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Lee v. Shanklin

United States District Court, District of Kansas

March 14, 2014

GRACE LEE, Plaintiff,
DR. CAROL W. SHANKLIN, et al. Defendants.


Teresa J. James U.S. Magistrate Judge

The Court has before it the Motion for Protective Order (ECF No. 34). Defendants Dr. James W. Neill and Dr. James A. Guikema move for entry of their proposed protective order (ECF No. 34-1) governing initial disclosures and discovery as to them in this action pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c). Plaintiff Grace Lee requests that the motion be denied, based upon her objections to some, but not all, aspects of the proposed protective order. For the reasons set forth below, the Court concludes that the Motion for Protective Order should be granted as unopposed in part and denied in part.

I. Nature of the Matter Before the Court

On September 28, 2012, Plaintiff filed her ten-count Complaint against all Defendants based on alleged violations related to her dismissal from the Graduate School of Kansas State University. On June 7, 2013, upon all Defendants’ motion to dismiss, District Judge Julie A. Robinson dismissed all claims in the Complaint except for Count I, alleging violation of procedural due process pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 1983 against Defendants in their individual capacities.[1] On December 9, 2013, Defendants Neill and Guikema filed the instant motion for protective order. On December 20, 2013, Neill and Guikema served their Initial Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(a)(1) Disclosures.[2] On January 17, 2014, Neill and Guikema served their First Interrogatories, First Request for Production, and First Requests for Admission to Plaintiff.[3] On January 20, 2013, Plaintiff served her First Requests for Production of Documents and First Interrogatories on all Defendants, including Neill and Guikema.[4] Neill and Guikema’s responses to Plaintiff’s discovery are due ten days after the Court rules on the instant motion.[5]

Neill and Guikema seek an order governing and limiting the scope of initial disclosures and discovery as to them in this action. They first assert that the scope of discovery should be limited solely to Count I against them in their individual capacities, the only remaining claim, arguing that discovery as to all ten Counts in the original complaint would be wasteful and unduly burdensome. They further argue that discovery should also be limited to the issue of their asserted affirmative defense of qualified immunity. In their proposed protective order, Neill and Guikema seek specifically to limit the scope of discovery to the following issues:

(1) whether Lee’s dismissal was proposed on May 9, 2012 for any reason other than her failure to have a major professor to supervise her Ph.D. research as stated; and (2) whether there was any reason other than the May 9, 2012 recommendation of the Statistics Department why Dr. Guikema issued the May 31, 2012 letter dismissing Lee from the graduate school.[6]

They also request that the time frame for initial disclosures and discovery be limited to a time frame from March 1, 2012 to July 31, 2012. In addition, Neill and Guikema request an order to protect as confidential certain information produced in discovery. Specifically, they propose the order should limit the use and disclosure of certain confidential documents that may be produced in discovery, including medical and psychiatric records, personnel records, educational records, financial information, materials subject to copyright protection, non-public information regarding disciplinary and grievance proceedings, and other records of which disclosure is restricted or prohibited by statute.

Plaintiff does not oppose the confidentiality provisions proposed by Neill and Guikema. Plaintiff also states that she only seeks discovery relevant to Count I against Defendants in their individual capacities and does not intend to seek discovery on the dismissed Counts. Plaintiff does, however, object to the specific limitations on the scope of discovery as to subject matter and time frame proposed by Neill and Guikema.

II. Legal Standard for a Protective Order

Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1), a “court may, for good cause, issue an order to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense.” The party seeking a protective order has the burden to show good cause.[7] To establish good cause, that party must make "a particular and specific demonstration of fact, as distinguished from stereotyped and conclusory statements."[8] The decision to enter a protective order is within the court's discretion.[9]

III. Application of the Standard to this Case

Neill and Guikema argue that Judge Robinson’s June 7, 2013 Order limited the issue on Count I to “whether the reasons for the dismissal were academic as stated (failure to have a major advisor to supervise Lee’s Ph.D. research) or disciplinary/retaliatory.”[10] They assert that Plaintiff’s theory is that she was dismissed from school in retaliation for her March 18, 2012 grievance letter. Thus, they argue that the only relevant time frame for discovery is from March 18, 2012, the date of her grievance letter, to May 31, 2012, the date of her dismissal. They propose a slightly broader time frame, from March 1, 2012 to July 31, 2012, which includes the time period after the dismissal within which Plaintiff could have applied for reinstatement. Neill and Guikema further argue that apart from their proposed limitations as to discovery on Count I, the only additional discovery that should be allowed is in regard to their asserted defense of qualified immunity.

Plaintiff responds that the time frame proposed by Neill and Guikema is too narrow. She alleges that she first attempted to file a grievance against her major professor in October of 2011. This initial grievance, she alleges, was not investigated by Defendants. According to Plaintiff the Defendants instead attempted a “compromise” by adding a co-major professor (Neill) to supervise Plaintiff. She further alleges that the “compromise” resulted in retaliation against her and did not resolve her grievance, which ultimately led to her filing her second grievance in March of 2012. As such, she asserts that she is entitled to discovery dating from October 1, 2011, the date of her first grievance, through August 31, 2012, which is one month after her efforts to be readmitted were denied.

Plaintiff also argues that the limitation on subject matter proposed by Neill and Guikema misconstrues both Plaintiff’s theory in this action and Judge Robinson’s Order. Plaintiff asserts that her theory is that her dismissal is based on retaliation and punishment for a series of events that began in October 2011, when she made her first grievance to Defendants. As such, she asserts that discovery regarding the handling of her initial grievance, specifically Neill and Guikema’s involvement, their decisions, the “compromise, ” and the effect of the initial grievance on her dismissal are all relevant to her theory. She also ...

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