Chavez v. Arancedo
ORDER granting in part and denying in part 43 Plaintiff's Motion to Compel. Signed by Magistrate Judge Edwin G. Torres on 8/8/2017. (js02)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
SOUTHERN DISTRICT OF FLORIDA
Case No. 17-20003-Civ-TORRES
NARCISA PEREZ CHAVEZ,
BERNARDA M. ARANCEDO,
ORDER ON PLAINTIFF’S MOTION TO COMPEL
This matter is before the Court on Narcisa Perez Chavez (“Plaintiff”) Motion
to Compel better responses to Plaintiff’s discovery requests and for sanctions
against Bernarda M. Arancedo (“Defendant”).
On July 25, 2017,
Defendant responded to Plaintiff’s Motion [D.E. 45] to which Plaintiff replied on
August 1, 2017. [D.E. 46]. Therefore, Plaintiff’s Motion is now ripe for disposition.
After careful consideration of the Motion, response, reply, relevant authority, and
for the reasons discussed below, Plaintiff’s Motion is GRANTED in part and
DENIED in part.
Plaintiff filed this action on January 2, 2017 and alleges that Defendant
violated the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”) and the Florida Minimum Wage
Act. Plaintiff claims that she had an employee relationship with Defendant from
January 23, 2012 through December 30, 2016. Plaintiff’s earnings purportedly fell
below the Federal and Florida minimum wage for the services she performed as a
maid at Defendant’s personal residence.
Defendant denies all of Plaintiff’s
allegations and the matter is currently set for trial on October 9, 2018 with a
discovery deadline of June 28, 2018.
APPLICABLE LEGAL PRINCIPLES AND LAW
Under the Federal Rules, a party may pose interrogatories related to any
matter into which Rule 26(b) allows inquiry, FED. R. CIV. P. 33(a)(2), request the
production of any documents that fall within the scope of Rule 26(b), FED. R. CIV. P.
34(a), and serve requests to admit certain matters within the scope of Rule 26(b)(1),
FED. R. CIV. P. 36(a)(1). Rule 26(b) also allows discovery “through increased reliance
on the commonsense concept of proportionality.” In re: Takata Airbag Prod. Liab.
Litig., 2016 WL 1460143, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Mar. 1, 2016) (quoting Chief Justice John
Roberts, 2015 Year–End Report on the Federal Judiciary 6 (2015)). “Proportionality
requires counsel and the court to consider whether relevant information is
discoverable in view of the needs of the case.” Tiger v. Dynamic Sports Nutrition,
LLC, 2016 WL 1408098, at *2 (M.D. Fla. Apr. 11, 2016). If the opposing party
objects to interrogatories or requests, the requesting party may then file a motion to
compel production pursuant to FED. R. CIV. P. 37, but only after its counsel, in good
faith, confers with opposing counsel to resolve discovery disputes without court
intervention. See FED. R. CIV. P. 37(a)(1).
The Federal Rules afford the Court broad authority to control the scope of
discovery, Josendis v. Wall to Wall Residence Repairs, Inc., 662 F.3d 1292, 1307
(11th Cir. 2011), but Astrongly favor full discovery whenever possible.
Farnsworth v. Procter & Gamble Co., 758 F.3d 1545, 1547 (11th Cir. 1985). Courts
must consequently employ a liberal and broad scope of discovery in keeping with
the spirit and purpose of these rules. See Rosenbaum v. Becker & Poliakoff, P.A.,
708 F. Supp. 2d 1304, 1306 (S.D. Fla. 2010) (collecting cases). The “overall purpose
of discovery under the Federal Rules is to require the disclosure of all relevant
information, so that the ultimate resolution of disputed issues in any civil action
may be based on a full and accurate understanding of the true facts, and therefore
embody a fair and just result.” State Nat’l Ins. Co. v. City of Destin, 2015 WL
11109379, at *1 (N.D. Fla. Sept. 1, 2015).
However, while the scope of discovery is broad, it is not without limits. See
Washington v. Brown & Williamson Tobacco, 959 F. 2d 1566, 1570 (11th Cir. 1992);
Rossbach v. Rundle, 128 F. Supp. 2d 1348 (S.D. Fla. 2000) (citing Oppenheimer
Fund v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340 (1978)). To show that the requested discovery is
otherwise objectionable, the onus is on the objecting party to demonstrate with
specificity how the objected-to request is unreasonable or otherwise unduly
burdensome. See Rossbach, 128 F. Supp. 3d at 1354 (citing in part Panola Land
Buyers Ass’n v. Shuman, 762 F.2d 1550, 1559 (11th Cir. 1985)).
