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Quarrie v. Wells

United States District Court, D. New Mexico

December 19, 2019

STEPHEN WELLS, et al., Defendants.



         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on Plaintiff's Motion to Compel a Discovery Response (doc. 193) and Motion to Compel Discovery Responses (doc. 197). The first motion relates to Defendant Wells' objections to particular interrogatories, and the second relates to a disagreement about the number of parties that exist in the case. For the reasons explained below, the Court finds that there are three Defendants in the case and will therefore GRANT Plaintiff's second motion (doc. 197). The Court will GRANT in part and DENY in part Plaintiff's first motion (doc. 193) to compel individual responses to his interrogatories.

         I. Number of Parties

         Although the related motion was filed second, the question of the numerical limitation of Plaintiff's discovery requests is logically antecedent. Pursuant to the parties' Joint Status Report, there is an agreed-upon maximum of “twenty-five (25) interrogatories by each party to any other party.” Doc. 155 at 15. The limitations on requests for admission and requests for production use the same wording. The Court's Order Setting Pretrial Deadlines and Briefing Schedule adopts these limitations, stating: “Each party shall be limited to twenty-five (25) interrogatories, twenty-five (25) requests for production, and thirty (30) requests for admission to serve or notice on the other parties.” Doc. 166 at 1. This language is distinct from the limitation on depositions, which specifies that “[e]ach side shall be limited to ten (10) depositions to serve or notice on the other side.” Id. (emphasis added).

         Plaintiff's position is that, since three Defendants remain in the case, he is permitted a maximum of twenty-five interrogatories against each Defendant, for a total of seventy-five. Defendants disagree. Because Plaintiff's claims against Defendants Wells and El-Osery are limited to those defendants' official capacities, Defendants assert that there is only one party in the case: the New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology (“NMT”).

         Defendants' argument has some theoretical support. It is certainly true that “an official-capacity suit is, in all respects other than name, to be treated as a suit against the entity.” Kentucky v. Graham, 473 U.S. 159, 165 (1985) (citation omitted). However, this principle has generally been applied, as in Graham, to the determination of damages. The generic statement that an official-capacity suit should be treated as a suit against the entity expresses the idea that the entity, not the individual, is responsible for damages. It does not alter the fact that officers sued in their official capacities may-as here-be listed as separate parties on the Court's docket. Defendants cite no precedent in direct support of their position, and this Court is aware of none. Moreover, as Plaintiff points out, the Graham Court also remarked that “implementation of state policy or custom may be reached in federal court only because official-capacity actions for prospective relief are not treated as actions against the State.” Id. at 167 n.14 (emphasis added).

         There is scant case law on the issue of when multiple parties should be treated as one, though it has occasionally arisen in other contexts. One court held that two parties should be treated as one for discovery purposes where plaintiffs had treated them as such, concluding that “the parties did not intend for [the defendants] to be treated as separate parties under the DPO [document production order].” Verinata Health, Inc. v. Sequenom, Inc., 2014 WL 909869, at *1 (N.D. Cal. Feb. 27, 2014). A court may also interpret its own discovery order to treat two defendants as one party for purposes of the discovery limits contained therein. See Ziptronix, Inc. v. Omnivision Techs., 2013 LEXIS 112752, at *3 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 9, 2013). None of the cases cited by Defendants or discovered by the Court in conducting its independent research establish a general rule that multiple employees of the same entity, sued in their official capacities, are automatically treated as one party for discovery purposes.

         In reading the Third Amended Complaint (“TAC”), it is clear that Plaintiff meant and understood the defendants to be separate parties, and he has treated them as separate parties throughout the progression of this case. The plain language of the Joint Status Report (doc. 155) and the Order Setting Pretrial Deadlines and Briefing Schedule (doc. 166), combined with the indisputable fact that Defendants are listed as separate parties on the docket, leads the Court to conclude that they should be treated as separate parties for the purposes of Plaintiff's discovery requests.

         While there is some logic to the notion that the defendants in this case ought to be treated as one party for discovery purposes, the time to raise that issue was during the Rule 16 scheduling conference held on September 20, 2019. See doc. 165. At that time, Defendants were already aware of the disagreement, see doc. 193 at 2, and no federal or local rule prohibited them from bringing it to the Court's attention before the Order Setting Pretrial Deadlines and Briefing Schedule was issued. Therefore, if Defendants wish to alter the scheduling order, they must file a motion to that effect and demonstrate good cause for the alteration. Likewise, if Defendants believe that Defendants Wells and El-Osery are not properly named parties in this case, they may file a dispositive motion.[1] Having established that all three defendants count as separate parties for discovery purposes, any numerosity objections by Defendants are hereby overruled.

         II. Defendants Wells' Interrogatory Responses

         The Court now turns to Defendant Wells' other objections to Plaintiff's individual discovery requests.[2] The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide:

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.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Evidence is relevant if it has any tendency to make a material fact more or less probable. Fed.R.Evid. 401. Information “need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). However, “Rule 26 vests the trial judge with broad discretion to tailor discovery narrowly.” Murphy v. Deloitte & Touche Group Ins. Plan, 619 F.3d 1151, 1163 (10th Cir. 2010) (quoting Crawford-El v. Britton, 523 U.S. 574, 598 (1998)).

         1. Interrogatory No. 3

         This interrogatory asked Defendant Wells to “[d]escribe in detail Lindsay O'Brien Quarrie's academic and professional achievements and activities, including degrees, certificates, awards, research, publications, work experience, and current employment position, that you are familiar with or have knowledge of.” Doc. 193 at 16. Defendant Wells objected on grounds that the interrogatory was overbroad and irrelevant. However, he proceeded to answer anyway, stating: “I was not President of NMT at the time of [sic] Plaintiff attended NMT. I do not have personal knowledge of Plaintiff's ‘academic and professional achievements and activities.'” Id.

         Plaintiff's academic and professional achievements at the time of his reapplications to NMT (and Defendant Wells' knowledge thereof) are clearly relevant to his claim of Title VI racial discrimination, as such information might tend to establish that Plaintiff was as qualified as, or more qualified than, comparator applicants. As noted by Defendant Wells, the interrogatory may be slightly overbroad in its wording, since only Plaintiff's achievements at the time of reapplication are relevant; achievements subsequently attained are not. The Court therefore overrules Defendant Wells' objections to Interrogatory No. 3, to the extent that it is limited to Plaintiff's achievements as of his most recent date of reapplication to NMT.

         The second question is whether Defendant Wells, despite his objections, has already satisfactorily answered the interrogatory. It is Plaintiff's position that he has not. Plaintiff cites a September 13, 2016 letter to New Mexico State Representative Stapleton in which Defendant Wells wrote: “Mr. Quarrie did not fulfill the requirements to be granted a Ph.D. from New Mexico Tech despite receiving several opportunities to do so.” Id. at 7. Also in this letter, Defendant Wells allegedly “made certain false allegations against Plaintiff as concerns his academic achievements at NMT between 2009 and 2012 and his professional activities thereafter.” Id. at 6. Finally, on a separate note, ...

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