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Michaels v. Rutgers Univ.

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

October 11, 2017

Rutgers Univ., et al.


          Honorable Steve Mannion, United States District Court

         Dear Counsel:

         Before this Court are informal discovery motions filed via joint dispute letter on September 28, 2017.[1] Plaintiff Dr. Jennifer Michaels (“Dr. Michaels”) seeks to compel further responses to her document requests 6, 9, 10, 11 - 13, 20 - 72, 75 and interrogatories 6, 12, 13, 17 and 18. Defendants seek to compel releases for employment records, tax returns, administrative records, medical records and further responses to document requests 40, 41, and 42. The Court has reviewed the parties' submissions and heard oral argument on October 4, 2017. For the reasons set forth on the record and herein, the informal motions are GRANTED in part and DENIED in part.

         Dr. Michaels brings this employment discrimination action against her former employer, Rutgers University, and Defendant Dr. Barry Levin, the Interim Chair of the Department of Neurology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (“UMDNJ”), which merged with Rutgers in 2013.[2] Dr. Michaels was the most senior member of the clinical faculty in the Department of Neurology with regard to length of service at the time of her termination. Dr. Michaels alleges that, beginning in 2012 when Dr. Levin was appointed Interim Chair, Dr. Michaels was assigned tasks and resources commensurate to those of interns and residents, and not senior members of the clinical faculty. She also alleges that she was harassed for taking intermittent family medical leave to care for her daughter, in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act. Dr. Michaels also alleges claims of discrimination and retaliation in violation of the Family Medical Leave Act, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and New Jersey Law Against Discrimination.

         The Court issued a bench opinion regarding the instant discovery dispute on the record on October 4, 2017. This letter opinion serves to supplement the record with regard to the untimely nature of several discovery requests that were denied.


         A. Discovery Dispute Protocol

         The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure must be construed by the Court and the parties to secure “the just, speedy, and inexpensive determination of every action and proceeding.”[3] A prerequisite to the filing of any discovery motion is that the movant certify their efforts to confer or attempt to confer in good faith to resolve the issue without court action.[4] Our Local Rules further prescribe that counsel “shall confer” in good faith and attempt to informally resolve any discovery disputes before seeking the Court's intervention.[5]

         If there are discovery deficiencies, it is incumbent upon the requestor to review the adequacy of adversary's productions, timely identify any deficiencies to counsel, meet and confer, and raise the dispute to the Court. Where this is not done, the deficiencies are waived.[6] So, upon reaching an impasse after meeting and conferring over a discovery dispute, counsel shall present the dispute “by telephone conference call or letter to the Magistrate Judge.”[7] The “Court is not dictating a rigid formulation as to when a party must object to a document production. Reasonableness is the touchstone principle as it is with most discovery obligations.”[8]

         A Court's pretrial order “controls the course of the action unless the court modifies it.”[9] This is because the Court maintains control over the schedule to expedite disposition of the action and to discourage wasteful pretrial activities.[10] The Supplemental Scheduling Order entered on April 17, 2017 stated as follows:

No discovery motion or motion for sanctions for failure to provide discovery shall be made without prior leave of Court. Counsel “shall confer” in good faith and attempt to informally resolve any discovery disputes before seeking the Court's intervention. L.Civ.R. 37.1(a). Should informal efforts fail within 10 days of the occurrence of the dispute, the dispute shall immediately be brought to the Magistrate Judge's attention via a joint dispute letter filed on ECF not to exceed 6 pages that sets forth: (a) the request; (b) the response; (c) efforts to resolve the dispute; (d) why the complaining party believes the information is relevant and why the responding party's response continues to be deficient; and (e) why the responding party believe the response is sufficient. Courtesy copies of exhibits should be mailed to chambers. If the dispute is complex and requires the filing of briefs and affidavits, counsel may separately file and mail same on the date of their joint dispute letter. No further submissions regarding the dispute may be submitted without leave of Court. Thereafter, the Court will schedule a telephonic discovery conference pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(f) if necessary to resolve the dispute. See L. Civ. R. 16.1(f).[11]

         That Order also prescribed the fact discovery end date to expire on July 17, 2017.[12]

         On June 15, 207, the Court held a telephone status conference. The Court noted the parties were behind in discovery and had only recently begun to address deficiencies, so the following text order was issued:

Counsel shall meet and confer to narrow or resolve their discovery disputes. Whatever has not been resolved shall be memorialized in a joint dispute letter by 7/10/17. Any requests to adjourn the discovery end date shall comply with Local Civil Rule 6.1. Counsel shall appear before Judge Mannion for a status conference in Courtroom 2B on 8/1/2017 at 2:00 p.m.[13]

         On July 10, 2017, the parties jointly filed a letter seeking an extension to file their joint dispute letter.[14] The letter was then filed on July 12, 2017, but it did not include the information required by the Court's protocol.[15] So, upon request from the Court, the parties supplemented the letter to include Defendant Rutgers' responses to Dr. Michaels's discovery requests.[16]

         The Court conferenced with counsel again on August 1, 2017, and issued a Letter Order on August 7, 2017 requiring that “The parties … meet and confer regarding any continued dispute in accordance with the Supplemental Scheduling Order.”[17]

         On September 28, 2017, the parties filed the pending joint dispute letter.[18] The letter itemized over 70 separate discovery disputes. Dr. Michaels' disputes concerning her interrogatory 17 and document requests 21, 31 - 34, 46 - 48, 52 - 54, and 56 - 60, 62, 68, 72, were not raised at any time prior to the discovery end date. The Court therefore finds that Dr. Michaels did not timely raise these disputes and they are therefore waived.

         With regard to the remaining discovery requests, the Court's Order below further clarifies and memorializes the Court's bench opinion:


         IT IS ORDERED this 11th day of ...

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