Blanton et al v. Torrey Pines Property Management, Inc. et al

Filing 85

ORDER on Discovery Dispute No. 2: Denying 84 Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel. Signed by Magistrate Judge Nita L. Stormes on 5/10/2017. (jao)

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1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 9 SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF CALIFORNIA 10 11 MONYA BLANTON and DIANE JOA, Case No.: 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) Plaintiffs, 12 13 v. 14 ORDER ON DISCOVERY DISPUTE NO. 2: DENYING PLAINTIFFS’ MOTION TO COMPEL TORREY PINES PROPERTY MANAGEMENT, INC., et al., 15 [Dkt. No. 84] Defendants. 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 Before the Court is the parties’ Joint Motion for Determination of Discovery 25 Dispute No. 2. (Dkt. No. 84.) Having considered the arguments presented by both 26 parties and for the reasons set forth herein, the Court DENIES Plaintiffs’ motion to 27 compel further responses to Interrogatory Nos. 22 and 23. 28 /// 1 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 I. Relevant Factual and Procedural Background 2 This case presents claims related to the Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) and alleged 3 discrimination based on familial status. (See Dkt. No. 29.) At the outset of this case, 4 Plaintiffs Blanton and Joa alleged identical claims against Defendants, including claims 5 for discrimination in violation of the FHA and the California Fair Employment and 6 Housing Act (“CFEHA”). (See Dkt. No. 29.) 7 This discovery dispute arose previously, and Defendants raised the question of 8 Plaintiffs’ standing to pursue FHA and CFEHA based claims for discriminatory housing 9 practices. (Dkt No. 65.) In response, this Court denied the pending motion to compel 10 without prejudice, and set a deadline for briefing regarding Plaintiffs’ standing to 11 continue to pursue their discrimination claims. (Dkt. No. 66.) Defendants moved to 12 dismiss each of the Plaintiffs’ FHA and CFEHA claims. (Dkt. No. 72.) The Court 13 dismissed Ms. Joa’s claims, but permitted Ms. Blanton’s claims to proceed. (Dkt. No. 14 83.) This dispute now arises for the second time. 15 Plaintiffs Blanton and Joa both seek to compel further responses to interrogatories 16 propounded solely by Ms. Joa. (Dkt. No 84, pg. 2:12-13; pg. 10:26-27; Dkt. 84-3, Ex. 1.) 17 Specifically, Plaintiffs move to compel responses to Interrogatory Nos. 22 and 23, which 18 seek information for each of TPPM’s rental units relating to, in sum, the size/layout and 19 occupancy of each unit within 14 geographical zip code areas.1 (Dkt. No. 84, at II.C.) 20 21 1 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 Interrogatory No. 22 states: For each rental dwelling owned or operated by any defendant and located in the following zip codes within San Diego County … please state the following information for the period between June 1, 2011 and June 1, 2015: (1) each dwelling by unit number and building address; (2) the size of each dwelling unit by square footage; and (3) the configuration of each dwelling unit by number of bedrooms, bathrooms and total number of rooms. Plaintiffs request this information be supplied in MS Excel. Interrogatory No. 23 states: For each rental dwelling owned or operated and located in the following zip codes within San Diego County … please state the following information for 2 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 Plaintiffs argue that responses to the interrogatories are relevant to Ms. Blanton’s 2 remaining discrimination claims, and are necessary for expert statistical analysis of 3 disparate impact. (Id. at II.D.) Defendant Torrey Pines Property Management (“TPPM”) 4 objects to Ms. Blanton’s continued pursuit of responses to interrogatories based upon 5 lack of standing to compel responses as Ms. Blanton was not the propounding party. 6 TPPM also objects that the discovery is irrelevant, over-broad, oppressive and unduly 7 burdensome, and invades the Defendant’s privacy and requests commercially protected 8 information.2 (Id. at II.F-G.) 9 10 11 II. Discussion A. Plaintiff Blanton Lacks Standing to Compel a Response Motions to compel responses to interrogatories are governed by Rule 37 of the 12 Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. As a threshold matter, the party pursuing a motion to 13 compel must have standing to bring the motion. Payne v. Exxon Corp., 121 F. 3d 503, 14 510 (9th Cir. 1997) (“Only ‘the discovering party’ … may bring a motion to compel.”); 15 Loop AI Labs v. Gatti, No. 15-cv-00798-HSG (DMR), 2016 WL 4474584, 2016 U.S. 16 Dist. LEXIS 114247, at *8 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 25, 2016) (“under Rule 37(a) … a party lacks 17 standing to move to compel answers to a different party's discovery requests”). 