Boilerplate objections and generalized responses are improper. See Alhassid
v. Bank of America, 2015 WL 1120273, at *2 (S.D. Fla. March 12, 2015). This
District has frequently held that objections which fail to sufficiently specify the
grounds on which they are based are improper and without merit. See, e.g., Taylor
v. Bradshaw, 2014 WL 6459978 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 14, 2014); Abdin v. Am. Sec. Ins.
Co., 2010 WL 1257702 (S.D. Fla. March 29, 2010). More specifically, objections
simply stating that a request is Aoverly broad, or unduly burdensome@ are
meaningless and without merit. Abdin, 2010 WL 1257702 at *1 (quoting Guzman v.
Irmadan, Inc., 249 F.R.D. 399, 400 (S.D. Fla. 2008)).
In addition to the Federal Rules, Southern District Local Rule 26.1 controls
the necessary procedure a party must follow when objecting to a request for
production or asserting a claim of privilege. It requires that:
All disputes related to discovery shall be presented to the Court by
motion (or, if the Court has established a different practice for
presenting discovery disputes, by other Court-approved method) within
(30) days from the: (a) original due date (or later date if extended by
the Court or the parties) of the response or objection to the discovery
request that is the subject of the dispute; (b) date of the deposition in
which the dispute arose; or (c) date on which a party first learned of or
should have learned of a purported deficiency concerning the
production of discovery materials. Failure to present the dispute to the
Court within that timeframe, absent a showing of good cause for the
delay, may constitute a waiver of the relief sought at the Court’s
discretion. The thirty (30) day period set forth in this rule may be
extended once for up to seven (7) additional days by an unfiled, written
stipulation between the parties, provided that the stipulation does not
conflict with a Court order.
S.D. Fla. L.R. 26.1(g) (emphasis added). On its face, Rule 26.1(i) is therefore plainly
discretionary. While the grounds for a motion tends to be the moment at which
responses are filed, this is not always necessarily the case.
See, e.g., Socas v.
Northwestern Mut. Life Ins., 2008 WL 619322 (S.D. Fla. March 4, 2008) (finding
that the occurrence triggering the motion to compel was when the requesting party
examined certain documents months after their initial requests had been
answered); United States v. Polo Pointe Way, Delray Beach, Fl., 444 F. Supp. 2d
1258, 1261 (S.D. Fla. 2006) (finding that the “occurrence” at issue was a deposition
that took place after responses were filed).
In pertinent part, the Local Rules also provide that where a claim of privilege
is asserted, the objecting party must prepare “a privilege log with respect to all
documents, electronically stored information, things and oral communications
withheld on the basis of a claim of privilege or work product protection” except for
“written and oral communications between a party and its counsel after
commencement of the action and work product material created after commencement
of the action.” S.D. Fla. L.R. 26.1(e)(B)(i) (emphasis added). Furthermore, “[w]here
a claim of privilege is asserted in objecting to any . . . production demand . . . and an
answer is not provided on the basis of such assertion . . . [t]he attorney asserting the
privilege shall . . . identify the nature of the privilege . . . being claimed.” S.D. Fla.
Plaintiff’s Motion seeks to compel Defendant to provide better discovery
responses and produce responsive documents. On May 3, 2017, Plaintiff served
Defendant with her first set of written discovery, including Plaintiff’s requests for
admissions, requests for production, and interrogatories.
Defendant served her
discovery responses on June 2, 2017. Plaintiff suggests that Defendant has lodged
improper discovery responses that are germane to Plaintiff’s claims and that many
items in dispute relate directly to Plaintiff’s allegations and to Defendant’s
affirmative defenses. Plaintiff also believes that Defendant’s responses were made
in bad faith and that Defendant’s objections do not make clear where or not the
Defendant is withholding any remaining relevant documents. Because the parties
have purportedly reached an impasse1, Plaintiff requests that the Court compel
Defendant to provide better responses to Plaintiff’s requests for production 1-3, 5, 912, 21, and 27 within one week of the Court’s Order. Plaintiff also requests that
Defendant’s objections be deemed waived and that Plaintiff be awarded reasonable
attorney’s fees and costs in filing her Motion.
In response, Defendant argues that Plaintiff has failed to carry her burden of
proof and has not met established legal criteria or a factual predicate for either an
order compelling better responses or for an award of sanctions.
Defendant claims that she already produced all documents relevant to this action
and that any remaining documents that Plaintiff is requesting simply do not exist.
Defendant contends that she has fully complied with her discovery obligations and
produced ninety-nine pages of materials or approximately 36.4 MB of data.
Defendant also suggests that a review of her discovery responses shows that
Plaintiff was paid in cash and that Defendant does not have (1) any documents or
way to establish the weekly or total amounts paid by Defendant, (2) the number of
hours Plaintiff worked in each of the weeks at issue, (3) or any records where
Plaintiff requested, demanded, or claimed that she was compensated.
