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Dickerson v. District of Columbia

United States District Court, District of Columbia

December 19, 2019

KENNETH DICKERSON, et al., Plaintiffs,
v.
DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          PAUL L. FRIEDMAN UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE

         One of the outstanding issues raised by the District of Columbia in its motion to compel discovery responses [Dkt. No. 99] and maintained in an October 30 amended joint status report [Dkt. No. 106] is the failure of the plaintiff, Kenneth Dickerson, to provide a complete answer to Interrogatory No. 22. Interrogatory No. 22 asks Mr. Dickerson to identify the “type, category and amount” of the damages he seeks, including “an explanation of the method by which each amount was calculated” and “the basis for claiming the type or category of damages and the specified amount.” See District of Columbia's First Motion to Compel Discovery Responses (“Mot. to Compel”) [Dkt. No. 99] Exhibit A at 11. In his original answer, Mr. Dickerson referred to his answers to Interrogatory Nos. 15 and 16, and otherwise objected to Interrogatory No. 22 for seeking information already within the defendant's possession or control, and because the information is more readily accessible to the defendant than the plaintiff. See Mot. to Compel, Exhibit C at 19.

         Mr. Dickerson later supplemented his discovery response. His supplemented answer to Interrogatory No. 22 consists of his first answer in its entirety, with two new sentences. Compare Mot. to Compel, Exhibit C at 19 with District of Columbia's Notice of Filing (“Notice of Supp. Answers”) [Dkt. No. 112] Exhibit A at 14. The first new sentence references a “preliminary statement regarding [Mr. Dickerson's] economic losses” that Mr. Dickerson had by then provided to the District. Notice of Supp. Answers, Exhibit A at 14. The second sentence says that Mr. Dickerson “seeks compensatory damages consistent with Sands jury instruction 13.1 and 2, to include emotional harm and inconvenience, as well as harm to his reputation.” Id.

         Mr. Dickerson did not file an opposition to the District's motion to compel. Instead, during a status conference before the Court on November 4, 2019, plaintiff's counsel said that his supplemented answer to Interrogatory No. 22 rendered the District's motion to compel moot. The District maintained that it was still unclear as to what compensatory damages Mr. Dickerson is seeking. Plaintiff's counsel responded that it is not obligated to give any specifics about quantifying an amount of compensatory damages. The Court directed the parties to submit briefs citing cases in support of their respective positions. See Nov. 6, 2019 Mem. Op. and Order [Dkt. No. 107] at 3.

         Upon consideration of the parties' supplemental briefs regarding compensatory damages [Dkt. Nos. 109 and 110] the Court finds that for the specific compensatory damages sought - “emotional harm and inconvenience” and “harm to . . . reputation” - Mr. Dickerson is not required to provide an “amount” or “method by which [that] amount was calculated.” See Mot. to Compel, Exhibit A at 11. He is, however, required to answer Interrogatory No. 22's request for the “basis for claiming the type or category of damages” he seeks - here, “emotional harm and inconvenience, ” and “harm to his reputation.” See Notice of Supp. Answers, Exhibit A at 13-14.

         I. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Scope of Discovery

         Under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, discovery is broad, and parties may “obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). 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.” Cartagena v. Centerpoint Nine, Inc., 303 F.R.D. 109, 112 (D.D.C. 2014) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1)).

         B. Interrogatories

         Rule 33 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure sets forth the procedures for discovery through interrogatories. Walls v. Paulson, 250 F.R.D. 48, 50 (D.D.C. 2008) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 33). Rule 33(b)(3) requires that “[e]ach interrogatory must, to the extent it is not objected to, be answered separately and fully in writing under oath.” Id. “A party to whom an interrogatory is propounded ‘must provide true, explicit, responsive, complete, and candid answers.'” Walls v. Paulson, 250 F.R.D. at 50 (quoting Equal Rights Center v. Post Properties, Inc., 246 F.R.D. 29, 32 (D.D.C. 2007)). “[I]nterrogatories are not only an information gathering tool, but also an opportunity to require one's opponent to state its position on an issue in controversy in writing and under oath.” Covad Commc'ns Co. v. Revonet, Inc., 258 F.R.D. 17, 20 (D.D.C. 2009).

         C. Motion to Compel

         Rule 37 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that “[o]n notice to other parties and all affected persons, a party may move for an order compelling disclosure or discovery.” Pederson v. Preston, 250 F.R.D. 61, 64 (D.D.C. 2008) (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1)). “If a party fails to answer an interrogatory in response to a Rule 33 discovery request, the Court may compel a response.” Guantanamera Cigar Co. v. Corporacion Habanos, S.A., 263 F.R.D. 1, 7 (D.D.C. 2009) (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(3)(B)(iii)). “[A]n evasive or incomplete . . . response must be treated as a failure to . . . respond.” Id. (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(4)). “The party moving to compel discovery has the burden of proving that the opposing party's answers were incomplete.” Equal Rights Center v. Post Properties, Inc., 246 F.R.D. at 32 (citations omitted). “Once that showing is made, however, the burden shifts to the objecting party to explain why discovery should not be permitted.” Cartagena v. Centerpoint Nine, Inc., 303 F.R.D. at 112. “If a party objects to an interrogatory, it must state its grounds for objection ‘with specificity.'” Equal Rights Center v. Post Properties, Inc., 246 F.R.D. at 35 (quoting Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(4)).

         II. DISCUSSION

         A. Objections to ...


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