United States District Court, D. New Jersey
August 3, 2005.
KEVIN JOHNSON, Plaintiff,
POLO RALPH LAUREN CORP.; ABC CORP., DEF CORP., GHI CORP., Jointly, Separately and Individually, Defendants.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: JOHN BISSELL, Chief Judge, District
This matter comes before the Court on plaintiff's motion to
vacate Magistrate Judge Haneke's discovery Order dated June 14,
2005. The Court has jurisdiction over this matter pursuant to
28 U.S.C. §§ 1331, 1338 and 1400(b). FACTS and PROCEDURAL HISTORY
On or about July 25, 2001, plaintiff Kevin Johnson ("Mr.
Johnson" or "plaintiff") filed this employment discrimination
action against his employer defendant Polo Ralph Lauren
Corporation ("Polo" or "defendant"). On September 20, 2001,
defendant removed the action to this Court asserting subject
matter jurisdiction founded on 28 U.S.C. § 1332(a). Thereafter,
plaintiff moved to remand the matter back to the Superior Court
of New Jersey. On January 29, 2002, this Court filed an Opinion
and Order denying plaintiff's motion to remand and denying this
motion for attorney's fees and costs. See Kevin Johnson v.
Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., Civil 01-4451(JWB) (Order and Opinion)
(Jan. 29, 2002).
This Opinion will rely on the facts as presented in its January
29, 2002 Opinion. (See id. at 2). Additional facts presented
here will be appropriately cited.
On June 14, 2005, Magistrate Judge Haneke filed an Order
denying without prejudice plaintiff's motion to compel additional
answers to interrogatories and further document production. See
Kevin Johnson v. Polo Ralph Lauren Corp., Civil 01-4451 (Order,
Haneke, MJ) (June 14, 2005). The June 14, 2005 Order quashed the
third-party subpoenas. (See id.) Judge Haneke further ordered
that the plaintiff shall submit to a deposition before July 31,
2005. (See id.) This Court granted plaintiff an extension for an appeal of
Judge Haneke's June 14, 2005 Order. Thereafter plaintiff filed
the instant motion on July 8, 2005.
I. Standard of Review
A United States Magistrate Judge has broad discretion in
deciding a discovery motion. See Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). "Where
a magistrate judge is authorized to exercise his or her
discretion, the decision will be reversed only for an abuse of
discretion." Cooper Hospital/University Med. Ctr. v. Sullivan,
183 F.R.D. 119, 127 (D.N.J. 1998); Lithuanian Commerce Corp. v.
Sara Lee Hosiery, 177 F.R.D. 205, 214 (D.N.J. 1997). "This test
displays considerable deference to the determination of
magistrates in such matters." 7 Moore's Federal Practice ¶
72.03(7.-3) at 72-42 (1989).
On appeal from such an order, the scope of this Court's review
is narrow. Local Rule 72.1(c)(1)(A) governs appeals from
non-dispositive orders of United States Magistrate Judges. It
directs the Court to consider an appeal from a non-dispositive
Magistrate's order and set aside any portion of it found to be
"clearly erroneous or contrary to law." 28 U.S. § 636(b)(1)(A);
Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); Cipollone v. Liggett Group, Inc.,
785 F.2d 1108, 1120 (3d Cir. 1986), cert. denied, 484 U.S. 976
(1987). "Generally, any motion relating to a discovery issue is considered non-dispositive." L. Civ. R. 72.1(a) n. 3 at 183
(2002). A finding is "clearly erroneous" when, "although there is
evidence to support it, the reviewing court on the entire
evidence is left with the definite and firm conviction that a
mistake has been committed." Anderson v. City of Bessemer,
470 U.S. 564, 573 (1985); Republic of Philippines v. Westinghouse
Elec. Corp., 132 F.R.D. 384, 387 (D.N.J. 1990) (quoting United
States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948)).
Discovery disputes in federal courts are governed by federal
law, namely the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure and the Federal
Rules of Evidence. See Pearson v. Miller, 211 F.3d 57, 61 (3d
Cir. 2000). The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provide, in
pertinent part, that "[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding
any matter, not privileged, which is relevant to the subject
matter involved in the pending action, whether it relates to the
claim or defense of the party seeking discovery or to the claim
or defense of any other party. . . ." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1).