Defendant strongly disputes the notion that the parties have properly
conferred in good faith as required by the Local Rules on the disputes in Plaintiff’s
Furthermore, Defendant believes that Plaintiff’s discovery requests are
improper because they are more applicable to business employers and not tailored
to the facts of this case where Defendant was merely an individual housewife who
retained Plaintiff as an independent contractor as a maid.
requests are also allegedly overbroad in temporal scope because Plaintiff stipulated
that she only provided maid services for Defendant between 2012 to 2016. As such,
any documents requested should allegedly adhere solely to this time frame.
In Plaintiff’s request 1, Plaintiff seeks a “copy of the Individual Defendant’s
federal tax returns for the year[s] 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, including
quarterly reports (filed with both the IRS and [the] state of Florida).” [D.E. 43].
Relatedly, Plaintiff’s requests 2 and 3 seek copies of all documents used by
Defendant in preparation of Defendant’s federal tax returns. Plaintiff argues that
the documents requested are directly relevant because they may assist in
demonstrating that Plaintiff was an employee – rather than an independent
contractor – as defined under the FLSA. Plaintiff also believes that the requested
documents might reflect information on whether the Defendant purchased supplies
for Plaintiff to indicate Plaintiff’s employment status.
individual tax returns may also show that Defendant lacks credibility on the
requirement of including sufficient information about an employment relationship,
Plaintiff contends that Defendant must produce the documents requested.
Defendant’s response is that Plaintiff’s request fails for several reasons. 2
First, Defendant argues that request 1 is overbroad in temporal scope because, by
Plaintiff’s own allegation, a relationship between the parties did not begin until
January 23, 2012 and therefore Plaintiff’s request improperly seeks materials from
2011. Second, Defendant contends that Florida does not have a personal income tax
and that there are no filings with the state of Florida that exist. Third, Defendant
suggests that she is only an individual housewife and not a business, meaning there
are no quarterly reports that were ever filed with the federal government. Fourth,
Defendant states that Plaintiff was the only independent contractor or employee
that Defendant hired during the time period at issue. As such, Defendant asserts
that she did not file any federal income tax returns that contain any information
about Plaintiff including any information that would reflect Plaintiff being
Defendant’s employee. Defendant notes that this includes any information related
to “inventories,” “trade notes and accounts receivable,” “depletable assets,” “other
assets,” or other deductions related to “uniforms, computers office expenses,
supplies, automobile and truck expenses,” or other business related expenses. [D.E.
And fifth, Defendant argues that she did not claim any deductions in her
income tax returns related to any lodging, food, or other provisions that might
relate to Plaintiff.
In sum, Defendant suggests that requests 1-3 are improper
Defendant accuses Plaintiff of using a set form of discovery requests that
were not changed to address the specific issues of this case. Thus, Defendant
alleges that Plaintiff violated its obligation to the Court and to the Defendant to not
to file or transmit inappropriate discovery requests that are clearly irrelevant.
because they are overbroad in temporal scope and seek irrelevant materials that
have no bearing on the claims presented.
The production of tax returns is ordinarily not produced because “there is a
public policy against their disclosure unless (1) it clearly appears that they are
relevant to the subject matter of the action, and (2) a compelling need is shown
because the information contained therein is not otherwise available.”
Donuts, Inc. v. Mary's Donuts, Inc., 2001 WL 34079319, at *2 (S.D. Fla. Nov. 1,
2001) (citing Cooper v. Hallgarten & Co., 34 F.R.D. 482; 483-84 (S.D.N.Y. 1964)).
Here, Plaintiff has met the two prongs identified because the tax returns are, at the
very least, relevant to the question of Plaintiff’s employment status and
impeachment evidence. See, e.g., Rindfleisch v. Gentiva Health Servs., Inc., 2015
WL 12552052, at *2 (N.D. Ga. Feb. 10, 2015) (“The Court finds that Plaintiffs'
federal and state income tax returns, with all attachments and schedules, are, at
the very least, arguably relevant to damages in this action. The returns may show
other sources of income for Plaintiffs, other employers for Plaintiffs, or provide
impeachment evidence, among other things.”).
However, Plaintiff’s request is overbroad in temporal scope because Plaintiff
only worked for Defendant from January 23, 2012 to December 30, 2016. And the
statute of limitations for FLSA cases is at most three years, meaning the only
relevant tax returns are from 2013 to 2016. See Allen v. Bd. of Pub. Educ. for Bibb
Cty., 495 F.3d 1306, 1323 (11th Cir. 2007) (“Although the ordinary statute of
limitations in cases brought under the FLSA is two years, a cause of action arising
out of a willful violation of the FLSA may be commenced within three years after
the cause of action accrued.”) (citing 29 U.S.C § 255(a)). As such, Plaintiff’s Motion
is GRANTED, but only in so far as Defendant is compelled to produce her federal
tax returns from 2013 to 2016.