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 the period between June 1, 2011 and June 1, 2015: (1) each tenant household, identified by unique tenant number; (2) the dates of first and last occupancy by each tenant household; (3) the number of occupants in each household, based on the household’s first month of occupancy; (4) the number of minor children in each tenant household based on the household’s first month of occupancy; (5) the rent charged each tenant household for the household’s third month of occupancy. [Fn. 3.] Plaintiffs request that this information be supplied in MS Excel. Fn. 3: Plaintiffs request the monthly rent charged for the third month of tenancy to avoid the effects of move-in specials or first month rent discounts. If defendants certify that no such rent adjustments exist, then the first month rent is acceptable. 2 The Court notes TPPM’s request to submit additional briefing, but finds further briefing unnecessary under the facts and circumstances presented. 3 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 The parties do not dispute that Interrogatory Nos. 22 and 23 were propounded by 2 Ms. Joa only. (See Dkt. 84-3, Ex. 1.) Ms. Blanton is not the propounding party, and 3 lacks standing to compel responses under Rule 37. Payne v. Exxon Corp., 121 F. 3d 503, 4 510 (9th Cir. 1997); Loop AI Labs v. Gatti, No. 15-cv-00798-HSG (DMR), 2016 WL 5 4474584, 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 114247, at *8 (N.D. Cal. Aug. 25, 2016). See also, In 6 re Urethane Antitrust Litig., 237 F.R.D. 454 (D. Kan. 2006) (non-settling defendants lack 7 standing to seek enforcement of settled defendant’s discovery requests). 8 Plaintiffs argue that in any event Ms. Joa should get the discovery because she and 9 Ms. Blanton overlapped in time at the subject apartments and were subject to the same 10 occupancy policy. (See Dkt. 29, ¶¶ 14-17, 19-21.) The Court does not find this timing 11 overlap to be enough of a tie between the Plaintiffs so as to allow the requested 12 discovery. Even though Ms. Joa and Ms. Blanton are co-plaintiffs, their alleged claims 13 arise out of different sets of facts. (Id.) While Ms. Joa and Ms. Blanton were arguably 14 tied together by the same question of law regarding whether they each suffered familial 15 status discrimination due to the occupancy policy, that tie was severed when the district 16 judge found that Ms. Joa did not suffer any concrete injury for any alleged violation of 17 the FHA or CFEHA. (Dkt. No. 83.) Further, at the time of the filing of the complaint 18 and propounding of the discovery, Plaintiffs were aware of the fact that Ms. Joa did not 19 suffer any concrete injury for any alleged violation of the FHA or FEHA because TPPM 20 did not begin to enforce its occupancy policy against Ms. Joa until 2014, when all of her 21 children had already reached the age of majority. (See Dkt. No. 29, ¶ 20.) While aware 22 of these distinct factual scenarios, Plaintiffs decided to serve the interrogatories that 23 related to the discrimination claims and issue of disparate impact only in Ms. Joa's name. 24 Plaintiffs’ should have been aware that Ms. Joa did not have standing to assert such 25 claims. In sum, not only is there no standing, but there is no common set of facts or 26 common question of federal law that binds these Plaintiffs together as to these 27 interrogatories. 28 4 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 Additionally, Plaintiffs cite to no authority permitting a party to compel responses 2 to discovery propounded in another party’s name. This Court found only one case that 3 permitted a motion to compel to proceed when the interrogatories were propounded in 4 another party’s name. In Morden v. T-Mobile USA, Inc. (“Morden”), No. C05- 5 2112RSM, 2006 WL 1727987, 2006 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 42047, at *4 (W.D. Wash. June 6 22, 2006), plaintiff Morden propounded discovery requests for the purposes of class 7 certification relating to “off the clock” claims in a Fair Labor Standards Act case. Id. at 8 *1-2. The discovery was propounded prior to the time that Plaintiff Siddiqui, who 9 asserted the “off the clock” violations, joined the action. Id. at *3-4. There, the 10 Washington District Court held that in the absence of any authority from the parties 11 regarding standing, and in light of the ability of Plaintiff Siddiqui to propound identical 12 discovery, the Court’s time and resources were best served by addressing the merits of 13 the motion. Id. at *4. 