmt., 201 F.R.D. 272, 275 (D.D.C. 2001); Alexander v. FBI (Alexander I), 186 F.R.D. 71, 75 (D.D.C. 1998); see also Washington v. Thurgood Marshall Acad., 230 F.R.D. 18, 21 (D.D.C), on reconsideration, 232 F.R.D. 6 (D.D.C. 2005) (reconsidering a separate proposition). Protective orders may “deny discovery completely, limit the conditions, time, place, or topics of discovery, or limit the manner in which the confidential information is to be revealed.” Univ. of Mass. v. Roslin Inst., 437 F.Supp.2d 57, 60 (D.D.C. 2006).

         ANALYSIS

         I. Ms. Buie's Procedural Objection to the District's Motion for Protective Order

         Ms. Buie contends that the District's Motion for a Protective Order is not properly before the Court because the District did not receive permission to file such a motion and did not confer with Plaintiff's counsel before filing. Pl.'s Reply at 1-2. Although the Minute Order setting a briefing schedule for this discovery dispute only specifically authorized a Motion to Compel, the District's incorporation of a cross-motion with its opposition was not improper. See generally 4/20/2018 Minute Order. The Protective Order raises no new substantive issues and simply provides an additional procedural vehicle for the District to present its objections to the 30(b)(6) Notice. At the time of filing, the parties had already conferred regarding the 30(b)(6) Notice and had presented their respective positions to the Court at hearings. Given the overlap between the Motion to Compel and Motion for Protective Order, the Court's evaluation of the parties' arguments will encompass both motions.

         II. The Disputed 30(b)(6) Topics

         The District challenges each of the four proposed 30(b)(6) deposition topics, and Ms. Buie's related request for production of related documents, raising overbreadth, proportionality, and vagueness arguments. The District's principal objection is that the proposed deposition topics and document requests are disproportionate and impose an unreasonable burden upon the District to the extent that they seek records that predate 2006 or testimony about matters predating 2006. The Court will address each proposed 30(b)(6) topic, and the District's objections thereto, in turn below.

         A. Topic One - Request For Officer Best's Personnel, Training, and Disciplinary Files

         Topic One seeks testimony regarding Mr. Best's “hiring, promotion, demotion, transfer, training, supervision, termination, or resignation.” 30(b)(6) Notice at Attachment A. The District has not challenged the relevance of testimony or documents pertaining to these topics and has advised the Court that records responsive to Topic One have been produced to Ms. Buie. Therefore, the only remaining dispute concerns Ms. Buie's request that the District designate a deponent to testify regarding the information in those records. The District contends that the request for such testimony is disproportionate to the case, and asks that the testimony be limited to information from 2006 through the present.

         Mr. Best's conduct, the scope of any training and supervision that might have deterred sexual misconduct and his assault of Ms. Buie, and the District's response to Mr. Best's alleged prior misconduct comprise the central issues in this case. Thus the relevance of this proposed deposition topic can hardly be overstated. The District's suggestion that information concerning events that occurred before 2006 is presumptively irrelevant to Ms. Buie's claims is unfounded. If, for example, Mr. Best ...


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