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Rittgers v. Hale

United States District Court, D. Kansas

January 9, 2018

MELVIN HALE, Defendant.



         Now before the Court is the “Motion to Quash or Modify Defendant Melvin Hale's Subpoenas to Produce Documents, Information, or Objections” filed by third-parties Emporia State University (“ESU”) and ESU President Allison Garrett regarding three of Defendant's subpoenas. (Doc. 59.) Also pending is the “Motion to Compel Compliance with Subpoena” filed by Defendant. (Doc. 48.) This motion relates to the first of the three subpoenas addressed in the third-party Motion to Quash. Having reviewed the submissions of the parties, the Court is prepared to rule.


         Plaintiff filed the present action in the District Court of Lyon County, Kansas, alleging Defendant defamed her by accusing her of writing racial slur on a student's notebook on the ESU campus. The case was removed to federal court by Defendant, who represents himself pro se and also filed a Motion to Proceed Without Prepayment of Fees (IFP Application, Doc. 3, sealed), which was granted by the Court (Doc. 6).

Rittgers previously brought the same claim as a counterclaim in an action filed by Melvin Hale as a plaintiff in this court in Case No. 15-4947. That case was filed on October 14, 2015. Rittgers was first named as a defendant in that case in an amended complaint filed on November 4, 2015. She filed the counterclaim, but not as part of an answer, on April 5, 2016. Case No. 15-4947, Doc. No. 33. The court dismissed the counterclaim without prejudice on June 15, 2016[, ] because the counterclaim was not asserted in an answer to the controlling complaint; it was simply filed as a separate pleading titled “COUNTERCLAIM BY DEFENDANT DEBRA RITTGERS.” In the same order, the court dismissed defendant Rittgers from the case, pursuant to a motion to dismiss filed on behalf of Rittgers and other defendants. So, as explained in an order denying Rittgers' motion to alter or amend judgment, Rittgers was not able to reassert the counterclaim in Case No. 15-4947, because she was dismissed as a party in the case. See Case No. 15-4947, Doc. No. 66.

(See Doc. 11, at 1-2.)

         Defendant filed a Motion to Dismiss (Doc. 4), arguing that he did not knowingly make a false statement, that the lawsuit was barred by the statute of limitations, and that it was an “affront to free speech.” (See generally Doc. 5.) The District Court subsequently denied the dispositive motion. (Doc. 11.)

         The present motion is brought by non-parties ESU and its president Allison Garrett (hereinafter “Movants”). (Doc. 59.) Movants seek to quash or modify three subpoenas Defendant has addressed to them, each discussed more specifically infra.


         A. Legal Standards.

         Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b) states that

[p]arties 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 state 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.

         As such, the requested information must be nonprivileged, relevant, and proportional to the needs of the case to be discoverable. “Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(c) confers broad discretion on the trial court to decide when a protective order is appropriate and what degree of protection is required.” Layne Christensen Co. v. Purolite Co., 271 F.R.D. 240, 244 (D. Kan. 2010) (quoting Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinehart, 467 U.S. 20, 36 (1984)).

         Fed.R.Civ.P. 45 governs subpoenas, with section (d) of that Rule relating to “protecting a person subject to a subpoena” as well as “enforcement.” Subsection (d)(1) of the Rule states that

[a] party or attorney responsible for issuing and serving a subpoena must take reasonable steps to avoid imposing undue burden or expense on a person subject to the subpoena. The court for the district where compliance is required must enforce this duty and impose an appropriate sanction - which may include lost earnings and reasonable attorney's fees - on a party or attorney who fails to comply.

         Subsection (d)(2)(B) relates to objections to subpoenas and states that

[a] person commanded to produce documents or tangible things or to permit inspection may serve on the party or attorney designated in the subpoena a written objection to inspecting, copying, testing, or sampling any or all of the materials or to inspecting the premises - or to producing electronically stored information in the form or forms requested. The objection must be served before the earlier of the time specified for compliance or 14 days after the subpoena is served. If an objection is made, the following rules apply:
(i) At any time, on notice to the commanded person, the serving party may move the court for the district where compliance is required for an order compelling production or inspection.
(ii) These acts may be required only as directed in the order, and the order must protect a person who is neither a party nor a party's officer from significant ...

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