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Hughes v. Amarr Co.

United States District Court, D. Kansas

June 17, 2019

VAN HUGHES, Plaintiff,
v.
AMARR COMPANY d/b/a AMARR ENTREMATIC, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          ANGEL D. MITCHELL U.S. MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         This matter comes before the court on non-party Kansas Department of Labor's (“KDOL”) objection (ECF No. 25) to the court's April 22, 2019 order (ECF No. 18). That order required the KDOL to produce unemployment records relating to plaintiff Van Hughes. For the reasons discussed below, the court overrules the KDOL's objection.

         I. BACKGROUND

         On April 15, 2019, defendant Amarr Company (“Amarr”) filed a motion (ECF No. 16) requesting that the court order the KDOL to produce records concerning an unemployment claim filed by Mr. Hughes following the end of his employment with Amarr. After Mr. Hughes informed the court that he did not oppose Amarr's motion, the court found the requested documents were relevant and discoverable. On April 22, 2019, the court ordered the KDOL to produce responsive documents for inspection and copying. (See Order (ECF No. 18), at 1.) The court allowed the KDOL to (1) withhold from production any documents that are deliberative or conciliatory in nature or that are work product of a KDOL attorney; and (2) file objections to producing any other documents that the agency contended it has a legal basis not to produce. (Id.)

         The KDOL filed an objection to producing the documents discussed in the court's April 22 order. The KDOL's objection argues that federal law requires it to keep the unemployment records the court ordered produced confidential. (See KDOL's Objection (ECF No. 25), at ¶¶ 2, 7.) The KDOL does not contend that the documents it is withholding are deliberative or conciliatory in nature, nor does the KDOL argue that they reflect the work product of a KDOL attorney.

         II. ANALYSIS

         A. Confidentiality of Unemployment Records

         The United States Department of Labor requires that states keep unemployment compensation (“UC”) information “which reveals the name or any identifying particular about any individual or any past or present employer or employing unit agencies” confidential. See 20 C.F.R. § 603.4. This confidentiality requirement is not without exceptions. Disclosure of UC information is permissible, for example, “in response to a court order . . . as specified in § 603.7(b).” Id. § 603.5(h). While § 603.7(a) generally requires a state agency to “file and diligently pursue a motion to quash” if it receives a subpoena or other compulsory process seeking UC information, § 603.7(b) allows the agency to automatically disclose UC information pursuant to a court order where “a well-established pattern of prior court decisions have required disclosures of this type.”

         B. The KDOL's objection is without merit.

         1. Section 603.5 permits disclosure of the UC records.

         The KDOL relies solely on the confidentiality requirement articulated in § 603.4 to justify its refusal to comply with the court's April 22 order. The records at issue, however, fall squarely within the court-order exception to the general confidentiality rule. See Id. §§ 603.5(h); 603.7(b) (permitting disclosure of UC information “in response to a court order” where “a well-established pattern of prior court decisions have required disclosures of this type”). As the KDOL should know, the court's April 22 order was part of a well-established pattern of prior orders in this District that have required the KDOL to produce unemployment documents relating to one or more parties in a case. See, e.g., Order, Meier v. Shawnee Mission Med. Ctr., No. 18-2368-JWL-KGS (D. Kan. Mar. 1, 2019), ECF No. 36; Order, Mendoza v. Preco, Inc., No. 17-2565-DDC-GEB (D. Kan. May 4, 2018), ECF No. 29; Agreed Order, McDaniel v. Allstate Ins. Co., No. 17-2427-JAR-GEB (D. Kan. Feb. 23, 2018), ECF No. 31; Agreed Order for Inspection and Reproduction of Kansas Department of Labor Records, Odhuno v. Reed's Cove Health & Rehab., LLC, No. 15-1347-EFM-GEB (D. Kan. Sept. 6, 2016), ECF No. 63; Agreed Order, Guaetta v. Compass Grp. USA, Inc., No. 10-2487-JTM-KMH (D. Kan. Apr. 20, 2011), ECF No. 40; Order for Inspection and Reproduction of Records of Kansas Department of Labor, White v. The Graceland Coll. Ctr. for Prof'l Dev. & Lifelong Learning, Inc., No. 07-2319-CM-GLR (D. Kan. Jan. 10, 2008), ECF No. 37.[1]

         The KDOL's argument that the April 22 order was not a “court order” within the meaning of § 603.5(h) is without merit. The KDOL claims that the order was not a “court order” because the agency was not provided an opportunity to assert its confidentiality objection in response to Amarr's motion. (See KDOL's Reply (ECF No. 28), at 2.) Nothing in § 603.5(h) indicates that the term “court order” refers only to those orders entered by a court after an agency has opposed the initial motion. Indeed, § 603.5(h) references § 603.7(b), which specifically provides that an agency does not need to take action to avoid the disclosure of UC information where a court order is part of “a well-established pattern of prior court decisions” requiring disclosure. Federal law clearly permits the KDOL to disclose the UC records at issue pursuant to the April 22 order.

         2. The UC records are not privileged.

         The KDOL also argues that the UC records at issue are privileged against discovery under § 603.4. Because this is a federal question case, federal law governs claims of privilege. See Fed. R. Evid. 501. The KDOL cites no case law in support of its claim that § 603.4 creates a privilege for UC records under federal law. Indeed, courts analyzing this issue have declined to recognize a new federal common law privilege applicable to UC records. See, e.g., Easter v. Beacon Tri-State Staffing, Inc., No. 2:17-CV-197, 2017 WL 5126153, at *3 (S.D. Ohio Oct. 17, 2017) (commenting that “every court considering the issue has . . . conclude[d] that no privilege for unemployment records should be recognized”); A.G. v. Burroughs, No. 3:13-CV-01051-AC, 2014 WL 1807110, at *7 (D. Or. May 7, 2014) (finding that the UC records sought were ...


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