Court Rejects Defendant’s Objections and Grants Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel in FLSA Case: eDiscovery Case Law

In Solis v. United Med. Clinic, P.A., No. EP-20-CV-2-KC (W.D. Tex. May 29, 2020), Texas Magistrate Judge Miguel A. Torres granted the plaintiff’s Second Motion to Compel Discovery from the defendant, ruling that the defendant did not fully respond to the plaintiff’s interrogatory and rejecting the defendant’s objections to the plaintiff’s requests for production (RFPs), stating that “Defendant makes no argument to support its objections”.

Case Background

In this case involving discrimination and unlawful termination in accordance with the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (“FLSA”), the plaintiff served “Plaintiff’s Rule 34(b) Request for Production of Electronically Stored Information in Native Electronic Formats, Documents and Tangible Things to Defendant; Interrogatories; and Request for Disclosures” on the defendant on January 4, 2020.  After the defendant’s response on January 29, the plaintiff filed its first motion to compel seeking a court order overruling the defendant’s objections, and compelling the defendant to respond, to Interrogatory No. 10 and related RFP numbers 10A and 10B, on the basis that the defendant’s objections were overly broad and the information the plaintiff sought was relevant.

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Interrogatory No. 10 asked the defendant to “[i]dentify by name, job title, last known address and telephone number Defendant’s employees who, over the last 4 years, violated the policies identified and described in the immediately preceding interrogatory” and RFP Nos. 10A and 10B requested certain employee files of the people identified in the response to Interrogatory No. 10.  To both, the defendant answered: “Objection. Irrelevant. Not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.”

In an order filed on March 6, the Court granted in part and denied in part the plaintiff’s first motion to compel, granting it as to Interrogatory No. 10, finding that the information sought is relevant and overruling Defendant’s objection because Defendant did not specifically state how such information was not relevant.  As to RFP Nos. 10A and 10B, the Court denied the motion without prejudice finding that those discovery issues were not properly before the Court at that time, but “urge[d] the parties to consider the case law and reasoning set forth…in an attempt to resolve these disputes without further Court intervention.”

Despite that, the plaintiff filed a second motion to compel on April 16, after attempting to resolve the disputes.  The defendant ultimately produced documents related to Interrogatory 10, but (according to the plaintiff) had not provided a fully complete response as of May 11 and its answer was provided 21 days after the deadline (the defendant cited a COVID-19 slowdown as part of the reason).  And, while the defendant agreed to produce “what was still considered to be missing” by the plaintiff related to the RFPs, nothing had been produced by the court’s ruling.

Judge’s Ruling

With regard to the Interrogatory, Judge Torres stated: “Considering Defendant’s latest supplement to its response to Interrogatory No. 10, it appears that Defendant has fully answered. However, this answer was made well after the twenty-one days provided in the March 6 Order, after Plaintiff filed the instant Second Motion to Compel, after Defendant had responded to the motion that it had supplemented its answers, and after the parties’ court-ordered conference… While sympathetic to the challenges presented during this time of transition due to COVID-19, the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, the Local Rules of this District, and court orders remain in effect, and extensions to deadlines must be properly sought… Further, there is no assurance in the record that this response is a fully complete response…and the Court is wary of continuing a pattern of requesting updates from the parties as to the status of these disputes. Accordingly, the Court will grant Plaintiff’s motion as to Interrogatory No. 10.”

As for the RFPs, Judge Torres stated: “After consideration of the foregoing cases and without making a finding as to the merits of Plaintiff’s prima facie case, the Court finds that as a general matter the employee files sought in RFP Nos. 10A and 10B are potentially relevant to any argument of pretext as to Defendant’s reason for Plaintiff’s termination. Defendant’s objections to RFP Nos. 10A and 10B do not specifically show how such information is not relevant, in general or as to each category of information requested. Simply stating that such information is not relevant is not sufficient to make a proper objection… Furthermore, Defendant makes no argument to support its objections.”  As a result, Judge Torres granted the plaintiff’s motion with regard to the RFPs and overruled the defendant’s objections, giving the defendant 21 days to produce responsive documents from the date of the order (the deadline for which is, ironically, today).  🙂

So, what do you think?  Should parties be given special considerations because of COVID-19 delays?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Case opinion link courtesy of eDiscovery Assistant.

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2 comments

  1. This could have been avoided by agreement. This reads like Defendant became deeply entrenched in their position. Also, it appears that the Court was willing to grant an extension for COVID19 had Defendant requested such in due time. File mismanagement it appears.

  2. Thanks, Darius! The COVID-19 argument after the fact is the equivalent of the “dog ate my homework” argument. And, clearly, the defendant was unwilling to cooperate fully until compelled to do so. If they had handled both proactively and with a proper objection, they might have had a chance at a better outcome.

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