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Donlin v. Petco Animal Supplies Stores, Inc.

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

October 10, 2017

MATTHEW DONLIN, Plaintiff,
v.
PETCO ANIMAL SUPPLIES STORES, INC., A Foreign Profit Corporation, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff Matthew Donlin's First Motion to Compel (Doc. 20) (“Motion”) filed on July 31, 2017. The Court has considered the Motion, Defendant's Response to Plaintiff's First Motion to Compel (Doc. 26) (“Response”) and the attached document submissions, and Plaintiff's Reply in Support of First Motion to Compel (Doc. 31) (“Reply”). Having thoroughly reviewed the parties' submissions and the relevant law, the Court finds that the Motion is well taken and should be granted.

         Background

         This case arises from an employment dispute in which Mr. Donlin alleges that Petco terminated his position as General Manager in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”), and the New Mexico Human Rights Act (“HRA”), as well as New Mexico common law retaliatory discharge. (Doc. 1-1 at 7-17). Specifically, Mr. Donlin alleges that he suffered “flare-ups” as a result of his medical conditions, which ultimately required him to take leave under the FMLA in February 2015. (Id. at 8-9, ¶¶ 7-9). He alleges that his doctor cleared him to continue working under certain limitations on May 15, 2015, and that he believed he was able to perform all of his prior duties without accommodations. (Id. at ¶ 10). However, when Mr. Donlin approached Petco regarding his return to work, Petco informed him that it would require Mr. Donlin to provide certification from his doctor that he had recovered 100%. (Id. at ¶ 11). Mr. Donlin further alleges that because Petco refused to reinstate him in his position, he was required to apply for Long Term Disability; however, the disability insurer denied Mr. Donlin's application because it determined that Mr. Donlin was in fact capable of performing his job duties. (Id. at ¶ 13-15). Thereafter, Petco allegedly required Mr. Donlin to complete a Reasonable Accommodation Packet as a condition of reinstatement. (Id. at ¶ 16.) Mr. Donlin filed a complaint for disability discrimination with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) and the New Mexico Human Rights Bureau (“HRB”). (Id. at ¶17). Petco ultimately terminated Mr. Donlin on January 9, 2016 after he refused to provide the documentation Petco demanded. (Id. at ¶ 18-20).

         Mr. Donlin expounded discovery on Petco along with his summons and complaint. (Doc. 20 at 1). Petco mailed its answers and responses to Mr. Donlin's discovery requests on June 23, 2017. (Doc. 20-2 at 12). Upon reviewing Petco's responses and objections, Mr. Donlin's counsel contacted Petco's counsel to address some of the issues in the requests and responses. (Doc. 20-1 at ¶¶ 4-10). The parties were unable to resolve the discovery issues through these good faith communications pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 37(a)(1).[1] During the good faith communication, Mr. Donlin purportedly offered to narrow the scope of his requests regionally to reduce any burden on Petco, but counsel for Petco did not respond to this offer. (Doc. 20-1 at ¶¶ 8, 11-13). Mr. Donlin then filed this Motion to Compel, in which he requested the Court to compel Petco to fully respond to the following Interrogatories and Requests for Production:

• Interrogatory No. 6 and Requests for Production Nos. 18 and 19, which request “the name and full contact information of all persons involuntarily terminated from Petco's employ due to a failure to return to work following a Family and Medical Leave Act, ” including: (1) the store at which the person was employed at the time; and (2) the date of the termination, ” and requests all termination documents for such employees who failed to request an accommodation or obtain a certification of 100% recovery.
• Interrogatories Nos. 7 and 9 and Requests for Production Nos. 21 and 23, which request the identity and “contact information for all persons who, since January 1, 2013, have asserted a verbal or written complaint that Petco interfered with, restrained, or denied them their rights pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act, ” or “the Americans with Disabilities Act or any comparable state law, ” and all documents related to such claims, including Petco's investigation of such claims.
• Interrogatories Nos. 8 and 10 and Requests for Production Nos. 20 and 22, which request the identity and “contact information for all persons who, since January 1, 2013, have asserted a complaint with a governmental agency or court complaining that Petco interfered with, restrained or denied them their rights pursuant to the Family and Medical Leave Act, ” or “the Americans with Disabilities Act, ” or any comparable state law, and all documents related to such claims.

         In response to each of the above-listed Interrogatories and Requests for Production, Petco responded with the following identical objections:

[the respective discovery request] seeks information that is neither relevant nor reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. According to the restrictions placed on Mr. Donlin by his treating physician, Mr. Donlin was unable to perform the essential functions of his job. The circumstances of other Petco team members [as identified in the relative discovery request] is (sic) wholly unrelated and irrelevant to Mr. Donlin's allegations. Defendant further objects to this [discovery request] as overly broad and unduly burdensome because it is not reasonably limited to the relevant circumstances of Mr. Donlin's employment, geography, or decision-maker. Petco employs more than 25, 000 partners and operates more than 1, 500 Petco locations across the U.S., Mexico, and Puerto Rico and providing this information places an unreasonable burden on Petco that is not proportionate to any relevance in this case.

         In his Motion, Mr. Donlin argues that Petco's objections to these requests are invalid, because discovery in employment discrimination litigation is broad and Mr. Donlin's requests are relevant to Petco's “pattern or practice of discrimination or retaliation.” (Doc. 20 at 3). He contends that “company-wide discovery is necessary and appropriate where a company-wide policy is involved or the pertinent decisions on behalf of the company were made by officials with company-wide responsibility.” (Id. at 5).

         Standard of Review

         Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) governs the scope of discovery, providing 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 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.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). “Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Id.

         Parties may issue interrogatories pursuant to Rule 33 or request the production of documents pursuant to Rule 34 that are within the scope of Rule 26(b). Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(a)(2); Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a). A responding party may object to a discovery request; however, the ground for an objection “must be stated with specificity.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(4). A party objecting to a request for production must also “state whether any responsive materials are being withheld on the basis of that objection. An objection to part of a request must specify the part and permit inspection of the rest.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(C). A ...


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