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Ramirez v. World Mission Society Church of God

United States District Court, D. New Jersey

April 10, 2019

MICHELLE RAMIREZ, Plaintiff,
v.
WORLD MISSION SOCIETY CHURCH OF GOD, A N.J. NONPROFIT CORPORATION, et al., Defendants.

          OPINION AND ORDER

          JAMES B. CLARK, III UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         THIS MATTER comes before the Court on a motion[1] by Plaintiff Michelle Ramirez (“Plaintiff”) to compel the deposition of Defendant Joo Cheol Kim (“Kim”), the General Pastor of Defendant World Mission Society of God of South Korea (“World Mission South Korea”), and the President and a trustee of Defendant World Mission Society Church of God, a New Jersey nonprofit corporation (“World Mission New Jersey”). Dkt. No. 81. Although Kim and World Mission South Korea are named defendants, neither Kim nor World Mission South Korea have been individually served, nor have they appeared voluntarily in person or through counsel in this matter. Defendants World Mission New Jersey, Big Shine World Wide, Inc., Albright Electric, LLC, Lincoln Grill & Café, LLC, Dong Il Lee, Bong Hee Lee, Tara Bryne, Richard Whalen, and Victor Lozada (collectively “Defendants”) oppose Plaintiff's motion to compel. Dkt. No. 84. For the reasons set forth below, Plaintiff's motion to compel [Dkt. No. 81] is DENIED.

         I. BACKGROUND

         As the parties are intimately familiar with the facts surrounding this matter, the Court will only address those relevant to the present motion.[2] This action arises from a Complaint filed by Plaintiff, a New York resident, claiming that World Mission New Jersey coerced her into joining the church based on several false representations and nondisclosures. See Dkt. No. 49, Second Amended Complaint (“Second Am. Compl.”), ¶¶ 3, 4, 7. Plaintiff also claims that Defendants World Mission South Korea and Kim coerced her into donating ten (10) percent of her income to World Mission New Jersey based on the misrepresentation that the money would be used for charitable purposes and that none of the money would be used to fund salaries. Id. at ¶¶ 81-88. Plaintiff claims, however, that the money she donated to World Mission New Jersey was in fact transferred to World Mission South Korea (a South Korean for-profit corporation). See Id. at ¶¶ 89-94. The transferred funds were allegedly used to compensate members of World Mission New Jersey and World Mission South Korea, including Kim. See Id.

         Discovery has since commenced in this matter, but there have been multiple discovery disputes between the parties. One such dispute involves Defendants' answers to written discovery served by Plaintiff. See Dkt. No. 81-1 at 5, Plaintiff's Brief in Support of Motion to Compel (“Br. in Supp.”). Specifically, Plaintiff claims she served World Mission New Jersey with interrogatories, one of which directly asked if Kim had ever received compensation from the donations allegedly transferred from World Mission New Jersey to World Mission South Korea. See Id. According to Plaintiff, however, Defendants objected to answering this interrogatory by asserting “overly broad and vague, not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence” and “calls for information and/or documents outside Responding Defendants' possession, custody or control.” See Id. Additionally, Plaintiff claims she served requests for document production seeking documents pertaining to compensation paid to World Mission New Jersey members, including Kim. See Id. at 7. Plaintiff asserts that World Mission has “refused to respond to any of those document requests, and is now in default of its discovery obligations.” See Id. (sic)

         Because of World Mission New Jersey's alleged “inability or unwillingness to provide discovery with respect to compensation paid to Kim . . . [, ]” Plaintiff attempted to take the deposition of Kim. See Id. at 7. However, Plaintiff contends that when she served World Mission New Jersey with a notice to depose Kim, counsel for World Mission New Jersey refused to accept service of the notice, stating that he did not represent Kim. See Id. at 8. Plaintiff claims she again served counsel for World Mission New Jersey with a notice to take the deposition of Kim but indicated in her notice that Kim would be deposed in his capacity as President of World Mission New Jersey. See Id. at 9. Subsequently, an alleged conference call was held between counsel for Plaintiff and counsel for World Mission New Jersey, wherein counsel for World Mission New Jersey indicated that: (1) World Mission New Jersey was not obligated to produce Kim; (2) counsel has never even spoken to Kim; and (3) even if Kim were to be deposed, hypothetically, such deposition should be taken in South Korea, where Kim resides. See Id. at ¶ 9-10.

         Plaintiff has since filed the present motion to compel the deposition of Kim in order to inquire from Kim what his alleged compensation is and to explore “all other issues related to this case.” See Id. at 10. Defendants filed their opposition to Plaintiff's motion, arguing inter alia, that Kim has not appeared in this case that Kim, has not been properly served, and that Plaintiff has no right to designate the specific individual to be deposed on the behalf of World Mission New Jersey. See Dkt. No. 84, at 2, Defendants' Brief in Opposition of Plaintiff's Motion to Compel (“Br. in Opp.”).

         II.LEGAL STANDARD

         Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 30(b)(6), a party may, in its notice or subpoena, name as the deponent a public or private corporation, a partnership, an association, a governmental agency, or other entity, and must describe with reasonable particularity the matters for examination. Fed. R. Civ. P. 30(b)(6). The named organization must then designate one or more officers, directors, or managing agents, or designate other persons who consent to testify on its behalf; and it may set out the matters on which each person designated will testify. Id. The persons designated must testify about information known or reasonably available to the organization. Id. As a representative of the named deponent, the testimony of a Rule 30(b)(6) witness is binding on the entity. See Sanofi-Aventis v. Sandoz, Inc., 272 F.R.D. 391, 393 (D.N.J. 2011) (citing Harris v. New Jersey, 259 F.RD. 89, 92 (D.N.J. 2007)); see also Resolution Trust Corp. v. S. Union Co., 985 F.2d 196, 197 (5th Cir. 1993) (“[T]he corporation appears vicariously through that agent.”)).

         All of discovery, however, including a Rule 30(b)(6) notice, is governed by Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26. Rule 26 provides that:

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. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). Rule 26 is to be construed liberally in favor of disclosure, as relevance is a broader inquiry at the discovery stage than at the trial stage. Tele-Radio Sys. Ltd. v. De Forest Elecs., Inc., 92 F.R.D. 371, 375 (D.N.J. 1981). While relevant information need not be admissible at trial in order to grant disclosure, the burden remains on the party seeking discovery to “show that the information sought is relevant to the subject matter of the action and may lead to admissible evidence.” Caver v. City of Trenton, 192 F.R.D. 154, 159 (D.N.J. 2000). Upon a finding of good cause, a court may order discovery of any matter relevant to a party's claims, defenses, or the subject matter involved in the action. Bayer AG v. Betachem, Inc., 173 F.3d 188, 191 (3d Cir. 1999). “Although the scope of discovery under the Federal Rules is unquestionably broad, this right is not unlimited and may be circumscribed.” Id. In fact, a Court may deny a discovery request if:

After assessing the needs of the case, the amount in controversy, the parties' resources, the importance of the issues at stake in the action, and the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, the District Court finds that there exists a likelihood that the resulting benefits would be outweighed by the burden or expenses imposed as a consequence of the proposed discovery.

Salamone v. Carter's Retail, Inc., 2011 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 8425, *28 (D.N.J. Jan. 28, 2011) (citing Takacs v. Union County, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87632, at *3 (D.N.J. Sept. 14, 2009)). “The purpose of this rule of proportionality is to guard against redundant or disproportionate discovery by giving the court authority to reduce the amount of discovery that may be directed to matters that are otherwise proper subjects of inquiry.” Takacs, 2009 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 87632 at *3 ...


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