United States District Court, S.D. Indiana, Evansville Division
ORDER ON OBJECTIONS TO MAGISTRATE JUDGE'S ORDER ON PLAINTIFF'S MOTION TO COMPEL DISCOVERY RESPONSES AND DEFENDANT JASEN CLEGG'S MOTION FOR PROTECTIVE ORDER
TANYA WALTON PRATT, District Judge.
This matter is before the Court on Parties' Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Order on Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery Responses and Defendant Jasen Clegg's Motion for Protective Order. On March 3, 2015 the Magistrate Judge issued an Order (Filing No. 48) granting in part and denying in part the Motion to Compel and the Motion for Protective Order. Plaintiff George Madison, Jr. ("Mr. Madison") filed objections, asserting that the motion for protective order should have been denied and the motion to compel should have been granted without limitation, with costs and fees awarded (Filing No. 50). Conversely, Defendants City of Evansville, Jasen Clegg, and Darin Clifton (collectively, the "Defendants") filed objections, asserting that discovery should be prohibited until resolution of the Defendants' motion for summary judgment (Filing No. 49). For the following reasons, the Objections to the Magistrate Judge's Order are OVERRULED.
I. LEGAL STANDARD
Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure governs discovery. It states, "Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense.... Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." F.R.C.P. 26(b)(1).
The discovery rules are interpreted liberally and broadly "to encompass any matter that bears on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that could bear on, any issue that is or may be in the case." Oppenheimer Fund v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978). A liberal and broad approach to discovery is appropriate because "discovery itself is designed to help define and clarify the issues." Id. However, Rule 26(b) permits the court to limit the scope of discovery. In fact, Rule 26(b)(2)(C) requires the court to limit discovery if the court determines that the burden or expense of the discovery outweighs its likely benefit. District courts have broad discretion in discovery matters, and therefore, discovery determinations are given substantial deference and are reviewed for an abuse of discretion. Packman v. Chicago Tribune Co., 267 F.3d 628, 646-47 (7th Cir. 2001).
A pretrial, non-dispositive matter, such as a discovery motion, may be referred to a magistrate judge for decision. The parties may file objections to a magistrate judge's order. If objections are filed, "[t]he district judge in the case must consider timely objections and modify or set aside any part of the order that is clearly erroneous or is contrary to law." F.R.C.P. 72(a). This standard is highly deferential. "The clear error standard means that the district court can overturn the magistrate judge's ruling only if the district court is left with the definite and firm conviction that a mistake has been made." Weeks v. Samsung Heavy Indus. Co., 126 F.3d 926, 943 (7th Cir. 1997). Therefore, the Court will modify or set aside the Magistrate Judge's Order only if it is clearly erroneous or contrary to law.
The parties have each filed objections to the Magistrate Judge's Order which the Court will address in turn.
A. Defendants Objection (Filing No. 49)
The Defendants argue that the Magistrate's Order should be set aside because they have asserted qualified immunity as a defense, therefore, the immunity issue should be resolved before allowing any discovery. They rely on Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 598 (1998) and other Supreme Court case law for their argument. Defendants' claim that the requested discovery is not relevant to qualified immunity or their pending Motion for Summary Judgment.
The Supreme Court cases cited by the Defendants explain that the question of qualified immunity should be resolved first because of the concern for "protecting government's ability to perform its traditional functions." Wyatt v. Cole, 504 U.S. 158, 167 (1992). The Defendants also point out that "[o]ne of the purposes of immunity, absolute or qualified, is to spare a defendant not only unwarranted liability, but unwarranted demands customarily imposed upon those defending a long drawn out lawsuit." Siegert v. Gilley, 500 U.S. 226, 232 (1991). Here, it does not appear that Mr. Madison is seeking to unnecessarily draw out this litigation by his discovery requests. The Defendants filed a summary judgment motion not only on the issue of qualified immunity but also on Mr. Madison's entire Complaint. Thus, Mr. Madison should be given the opportunity to defend against the Motion for Summary Judgment as to qualified immunity and his Complaint.
The heart of the Defendants' argument is that "[t]he Order is clearly erroneous because none of the requested discovery is necessary to address the issues presented in the Motion [for Summary Judgment]." (Filing No. 49 at 6.) Defendants argue that the discovery sought is not relevant. For example, they argue that their summary judgment motion addresses only the discriminatory intent element of Mr. Madison's equal protection claim, not the disparate impact element. They argue that the discovery sought is not relevant to the discriminatory intent element. However, the burden of a plaintiff defending against a summary judgment motion is not the same as the defendant's burden of advancing the motion. Unlike the defendant who needs to defeat only one element of the claim, a plaintiff must support each element of the claim to survive summary judgment. Ortiz v. John O. Butler Co., 94 F.3d 1121, 1124 (7th Cir. 1996) ("If the nonmoving party fails to establish the existence of an element essential to his case, one on which he would bear the burden of proof at trial, summary judgment must be granted to the moving party."). Thus, Mr. Madison is entitled to discovery of "any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense, " F.R.C.P. 26(b)(1), so that he has a fair opportunity to defend against the Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment.
B. Plaintiff's Objection (Filing No. 50)
Mr. Madison filed a Motion for reconsideration of the Magistrate Judge's March 3, 2015 discovery rulings, asserting that it should be modified to remove any limitations to his discovery requests and to award him his costs and fees associated with his Motion to Compel. Specifically, he argues that the Magistrate Judge's Order is contrary to law because "[i]t is well-established that, in § 1983 cases involving allegations of police misconduct, personnel files of the defendant officers are discoverable, as they may lead to evidence admissible under Federal Rule of Evidence 404(b)." (Filing No. 50 at 4, quoting Clark v. Ruck, 2014 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 51702, at *5 (N.D. Ill. Apr. 15, 2014) (citing other Illinois federal district court cases).) Relying on the same Illinois federal district court cases, Mr. Madison further argues that "the entire personnel file is discoverable, subject only to redaction of personal information." (Filing No. 50 at 5.) This Court, however, is not bound by the decisions of other federal district courts. Rule 26(b) permits, and ...