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Singh v. Shonrock

United States District Court, D. Kansas

February 22, 2017

RAJESH SINGH, PH.D., Plaintiff,
MICHAEL D. SHONROCK, PH.D., et al., Defendants.


          GWYNNE E. BIRZER United States Magistrate Judge.

         This matter is before the Court on Defendants' Motion for Protective Order Limiting Plaintiff's Notice to Take Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6) Deposition of Defendant Emporia State University (ECF No. 74). On February 15, 2017, the Court convened a telephone conference to address the pending motion. Plaintiff appeared through counsel, Sean M. McGivern. Defendants appeared through counsel, Austin K. Parker. After review of the parties' written briefing (ECF Nos. 74, 84, 85, 90) and hearing oral arguments of counsel regarding the discovery dispute, the Court announced its ruling during the conference. This order memorializes the oral rulings and GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART the motion as set forth below.

         I. Background

         Plaintiff, Dr. Rajesh Singh, brings this case against his former employer, Emporia State University (“ESU”), and members of the ESU School of Library and Information Management (“SLIM”) administration and faculty. Plaintiff claims his employment was terminated as a result of discrimination and retaliation under 42 U.S.C. § 1983, and in violation of his rights under the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

         The parties engaged in significant pretrial discovery, including the taking of approximately 14 depositions.[1] The most recent Amended Scheduling Order (ECF No. 73) established a discovery deadline of February 13, 2017. Following the depositions of a number of ESU faculty and administration and within the prescribed discovery deadline, Plaintiff issued a notice to Defendants seeking to depose a representative of ESU under Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6), requesting the deponent be knowledgeable on a number of topics. This dispute arose because the parties were unable to agree on the scope of the deposition topics.

         Throughout the briefing, and during the in-person hearing, the parties demonstrated their multiple attempts to resolve their differences on this issue, and the Court finds they have sufficiently conferred as required by Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1) and D. Kan. Rule 37.2. However, despite their attempts, the parties could not resolve their differences of opinion on the proper scope of the Rule 30(b)(6) deposition, leading to Defendants' motion for protective order.

         II. Legal Standards

         Two primary rules are implicated by Defendants' request: 1) Fed.R.Civ.P. 30, which provides parameters for the deposition of an organization; and 2) Fed.R.Civ.P. 26, governing the scope of discovery and standard for protective orders.

         A. Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6)

         First, under Rule 30(b)(6), the notice of deposition of a public corporation or government entity:

. . . must describe with reasonable particularity the matters for examination. The named organization must then designate one or more officers, directors, or managing agents, or designate other persons who consent to testify on its behalf; and it may set out the matters on which each person designated will testify. . . . The persons designated must testify about information known or reasonably available to the organization.

         Caselaw interpreting the rule recognizes the noticed organization may be unable to comply with an overly broad Rule 30(b)(6) notice.[2] Without the required specificity in the topics noticed for examination, the deponent may be unable to fulfill its duty to produce designated and properly prepared representatives.[3]

         “The effectiveness of [Rule 30(b)(6)] bears heavily upon the parties' reciprocal obligations.”[4] While the requesting party is required to designate “with painstaking specificity”[5] the topics for examination, the “responding party must make a conscientious, good-faith endeavor to designate the persons having knowledge of the matters sought and to prepare those persons in order that they can answer fully, completely, and in a non-evasive manner, the questions as to the relevant subject matters.”[6]

         B. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26

         Defendants seek to limit Plaintiff's Rule 30 notice, contending the topics for examination lie outside the scope of discovery. Rule 26(b)(1) sets out the general scope of discovery, and as amended in December 2015, states,

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

         The recent amendment to Rule 26 brings the issue of proportionality-which has long existed as a factor when analyzing limitation on discovery-to the forefront of the analysis.[7]

         Defendants' request for a protective order is also governed by another section of Rule 26, specifically Rule 26(c). This rule allows the court to, upon a showing of good cause, “issue an order to protect a party . . . from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense, including . . . forbidding inquiry into certain matters, or limiting the scope of disclosure or discovery to certain matters.”[8] The party requesting a protective order bears the burden of demonstrating good cause for it.[9] To establish good cause, the moving party must offer “a particular and specific demonstration of fact, as distinguished from stereotyped and conclusory statements.”[10] Even if the moving party sufficiently demonstrates good cause, the Court may consider other factors ...

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