Searching over 5,500,000 cases.


searching
Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.

Harjo v. City of Albuquerque

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

April 4, 2018

ARLENE HARJO, Plaintiff,
v.
CITY OF ALBUQUERQUE, Defendant.

          MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER

          JERRY H. RITTER, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery, filed on June 7, 2017 (the “Motion”). (Doc. 45). The Court has considered the Motion and its attached exhibits, Defendant City of Albuquerque's Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery, filed on June 21, 2017 (Doc. 47), and Plaintiff's Reply in Support of Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery, filed on July 5, 2017. (Doc. 49). Having thoroughly considered the parties' submissions and the relevant law, the Court finds that the Motion is well taken and should be granted.

         Background

         This case was removed from a state court case in which Plaintiff Arlene Harjo alleges that Defendant City of Albuquerque wrongfully seized her two-year-old silver Nissan Versa that she had allowed her son to borrow when he was arrested for drinking and driving in her car. (Doc. 1-1 at ¶ 2). Harjo challenges the City of Albuquerque's vehicle forfeiture program, which “generates revenue both through auctions of forfeited vehicles and through settlement agreements whereby property owners agree to make monetary payments to avoid the forfeiture of their vehicles.” Id. at ¶ 13. Harjo further alleges that prior to an administrative hearing on the civil forfeiture, the property owner meets with a city attorney to attempt to settle the case by immobilizing the car for a period of time and paying hundreds, or thousands, of dollars to the City for its return. Id. at ¶ 23. Harjo also alleges that Defendant's policies create a profit incentive for city attorneys to wrongfully hold and retain vehicles seized pursuant to the vehicle forfeiture program. Id. at ¶ 79.

         After the parties filed amended pleadings and a scheduling order was set, Harjo and the City engaged in discovery. (Docs. 17, 29, 31, 32, 33, 34, 38, 41, 42, 43). The parties have also cross filed dispositive motions, with the City of Albuquerque filing a Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings on June 5, 2017 (Doc. 44), which was granted in part and denied in part on March 30, 2018 (Doc. 92), and Harjo filing a pending Motion for Partial Summary Judgment on October 16, 2017. (Doc. 67). On June 7, 2017, Harjo also filed a Motion to Compel Discovery. (Doc. 45). She only seeks one document: a settlement matrix that is utilized by city attorneys when negotiating with persons whose vehicles have been seized, which was withheld by the City on the grounds of attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine. (Doc. 45 at 1). The document allegedly “recommends different settlement offers in civil forfeiture cases based on a range of possible factual circumstances, ” and is “relevant to Plaintiff's constitutional challenge to the City's civil forfeiture program.” Id.

         On June 21, 2017, the City of Albuquerque filed its Response in Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery. (Doc. 47). The City responds that the document, as described in its privilege log, is actually entitled “Administrative Hearing Matrix - Approved settlement offers for various circumstances for seized vehicles.” (Id. at 2). The City asserts that “the matrix was prepared by an attorney giving legal advice to the City staff involved in prosecuting forfeiture actions about current and/or future litigation, which includes the settlement of such litigation.” Id. at 2-3. Therefore, the City argues, the matrix is privileged from discovery under the work product doctrine. Id. at 8. In the alternative, the City argues that the matrix is subject to attorney-client privilege “if the City or City staff sought legal advice from the City Attorney's Office in connection with forfeiture hearings and the settlement of forfeiture litigation and the hearing matrix was generated as a result.” (Doc. 47 at 10). In addition, the City argues that the settlement matrix is not relevant to Harjo's claims, and she can obtain the information within it by other means. Id. at 8-9. Harjo filed her reply in support of the Motion to Compel on July 5, 2017, in which she reiterates that the document in question is a policy document rather than a document “that threatens to reveal an attorney's thoughts or impressions about a particular case or legal issue.” (Doc. 49 at 2). She further argues that she has a substantial need for the document and cannot obtain the information by other means. Id. at 8-9. She also argues that the settlement matrix is not attorney-client privileged because the City had not met its burden of showing that the primary purpose of the communication within the settlement matrix was to obtain legal advice. Id. at 9. Harjo maintains that the settlement matrix is relevant to her claims, “because it sets out policies to govern settlement” of civil forfeiture claims whose program Harjo alleges City officials to have “an impermissible financial incentive either to not settle at all or to settle on terms that are less favorable to vehicle owners.” Id. at 10.

         The Court reviewed the parties' submissions and determined that it could not make a decision without viewing the document itself as to whether it was subject to attorney-client privilege or the work product doctrine, and ordered the City to submit the document for in camera review within ten days of the order, on February 23, 2018. (Doc. 89). The City submitted the document to chambers as directed, on February 28, 2018. (Doc. 90). The Court then reviewed the document outside of counsel's presence, and has made a determination based upon its review.

         Legal Standard for Discovery

         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 request the production of documents pursuant to Rule 34 that are within the scope of Rule 26(b). Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(a). 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). However, a party may withhold certain material based on a claim of privilege or work product protection.

When a party withholds information otherwise discoverable by claiming that the information is privileged or subject to protection as ...

Buy This Entire Record For $7.95

Download the entire decision to receive the complete text, official citation,
docket number, dissents and concurrences, and footnotes for this case.

Learn more about what you receive with purchase of this case.