Court Overruled Plaintiff’s Objection to Magistrate Judge’s Decision to Deny Third Motion to Compel

29 Apr 2022

In NORWOOD v. UNITED PARCEL SERVICE, INC., Case No. 19-2496-DDC-JPO (D. Kansas, Jan. 8, 2021), before the Court was Plaintiff’s Objections to two orders issued by Magistrate Judge James P. O’Hara. Plaintiff’s first Objection asked the Court to set aside Judge O’Hara’s Order that denied Plaintiff’s Third Motion to Compel.

On August 22, 2019, Plaintiff filed an employment discrimination lawsuit against her former employer for, among others, failing to accommodate in violation of the ADA and retaliation against Plaintiff for filing an EEOC charge.

Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 72(a) permits a party to present specific written objection to a magistrate judge’s order. When reviewing a magistrate judge’s order deciding non-dispositive pretrial matters, the district court applies a “clearly erroneous or contrary to law” standard of review. Under this standard, the district court does not conduct a de novo review of the factual findings; instead, it must affirm a magistrate judge’s order unless a review of the entire evidence leaves it “with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been committed.”

On October 22, 2020, Judge O’Hara issued an Order denying Plaintiff’s Third Motion to Compel. Plaintiff had moved to compel Defendant to respond to three requests for production. Judge O’Hara analyzed the requests for production under Fed. R. Civ. P. 26 and explained that Rule 26 provides “that the parties may obtain discovery regarding ‘any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claims or defenses and proportional to the needs of the case.’”

Plaintiff’s Request No. 1 asked the Defendant to produce “all instant messages contained on plaintiff’s former laptop,” and Request No. 2 sought “all emails in .pst format contained on plaintiff’s former laptop.” Plaintiff asserted the documents were relevant to rebut Defendant’s arguments about her poor work performance.

Judge O’Hara found “[b]eyond these assertions, there is no case law or support in [plaintiff’s] motion for why the entire database of messages is relevant, proportionate, and not overly broad.” He noted that Defendant had no reason to believe that Plaintiff never returned her laptop, so Defendant did not have responsive documents in the first place. Without the laptop, Defendant could not produce instant messages because they are not maintained on its system. Additionally, Defendant already conducted an ESI search on Plaintiff’s .pst file and produced the relevant documents.

Judge O’Hara found Plaintiff’s motion constituted an improper attempt to reargue ESI issues. He noted that Plaintiff failed to show that Defendant’s ESI search failed to capture additional messages or how any additional messages were proportional or relevant.

Judge O’Hara addressed Request No. 3 that asked Defendants to produce “all safety reports or the underlying data in a format” like that reflected two other exhibits. Judge O’Hara explained that Defendant had already produced the relevant information Defendant had in its possession regarding safety reports. Plaintiff also did not show she was entitled to additional information.

Plaintiff’s Objection made the conclusory assertion that Judge O’Hara’s Order was “clearly erroneous or contrary to law” but Plaintiff never explained why. The instant Court found that Plaintiff did not show that Judge O’Hara’s Order was “contrary to law.” Judge O’Hara applied the correct legal standard and analyzed Plaintiff’s discovery requests correctly under Rule 26(b)(1).

The Court then analyzed Rule 72’s “clearly erroneous” prong.

For Request Nos. 1 and 2, Plaintiff argued that the emails and instant messages “constitute[ed] Plaintiff’s own statements and therefore production of those statements for a four-month period should be required.” Plaintiff’s counsel’s email to Defendant asked for documents from December 17, 2017 until Plaintiff’s retirement in April 2019. However, Plaintiff never explained which four-month time period she sought.

Regardless, the Court noted that Plaintiff’s Objection did not establish that Judge O’Hara’s decision was clearly erroneous. Plaintiff did not explain how all the emails and instant messages were relevant to the claims and defenses in the case, especially considering Defendant already conduced an ESI search using court-approved search terms and produced relevant documents. Accordingly, the Court found, in regard to Requests No. 1 and 2, that Judge O’Hara did not commit clear err by refusing to compel Defendant’s responses.

For Request No. 3, Plaintiff argued that she required Defendant’s safety reports that, she contended, showed that other similarly situated managers performed worse than she did in safety, but Defendant never placed those employees on a performance improvement plan. She asserted that Judge O’Hara erred by refusing to compel Defendant to produce this information.

Plaintiff’s Objection asserted that if Defendant did not maintain reports in a particular format, then Judge O’Hara should have compelled Defendant to produce the underlying safety report data. In response to Plaintiff’s Objection, Defendant explained that it had discovered some additional monthly safety reports during its search to produce responsive documents to another, later requested for production that Plaintiff propounded.

Defendant represented that it would produce the safety reports to Plaintiff but could not recreate month-to-month reports for any time period before November 2019 because the underlying data no longer existed after 12 months.

Based on the foregoing, the Court did not find that Judge O’Hara’s decision refusing to compel Defendant to respond to Request No. 3 was in clear error. Judge O’Hara correctly concluded that Defendant had produced the safety report information that it had in its possession, and Plaintiff never demonstrated that she was entitled to additional information under Rule 26.

The Court thus overruled Plaintiff’s objections to Judge O’Hara’s Order denying plaintiff’s Third Motion to Compel, and it affirmed his decision.