The information sought need not be admissible at the trial as
long as it appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery
of admissible evidence. (See id.) It is well recognized that
the federal rules allow broad and liberal discovery. Moreover,
the basic standard of relevance under the Federal Rules of
Evidence is a liberal one. Daubert v. Merrell Dow Pharm., Inc., 509 U.S. 579 (1993).
In this case, the plaintiff requested discovery relating to
three categories: (1) information regarding third-party claims of
discrimination; (2) corporate information on discrimination and
diversity; (3) information as to promotions and advancement
within the company. (See Plaintiff's Br. at 4). According to
the plaintiff, defendants have refused to provide this discovery
and have instead limited all discovery to the Purchasing
Department where plaintiff was employed. (See id. at 4, n.
2). Plaintiff has also requested third-party subpoenas relevant
to the three categories listed above. (See id. at 5).
Plaintiff contends that he provided Judge Haneke with proof of
his allegations that included memoranda and e-mails from the
defendant Polo Ralph Lauren, Corp., EEOC formal determinations,
lists made by the plaintiff of names of people known to him to
have made claims against defendants, and of people known to him
to have been terminated as a result of discrimination and names
of people known to him to have been retained by defendants to
change the discriminatory practices. (See id.) Plaintiff
argues that "[w]here discovery sought is relevant, there is no
just cause for preventing it simply because it may be extensive."
(Id. at 10). Further, plaintiff contends that requiring his
deposition as a contingency to discovery "is improper and
unfair." (Id.) Defendant argues that Judge Haneke's June 14, 2005 Order was
not an abuse of discretion and therefore should be affirmed.
(See Defendant's Br. at 1). This Court agrees. Judge Haneke's
Order did not prevent the plaintiff from renewing his motions
following his own deposition. The June 14, 2005 Order was without
prejudice and, therefore, does not, as plaintiff contends,
"effectively remove? Plaintiff's right to discovery all of the
information that would prove the elements of the cause of action
pled." (Plaintiff's Br. at 10).
In fact, Judge Haneke "expressed his belief that plaintiff's
deposition might enable the parties to re-examine, in a more
focused fashion, whether plaintiff's requests for broader
discovery than has been provided to date had any merit when
considered in light of plaintiff's deposition testimony"
(Defendant's Br. at 2). Moreover, Judge Haneke "expressly advised
plaintiff and his counsel that they may renew their motion
following completion of plaintiff's deposition." (Id. at 4).
Therefore, plaintiff's argument that the June 14, 2005 Order
precludes any further discovery by the plaintiff fails. Rather,
Judge Haneke's June 14, 2005 Order attempts to facilitate a more
specified and efficient discovery process.
This Court agrees with the defendant that Judge Haneke's Order
is consistent with the broad discretion given to a magistrate
judge. As discussed above, in a case such as this the scope of this Court's review if narrowly limited to whether the
Magistrate's Order is found to be clearly erroneous or contrary
to law. (See 28 U.S.C. § 636 (b)(1)(A); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a)).
Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2)(iii), discovery may be
limited when "the burden or expense of the proposed discovery
outweighs its likely benefit." Thus, it is within Judge Haneke's
discretion to decide whether in this case the burden outweighs
the benefit and therefore deny plaintiff's request. Clearly this
was a consideration by Judge Haneke during oral argument, when he
stated that plaintiff's discovery requests were "overbroad."
(Defendant's Br. at 8). It is also within Judge Haneke's
discretion to decide whether the plaintiff's broad discovery
requests are better addressed following the plaintiff's
deposition. Thus Judge Haneke's June 14, 2005 Order is not an
abuse of discretion and was not clearly erroneous.
Furthermore, Judge Haneke's decision is in accordance with the
relevant case law dealing with similar discovery issues. In a
single-plaintiff employment discrimination action alleging
discrete acts of discrimination, the proper scope of discovery is
to the plaintiff's work group or unit. See Kresefky v.
Panasonic Communications & Sys. Co., 169 F.R.D. 54, 66 (D.N.J.
1996) ("The most natural focus is on the source of the complained
of discrimination the employing unit or work unit.")
Hence, there is nothing in the record reflecting clear error or abuse of discretion by Judge Haneke regarding the June 14,
2005 Order. Therefore the plaintiff's motion to vacate the Order
For the foregoing reasons, the Court denies plaintiff's motion
to vacate Judge Haneke's June 14, 2005 Order.
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