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Santiago v. New York & New Jersey Port Authority

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

March 11, 2015

ENID SANTIAGO, Plaintiff,
v.
NEW YORK & NEW JERSEY PORT AUTHORITY, et al., Defendants.

OPINION

WILLIAM J. MARTINI, District Judge.

This matter comes before the Court on Plaintiff's appeal of Magistrate Judge Falk's October 1, 2014 Order (the "October Order") denying Plaintiff's application to compel the depositions of three non-party witnesses. There was no oral argument. Fed.R.Civ.P. 78(b). For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiffs' appeal is DENIED, and the October Order is AFFIRMED.

I. BACKGROUND

Plaintiff is a Hispanic female and was formerly employed as a probationary police officer at The Port Authority of New York & New Jersey (the "Port Authority"). Defendants are the Port Authority, Port Authority Tunnel & Bridge Agent Gregory Noa, and several other Port Authority employees. The following facts are as alleged in the Complaint.

On October 6, 2009, Plaintiff was performing police duties at the Lincoln Tunnel. While on duty, she responded to an "over-height alarm" indicating that an oversized trailer truck was attempting to enter the tunnel. As she attempted to direct the trailer away from the tunnel, Defendant Noa arrived at the scene and also began to direct traffic, creating danger and confusion. Plaintiff asked Noa to stop directing traffic, but he refused. The trailer truck ultimately crashed, creating a hazardous situation at the tunnel.

Plaintiff subsequently filed a complaint with the Port Authority about the accident and Noa's actions. She claims that, in retaliation for filing the complaint, the Port Authority initiated a sham internal affairs investigation against her. That investigation concluded that Plaintiff falsified portions of the accident report. Accordingly, the Port Authority terminated Plaintiff employment on April 12, 2010.

On July 25, 2011, Plaintiff filed the instant action against Defendants. Plaintiff alleges Section 1981 and Section 1983 claims against the individual Defendants. Plaintiff also asserts a Monell claim against the Port Authority, arguing that it has a custom and/or practice of discriminating against Hispanics and retaliating against police officers who are whistleblowers or file complaints. See Monell v. Department of Social Services, 436 U.S. 658, 690 (1978).

An extended discovery period closed in this case on February 16, 2014. On March 25, 2014, Plaintiff submitted a letter seeking to further extend discovery and take three depositions - one of Defendant Noa, as well as those of David Wildstein and William Baroni, [1] who Plaintiff contended were recently discovered witnesses. In a supplemental submission, Plaintiff expanded her request to seek a fourth deposition - that of Jerry Speziale, former Deputy Superintendent of the Port Authority Police Department. Upon an informal recommendation from Judge Falk, Defendants agreed to Noa's deposition. However, Defendants oppose the other three depositions.

In an opinion dated October 1, 2014, Judge Falk found that the request to depose Wildstein and Baroni was untimely. He further found Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that the Wildstein, Baroni, or Speziale have information relevant to this case. Judge Falk thus denied Plaintiff's request to depose the three non-party witnesses. See Santiago v. Port Auth. of New York & New Jersey, No. 11-4254, 2014 WL 4930805, at *1 (D.N.J. Oct. 1, 2014). Plaintiff appeals.

II. STANDARD OF REVIEW

A district court may reverse a magistrate judge's order if it finds the ruling to be clearly erroneous or contrary to law. See 28 U.S.C. ยง 636(b)(1)(A); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a); L. Civ. R. 72.1(c)(1)(A). The district court is bound by the clearly erroneous rule as to findings of fact, while the phrase "contrary to law" indicates plenary review as to matters of law. Haines v. Liggett Group Inc., 975 F.2d 81, 91 (3d Cir. 1992). A finding is considered "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." United States v. United States Gypsum Co., 333 U.S. 364, 395 (1948). A decision is considered contrary to the law if the magistrate judge has "misinterpreted or misapplied applicable law." Doe v. Hartford Life Acc. Ins. Co., 237 F.R.D. 545, 548 (D.N.J. 2006).

III. DISCUSSION

Judge Falk ruled that (1) the request to depose Wildstein and Baroni was untimely; and that (2) Plaintiff had not met her burden of demonstrating that any of the three nonparty witnesses have information relevant to this case. The Court finds that Judge Falk's rulings are neither ...


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