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Helget v. City of Hays

United States District Court, D. Kansas

June 25, 2014

FIRMA HELGET, Plaintiff,
CITY OF HAYS, KANSAS, et al., Defendants.


KENNETH G. GALE, Magistrate Judge.

Before the Court is Plaintiff's "Motion to Compel Responses to Plaintiff's 5th and 6th Discovery Requests, to Deem Requests for Admission Admitted, and for Sanctions." (Doc. 89.) Plaintiff's document requests focus on telecommunications data (TD) and electronically stored information (ESI). Plaintiff's request for admission pertains to an individual Defendant's conversations. Plaintiff contends Defendants' responses are incomplete or improper and asks the Court to sanction Defendants. ( Id., at 15.) Plaintiff's motion is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.


Plaintiff brings this lawsuit against her former employer, Defendant City of Hays, Kansas (Defendant City), as well as individual Defendants Toby Dougherty, the City Manager for Defendant City, and Donald Scheibler, Chief of Police for Defendant City, for allegedly wrongfully terminating her employment. ( See generally Doc. 1.)

Plaintiff contends she was improperly fired after submitting an affidavit in a lawsuit (hereinafter "Dryden lawsuit") brought by a former Defendant City Police Department Officer against Defendant City and Defendants Dougherty and Scheibler "alleging interference with his constitutional rights...." ( Id., at 3-4.) Plaintiff contends, in part, that her termination constituted an unlawful interference with her right to testify at trial in violation of the First Amendment, an unlawful interference with her right to speak on a matter of public concern and a violation of public policy. Defendants deny Plaintiff's claims and contend that her employment was terminated "because she could not maintain confidentiality... misused city computers... and could not effectively work with her superiors." (Doc. 42, at 1.)

Plaintiff claims Defendant City incompletely responded to Plaintiff's Production Requests 83 and 84 and Request for Admission 41 (each from Plaintiff's fifth set of discovery requests). (Doc. 89-1, at 4-10.) Plaintiff also claims "[d]isputes remain regarding" Defendant City's responses to Plaintiff's Production Requests 92, 101, 102 and 103 (each from Plaintiff's sixth set of discovery requests). ( Id., at 5, 10-14.) Plaintiff claims Defendant City refuses "to meaningfully participate in responding to [Plaintiff's] requests" and asks the Court to sanction Defendant City therefor. ( Id., at 15.)


A. Standards on Motions to Compel.

1. Discovery Requests.

Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1) states that "[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party.... Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." As such, the requested information must be both nonprivileged and relevant to be discoverable.

"Discovery relevance is minimal relevance, ' which means it is possible and reasonably calculated that the request will lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Teichgraeber v. Memorial Union Corp. of Emporia State University, 932 F.Supp. 1263, 1265 (D. Kan. 1996) (internal citation omitted). "Relevance is broadly construed at the discovery stage of the litigation and a request for discovery should be considered relevant if there is any possibility the information sought may be relevant to the subject matter of the action." Smith v. MCI Telecommunications Corp., 137 F.R.D. 25, 27 (D.Kan.1991). Stated another way, "discovery should ordinarily be allowed unless it is clear that the information sought can have no possible bearing on the subject matter of the action." Snowden By and Through Victor v. Connaught Lab., 137 F.R.D. 325, 341 (D.Kan.1991), appeal denied, 1991 WL 60514 (D.Kan. Mar. 29 , 1991).

Thus, discovery requests must be relevant on their face. Williams v. Bd. of County Comm'rs, 192 F.R.D. 698, 705 (D. Kan. 2000). Once this low burden of relevance is established, the legal burden regarding the defense of a motion to compel resides with the party opposing the discovery request. See Swackhammer v. Sprint Corp. PCS, 225 F.R.D. 658, 661, 662, 666 (D. Kan. 2004) (stating that the party resisting a discovery request based on overbreadth, vagueness, ambiguity or undue burden/expense objections bears the burden to support the objections).

Although the scope of discovery is broad, it is not unlimited. If the proponent fails to specify how the information is relevant the Court will not require the respondent to produce the evidence. Gheesling v. Chater, 162 F.R.D. 649 (D. Kan.1995). See also Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(C)(i)-(iii) (stating that "the court must limit the frequency or extent of discovery" if, for instance, it is "unreasonably cumulative or duplicative, " "the party seeking discovery has had ample opportunity to obtain the information" or "the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit.").

"[A]n evasive or incomplete disclosure, answer, or response must be treated as a failure to disclose, answer, or respond." Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(4). However, "[t]he party moving to compel discovery must prove that the opposing party's answers are incomplete." Bayview Loan Servicing, LLC v. Boland, 259 F.R.D. 516, 518 (D. Colo. 2009) (internal citations omitted).

2. Requests for Admission.

"Rule 36 imposes a duty on the [party responding to a request for admission] to make a reasonable inquiry to determine his ability to admit or deny." Harris v. Oil Reclaiming Co., Ltd., 190 F.R.D. 674, 679 (D. Kan. 1999). An answer's sufficiency under Rule 36 may be challenged. Fed.R.Civ.P. 36(a)(6). "On finding that an answer does not comply with this rule, the [C]ourt may order either that the matter is admitted or that an amended answer be served." Id.

However, "a denial is a sufficient answer, " Harris, 190 F.R.D. at 678, and "where a request contains interdependent, compound issues, a party may deny the entire statement if it is premised upon a fact which is denied." Id. (internal citations omitted). Moreover, "the Court will not require the answering party to determine all of the possible interpretations of an ambiguous request and respond to each of them." Id .; see also Ash Grove Cement v. Employers Ins. of Wausau, 05-2339-JWL, 2007 WL 2333350 at 3 (D. Kan. Aug. 16, 2007) (stating that "[w]hen ruling on a motion to determine the sufficiency of answers or objections to requests for admission, the court must consider the phraseology of the requests as carefully as that of the answers or objections.").

3. Electronically Stored Information (ESI), Data and Metadata

ESI includes "data or data compilations... stored in any medium from which information can be obtained either directly or... after translation by the responding party." Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a)(1)(A). See Advisory Committee Notes on the 2006 Amendment to Rule 34(a) (stating that ESI "may exist in dynamic databases and other forms far different from fixed expression on paper." Rule 34(a)'s amendment confirms "that discovery of [ESI] stands on equal footing with discovery of paper documents."). Metadata can be extracted from data. Metadata, or "data about data, '" can be defined as either "information describing the history, tracking, or management of an electronic document' or information about a particular data set which describes how, when and by whom it was collected, created, accessed, or modified and how it is formatted.'" Williams v. Sprint/United Mgmt. Co., 230 F.R.D. 640, 646 (D. Kan. 2005) (internal citations omitted). "[M]etadata can come from a variety of ...

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