Otey v. Crowdflower, Inc. et al

Filing 85

ORDER by Judge Maria-Elena James granting in part and denying in part 77 Discovery Letter Brief (mejlc2, COURT STAFF) (Filed on 4/11/2013)

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1 2 3 4 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 5 NORTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 6 7 CHRISTOPHER OTEY Plaintiff, 8 v. No. C 12-5524 JST (MEJ) DISCOVERY ORDER RE: DKT. NO. 77 9 CROWDFLOWER, INC., et al., 10 Defendants. _____________________________________/ 12 For the Northern District of California UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 11 13 In this putative class action under the Fair Labor Standards Act, 29 U.S.C. §201 et seq. 14 (“FLSA”) and Oregon’s minimum wage laws, Plaintiff Christopher Otey alleges that Defendants 15 CrowdFlower and two of its executives, Lukas Biewald and Chris Van Pelt, failed and continue to 16 fail to pay minimum wages to those that performed crowd-sourced work in the United States online 17 in response to any online request by CrowdFlower for crowd-sourced work, or any online 18 notification by CrowdFlower that crowd-sourced work was available.1 First Amended Complaint 19 (“FAC”) ¶¶ 2, 3, Dkt. No. 27. Before the Court is the parties’ joint discovery dispute letter, filed 20 April 3, 2013. Dkt. No. 77. The letter concerns Defendants’ interrogatories and requests for 21 production of documents directed toward Plaintiff’s personal and business financial information 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 1 According to Defendants, CrowdFlower’s business model can best be described as “the creation and maintenance of an online market place of human intelligence tasks for the benefit of itself and its customers.” Jt. Case Mgmnt. Stmnt. at 2, Dkt. No. 62. “For an agreed price, CrowdFlower’s customers provide projects to CrowdFlower in the form of data sets which must be mined by human intelligence to extract or categorize the information sought by the customer (e.g., tagging photos, categorizing a product, identifying inappropriate content, taking a survey, conducting a web search, confirming a business location, etc.).” Id. “CrowdFlower typically breaks down the project into discrete tasks which are then displayed and offered to persons (“Contributors”) as units (i.e., small groupings of tasks) through the intermediation and platform integration of Contributor Channels.” Id. 1 relative to the sources of his earned income. The requests seek information and documents that 2 Defendants claim are related to Plaintiff’s self-employment and/or operation of any home-based 3 independent business, including tax returns, bank records, credit card statements, and telephone and 4 internet service records. Jt. Ltr. at 1, 3. Defendants argue that information evidencing Plaintiff’s 5 operation of a home-based business would tend to demonstrate the amount of time spent on other 6 ventures, whether other work represented his primary source of income, and the degree of control or 7 lack thereof over him by CrowdFlower. Id. at 1. Since Plaintiff alleges that CrowdFlower was his 8 employer, Defendants contend that records of self-employment or independent contractor 9 arrangements are relevant, and the probative value outweighs any privacy interest in them. Id. Defendants further argue that Plaintiff waived any privacy interest in such records by placing his 11 finances directly at issue. Id. 12 For the Northern District of California UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 10 In response, Plaintiff argues that Defendants’ requests constitute an unwarranted intrusion 13 into his private and irrelevant affairs, that he has not opened the door to such overly-broad 14 and intrusive discovery, and that they are improper and intended to harass and annoy. Id. at 3. 15 Plaintiff contends that income from other jobs, and unearned sources of income, bear no relevance to 16 determining whether Defendants are liable for unpaid minimum wages and are beyond the scope of 17 discovery. Id. Plaintiff further argues that the information and documents requested are private and 18 not reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence. Id. 19 Upon review of the parties’ arguments, the Court finds that other employment or receipt of 20 other income is irrelevant to the question of whether Plaintiff was Defendants’ employee or whether 21 he was an independent contractor. See, e.g., Nesselrodte v. Diva’s, LLC, 2012 WL 2061523, at *2 22 (N.D. W.Va. June 7, 2012) (denying efforts to discover evidence of other sources of income because 23 “other employment or receipt of other income is irrelevant to the question of whether plaintiffs were 24 employees . . . or whether they were independent contractors [because] case turns only on this 25 employment relationship [and] Defendant’s discovery requests seeking this information are denied 26 because they are not likely to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence”); Young F. Ke v. Fourth 27 Ave., 2009 WL 1058627, at *4 (S.D.N.Y. Apr. 20, 2009) (denying request for evidence of other 28 2 1 sources of income and job expenses in misclassification claim because “the plaintiffs’ status as 2 employees under the FLSA is not dependent on whether they had other employment, so that 3 argument provides no support for the requested discovery,” and concluding that “the burden of this 4 discovery far outweighs its likely benefit”). Likewise, this case turns only on the alleged 5 employment relationship between Plaintiff and CrowdFlower. Accordingly, Defendants’ discovery 6 requests seeking information about other employment are DENIED because they are not likely to 7 lead to the discovery of relevant evidence. 8 As to Defendants’ discovery requests regarding income and costs related to work performing reasonably related to Plaintiff’s claims. However, it appears that Defendants’ requests include 11 information subject to privacy concerns, including tax returns and related documents, bank and 12 For the Northern District of California internet-based projects through CrowdFlower’s website, the Court finds that such requests are 10 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 credit card statements, and expenses for telephone and internet service. And, as the parties did not 13 provide copies of the relevant requests, it is not clear whether the information sought is obtainable 14 through less intrusive means, including targeted interrogatories, requests for admissions, and 15 depositions, rather than production of the actual billing records and tax returns. Accordingly, the 16 Court GRANTS Defendants’ requests for this information, but ORDERS Defendants to propound 17 revised discovery requests that are focused on less obtrusive means of obtaining the information. 18 For example, rather than obtain tax returns, Defendant can obtain by focused interrogatories 19 Plaintiff’s identification and explanation of all sources of income and expenses related to 20 CrowdFlower projects. Indeed, Defendant can propound an interrogatory that directly asks what 21 Plaintiff’s total earnings were from CrowdFlower projects for each year in question as reported in 22 Plaintiff’s tax returns. This strikes the correct balance because it eliminates the need to delve into 23 any accompanying personal information that is patently irrelevant to the case. It also benefits 24 Defendants because Plaintiff would then be estopped from claiming higher income than the amount 25 stated in response to the interrogatory. See Maldonado v. St. Croix Discount, Inc., 77 F.R.D. 501, 26 503 (D. V.I. 1978) (court denied defendant’s motion to compel tax returns of plaintiff who provided 27 W–2 forms, but ruled that plaintiff would be estopped from claiming any greater amounts of past 28 3 1 2 3 4 income). Defendants shall ensure that any requests permitted herein are limited in scope to the time period during which Plaintiff claims to have performed projects from CrowdFlower’s website. IT IS SO ORDERED 5 6 Dated: April 10, 2013 _______________________________ Maria-Elena James United States Magistrate Judge 7 8 9 10 12 For the Northern District of California UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 11 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 4

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