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Odongo v. City of Indianapolis

United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Indianapolis Division

January 30, 2015

JIMMY ODONGO, Plaintiff,


MARK J. DINSMORE, Magistrate Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff Jimmy Odongo's Motion Seeking to Find Defendant in Contempt of Court.[1] [Dkt. 27.] For the following reasons, the Court hereby GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiff's motion to compel, DENIES Plaintiff's motion for sanctions based on undue delay, and schedules for an evidentiary hearing on the issue of spoliation of evidence.

I. Background

Plaintiff filed his Complaint pro se against the City of Indianapolis ("Defendant") on May 7, 2014, alleging employment discrimination and wrongful termination from the police academy due to his national origin, pursuant to Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. [Dkt. 1.] At the initial pretrial conference on August 27, 2014, Plaintiff provided Defendant with his Response to Defendant's Affirmative Defenses Claim, which included twenty-two requests for documents therein. [Dkt. 31 at 1.] In September of 2014, pursuant to the Court's Scheduling Order dated August 29, 2014, Plaintiff additionally delivered his initial witness and exhibit list to Defendant, listing dozens of exhibits he intends on using at trial. [Dkt. 27-3 at 10-11.] Also in September, Defendant informally responded to Plaintiff's twenty-two requests, which Defendant followed-up with a formal response on November 25, 2014. [Dkt. 31 at 1.] Plaintiff, remaining dissatisfied with Defendant's responses, then filed his Motion Seeking to Find Defendant in Contempt of Court on December 22, 2014 for Defendant's alleged undue delay and spoliation of evidence. [Dkt. 27.] Oral argument was held before the Court on January 23, 2015 regarding Plaintiff's motion; the undersigned ruled from the bench, which ruling are memorialized below.

II. Discussion

Rule 37 permits a party to file a motion to compel a required disclosure and for sanctions upon "evasive or incomplete disclosure, answer, or response." Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a). A required disclosure, as broadly defined by Rule 26, includes any information that a party may use to support its claims. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 (a)(1)(A). "For good cause, the court may order discovery of any matter relevant" to the issues of the case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26 (b)(1). "Thus, the scope of discovery should be broad in order to aid in the search for truth." Kodish v. Oakbrook Terrace Fire Prot. Dist., 235 F.R.D. 447, 450 (N.D. Ill. 2006). Ultimately, this Court has "broad discretion in discovery matters." Packman v. Chicago Tribune Co., 267 F.3d 628, 646 (7th Cir. 2001). Additionally, while the district court has a duty to recognize the pro se status of a party and treat him accordingly, "pro se litigants are not entitled to a general dispensation from the rules of procedure." Jones v. Phipps, 39 F.3d 158, 163 (7th Cir.1994).

A. Plaintiff's Motion to Compel

In its formal response to Plaintiff's twenty-two requests for production contained within his Response to Defendant's Affirmative Defenses Claim, Defendant made numerous objections, both general and specific. [Dkt. 27-1.] When a party raises objections to discovery requests, the objecting party bears the burden of proving that a discovery request is improper. See, e.g., Janssen v. Howse, 09-CV-3340, 2011 WL 2533809 (C.D. Ill. June 27, 2011); Cunningham v. Smithkline Beecham, 255 F.R.D. 474, 478 (N.D. Ind. 2009). General objections to discovery requests that merely recite boilerplate language without explanation do not meet this burden, and courts within the Seventh Circuit consistently overrule them or entirely disregard such objections. See Novelty, Inc. v. Mountain View Mktg., Inc., 265 F.R.D. 370, 375 (S.D. Ind. 2009) ("general objections' made without elaboration, whether placed in a separate section or repeated by rote in response to each requested category, are not objections' at all-and will not be considered"); Burkybile v. Mitsubishi Motors Corp., No. 04 C 4932, 2006 WL 2325506, at *9 (N.D. Ill. Aug. 2, 2006) (overruling boilerplate objections made generally and without elaboration).