14 The facts of the case before the Court are distinguishable from Morden, and 15 compel a different result. Here, Defendant TPPM cited to relevant authority that 16 precludes the unnamed party from pursuing a motion to compel. (Dkt. 84, pgs. 11:13- 17 12:6, citing Payne v. Exxon Corp., 121 F. 3d 503, 510 (9th Cir. 1997) and In re Urethane 18 Antitrust Litig., 237 F.R.D. 454 (D. Kan. 2006).) Fact discovery closed November 30, 19 2016; precluding Plaintiff Blanton from issuing identical discovery and eliminating any 20 saved resources for the Court or parties. (See Dkt. 51, Scheduling Order.) Plaintiffs also 21 assert that they have not exceeded the permitted 25 written interrogatories because each 22 Plaintiff may propound 25 separate written interrogatories. (Dkt. 84, pg. 10:20-24.) 23 Plaintiffs thereby confirm that each set of interrogatories propounded was intended to be 24 for the propounding Plaintiff only. Any other construction would impermissibly permit 25 50 interrogatories per plaintiff in violation of Rule 33. 26 27 28 Plaintiffs’ motion to compel can only proceed as asserted by Ms. Joa. Accordingly, this Court turns to analysis under the standards of Rule 26 as applied to Ms. Joa. /// 5 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 2 B. The Interrogatories are Irrelevant to Ms. Joa’s Claims With proper standing, a party can obtain and compel discovery of non-privileged 3 information so long as it is relevant and proportional. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(b)(1). If the 4 discovery requested is not proportional, it falls outside the bounds of Rule 26. See In re 5 Bard IVC Filters Prods. Liab. Litig., 317 F.R.D. 562, 564-65 (D. Ariz. 2016) 6 (“Relevancy alone is no longer sufficient — discovery must also be proportional to the 7 needs of the case.”). 8 9 Once the propounding party establishes that the request seeks relevant information, “[t]he party who resists discovery has the burden to show discovery should not be 10 allowed, and has the burden of clarifying, explaining, and supporting its objections.” 11 Superior Commc'ns v. Earhugger, Inc., 257 F.R.D. 215, 217 (C.D. Cal. 2009); see 12 Blankenship v. Hearst Corp., 519 F.2d 418, 429 (9th Cir.1975) (requiring defendants “to 13 carry heavy burden of showing why discovery was denied”). 14 Plaintiffs concede that the information requested via Interrogatory Nos. 22 and 23 15 is relevant only to prove a “pattern or practice of discrimination” for the purposes of the 16 disparate impact claim. (Dkt. No. 84, pg. 8:10-15.) Ms. Joa no longer asserts any valid 17 claim for discrimination, rendering the discovery sought irrelevant to her remaining 18 causes of action. 19 This Court is unable to find relevant authority whereby a named Plaintiff was 20 permitted to pursue discovery relevant only to another party’s claim without any 21 relevance to their own remaining case. In addition, the Notes to the 2000 and 2015 22 Amendments explain that Rule 26 was intended to address the distinction between 23 discovery “relevant to the subject matter involved in the action” and discovery “relevant 24 to a claim or defense.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26, Notes of Advisory Committee on 2015 25 Amendments. See also, In re Ashworth, Inc. Sec. Litig., No. 99cv0121 L (JAH), 2002 26 WL 33009225, 2002 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 27991, at *9 (S.D. Cal. May 10, 2002) (noting 27 parties have no entitlement to discovery to develop new claims or defenses that are not 28 identified in the pleadings). Interrogatories 22 and 23 are irrelevant to Ms. Joa’s claims or 6 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 defenses, even if perhaps relevant to the subject matter of the litigation. Plaintiffs’ 2 motion to compel is denied. 3 4 C. The Interrogatories are Impermissibly Disproportionate Even were Ms. Joa able to articulate relevance to her own claim, or proceed to 5 collect discovery relevant only to Ms. Blanton’s claims, the requests are also 6 disproportionate and beyond the bounds of Rule 26. 