In its formal response to Plaintiff's twenty-two requests, Defendant first notes that "[p]ublically available documents including, but not limited to, newspaper clippings, court papers and documents available on the Internet, will not be produced." [Dkt. 27-1 at 2.] When addressed at oral argument, Defendant provided no explanation, no case law, and no rule in support of this refusal to produce. Due to Defendant's insufficient explanation, in conjunction with the notion that a document response can be valuable in proving that a party has certain information within its possession, the Court overruled Defendant's objection to the production of publically available documents.

Proceeding with Defendant's general objections, the Court addressed Defendant's objection "to each document request that is overly broad, unduly burdensome, or not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." [Dkt. 27-1 at 3.] When read in conjunction with Defendant's added statement that it "incorporates by reference every general objection set forth above into each specific response set forth below, " the aforementioned objection ipso facto asserts that each request is overly broad, unduly burdensome, and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. [ Id. at 3.] On this point, Defendant, again, had no explanation to support the assertion that each request is so overbroad, unduly burdensome, or irrelevant, and, pursuant to Burkeybile, the Court overruled such objections.

Defendant then makes a general objection to "each document request to the extent that it calls for production of a privilege log for internal documents, " adding that such a request for a log is "unreasonable and unduly burdensome in light of the work product doctrine, governmental deliberative process privilege, and other privileges." [ Id. ] However, Defendant presented no legal support for this assertion at oral argument. In contrast, Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26 plainly states that "a party withholding information otherwise discoverable by claiming that the information is privileged or subject to protection as trial-preparation material... must: expressly make the claim; and describe the nature of the documents, communications, or tangible things not produced or disclosed-and do so in a manner that, without revealing information itself privileged or protected, will enable other parties to assess the claim." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(5)(A) (emphasis added). In the Seventh Circuit, this requirement demands the use of a "proper privilege log, " which requires "a document-by-document description of the privilege asserted and the facts supporting it." Novelty, Inc. v. Mountain View Mktg., Inc., 265 F.R.D. 370, 380 (S.D. Ind. 2009). Thus, Defendant's general objection refusing to present such a privilege log as "unreasonable and unduly burdensome" is contrary to law and was overruled at oral argument.

Defendant's next general objection, "to each definition, instruction, and document requests [sic], to the extent that it seeks documents protected from disclosure by the attorneyclient privilege, deliberative process privilege, attorney work product doctrine, or any other applicable privilege, " is similarly improper. [Dkt. 27-1 at 3.] As discussed above, Plaintiff is within his right to request such documents, and in response Defendant may produce a proper privilege log in lieu of document production; an unsubstantiated general objection is insufficient. Accordingly, the Court overruled Defendant's fourth general objection at oral argument for the same reasoning for which Defendant's third general objection was overruled.

Defendant's last general objection addressed at oral argument "objects to each definition, instruction, and document request as overbroad and unduly burdensome to the extent it seeks documents that are readily or more accessible to Plaintiff from Plaintiff's own files or documents that Plaintiff previously produced to Defendant." [ Id. ] This, too, is an improper objection, as a party can only refuse to produce the documents that it has already produced during this litigation as unreasonably cumulative. Additionally, the fact that certain documents may be "more accessible to Plaintiff" deprives Plaintiff of the value in knowing whether certain discovery lies within the possession, custody, or control of Defendant. Finally, as Defendant raised this point as an unsubstantiated general objection, and Defendant was not able to further substantiate the objection at oral argument, the Court overruled this objection as well.

Additionally, Defendant objects to "Plaintiff's instructions to the extent they are overbroad, unduly burdensome, vague, ambiguous, attempt to extend the scope of discovery beyond the Federal Rules of Civil procedure, impose obligations greater than those set forth in the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, calls [sic] for the production of documents that are irrelevant to this action, and not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." [Dkt. 27-1 at 4.] This objection, again, is not explained within Defendant's formal response to Plaintiff's requests. Looking to Docket Entry 27-2, the Court noted that the only "instruction" to which Defendant could object directed Defendant to respond to his request for production one week after its issuance. [Dkt. 27-2 at 2.] Because Rule 34 requires that the responding party make its responses and objections "in writing within 30 days after being served, " Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(A), Plaintiff's one-week requirement was not in compliance with the federal rules of civil procedure. ...

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