7 Both Plaintiffs’ complaint and argument rely heavily on the disparate impact on 8 renter families in the City of El Cajon. (See Dkt. Nos. 29; 84, pg. 3:10-4:2.) The scope 9 of information sought in Ms. Joa’s discovery requests is not limited to the City of El 10 Cajon, but seeks information from across San Diego County. Plaintiffs argue that 11 Plaintiffs’ expert needs broad information to create an appropriate data pool, and submit a 12 declaration from their expert in support. (Dkt. 84, pg. 8:27-9:5.) 13 Plaintiffs’ expert’s declaration simply states that information from the Dominguez 14 Way apartments would not be sufficient and that he would have to combine information 15 across zip codes. (Dkt. No. 84-2, ¶ 2.) Ms. Joa’s interrogatories seeks information for 14 16 separate zip codes. (Dkt. No. 84, at II.C; Dkt No. 84-3, Ex. 1.) The City of El Cajon 17 appears to contain at least three distinct zip codes: 92019, 92120, and 92121. (See City 18 of El Cajon Zip Code Map, available at 19 cajon/about/map.) Plaintiffs’ expert fails to offer any reasoning as to why information 20 beyond the combined zip codes of the City of El Cajon is necessary. While statistical 21 information is relevant to disparate impact cases, Plaintiffs’ pleading is specific to the 22 City of El Cajon, and so too must be the scope of discovery. See Mountain Side Mobile 23 Estates P’ship v. Sec. of Housing and Urban Dev., 56 F.3d 1243, 1253 (10th Cir. 1995) 24 (“In this case, the appropriate comparables must focus on the local housing market and 25 local family statistics. The farther removed from the local statistics the plaintiffs venture, 26 the weaker their evidence becomes.”) cited with approval in Budnick v. Town of 27 Carefree, 518 F.3d 1109, 1119 (9th Cir. 2008); see also, Fed. R. Civ. P. 26. 28 7 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 Defendant also argues that the Interrogatories are overbroad and overly 2 burdensome because, inter alia, the data sought would require excessive amounts of time 3 to collect, and ultimately will not yield accurate information because it is based on the 4 information as contained in the residents’ applications, which may or may not be 5 accurate. (Dkt. 84, pg. 17:23-18:6.) As evidence of the unreliability of the information 6 sought, Defendant points to Plaintiff Blanton’s own application. (Id.) Ms. Blanton’s 7 application lists only herself and three children, omitting two additional children and 8 members of the household. (Id.) 9 The Court finds this argument persuasive, and finds the requests impose an undue 10 burden disproportionate to the needs of the case. While some of the information sought 11 is likely part of TPPM’s business records (such as the address, number of bedrooms and 12 bathrooms per unit, and the price of rent), some information sought appears to require 13 tenant files to be pulled at great burden and expense to TPPM. (See, Dkt. 84-4, ¶ 3 14 estimating 496 hours to pull and review each file for the geographical areas identified.) 15 Interrogatory 23, in particular, asks for information including the number of occupants 16 per unit, how many of them are children, and the first and last dates of occupancy. TPPM 17 states that to gather this information, individual tenant files will have to be pulled and 18 reviewed, to gather information that is unreliable at best. (See, Dkt. 84-4.) Even 19 assuming that such information is needed for Plaintiffs’ expert’s analysis, accurate 20 information is required to produce reliable expert testimony and results. As Ms. 21 Blanton’s application demonstrates, accurate information is not likely to be gathered. 22 The burden and expense of compiling this information coupled with the unreliability of 23 the same makes the request disproportionate to the needs of the case. 24 Defendant raises additional objections based upon privacy and commercially 25 sensitive information. However, because the Court finds that neither Plaintiff may 26 pursue the discovery based upon standing, relevance, and proportionality, the Court need 27 not address any further objections. 28 /// 8 15-CV-0892 W (NLS) 1 III. 2 For the foregoing reasons, Plaintiffs’ motion to compel responses to Interrogatory Conclusion 3 Nos. 22 and 23 are DENIED. 4 IT IS SO ORDERED. 5 Dated: May 10, 2017 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 9 15-CV-0892 W (NLS)

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