As for requests 2 and 3 – which seek copies of all documents used by
Defendant in preparation of Defendant’s federal tax returns – we find that
Plaintiff’s request is facially overbroad and not necessarily tailored to the claims
presented. Any information that Plaintiff seeks to discover, with respect to her
employment status and impeachment evidence, should be adequately set forth in
Defendant’s tax returns. Therefore, Plaintiff’s Motion, as it relates to requests 2
and 3, is DENIED.
In request 5, Plaintiff seeks “[a]ll of the Defendants’ bank records, including
without limitation bank statements, cancelled checks, etc., from any and all banks
the Defendants have/had accounts for the years 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, and
[D.E. 43]. Defendant takes issue with this request for several reasons.
First, Defendant argues that she only paid Plaintiff in cash and therefore a request
for all of Defendant’s banking accounts is irrelevant. Second, Defendant states that
the request is overbroad in temporal scope because there was no relationship
between the parties in 2011. Third, Defendant believes that request 5 is overbroad
because it requests every bank record between the years requested and that there is
no appropriate basis to violate Defendant’s privacy rights.
claims that she has produced banking records that reflect withdrawals of cash that
were used to directly pay Plaintiff and that these items are the most relevant to the
information that Plaintiff seeks. Therefore, Defendant suggests that request 5 can
be easily denied because, other than the banking records produced thus far, no
other records exist that relate in any way to the claims presented.
We agree with Defendant that Plaintiff has presented no persuasive reason
as to why all of Defendant’s banking records are relevant to this action. There is no
dispute between the parties that Plaintiff was paid via cash and Defendant has
already produced documents that evidence where Defendant withdrew cash to pay
Plaintiff. Therefore, Plaintiff’s Motion, as it relates to request 5, must be DENIED
because it is (1) overbroad in temporal scope, (2) overbroad with respect to the broad
range of documents requested, and (3) fails to demonstrate how a request for all of
Defendant’s banking records are relevant.
In request 9, Plaintiff seeks “[a]ll receipts for all payments made to Plaintiff
by Defendant during Plaintiff’s entire employment term with Defendant,”
including all paystubs from all paychecks. [D.E. 43]. Plaintiff claims it is absurd
that Defendant refuses to produce the requested documents considering this is a
wage and hour case. Yet, Plaintiff’s request lacks merit because the parties agree
that Plaintiff was only paid in cash. Defendant also states that she has nothing to
produce because there were never any paychecks from which any paystubs could be
derived. Other than the banking records that have already been produced that
show cash withdrawals for payments made to Plaintiff, Defendant states that there
are no other materials to produce in response to request 9. As such, the Court has
no basis to question the veracity of Defendant’s representation and request 9 is
In request 10, Plaintiff seeks “[a]ll contracts/document[s] of employment
relating to Plaintiff’s employment with Defendant.” [D.E. 43]. Defendant takes
issue with request 10 because Defendant has allegedly stated many times that no
employment documents exist in response to request 10. Specifically, Defendant
argues that on June 28, 2017, Defendant stated that she “has no employment
document that is relevant or material to this employment request.” [D.E. 45-3].
And Defendant also asserted in her discovery response that any documents related
to Plaintiff’s status as an independent contractor have already been produced.
We agree with Defendant that she has sufficiently stated that there are no
additional documents to produce in response to Plaintiff’s discovery request. The
reason why request 10 appears to be at issue is because Plaintiff believes that the
Defendant’s discovery response was ambiguous and unclear as to whether any
responsive documents remain outstanding. Yet, Defendant made clear in response
10 – and in subsequent email conversations – that there are no additional
documents to produce on the question of whether Plaintiff was an employee or an
independent contractor. And again, we have no reason to doubt the veracity of
Defendant’s response at this time.
Therefore Plaintiff’s Motion, as it relates to
request 10, is DENIED.
Requests 11-12, and 21
In request 11, Plaintiff seeks “[a]ll time sheets,” “punch cards,” “work orders,”
and “time cards for all weeks worked by Plaintiff for Defendants beginning with
Plaintiff’s commencement of employment with Defendant and ending at the time
of Plaintiff’s employment dismissal,” including all documents “pertaining to hours
worked by Plaintiff for Defendant.” [D.E. 43]. In request 12, Plaintiff seeks “[a]ll
documents, records, electronic data that pertain and relate to Plaintiff’s
employment hiring and or employment dismissal with Defendants.” Id. And in
request 21, Plaintiff seeks “[a]ny and all time cards, time and attendance sheets and
other documents which indicate or reflect the hours worked by Plaintiff during the
course of his employment by the Defendant.”
The basis for all of these
requests is that the items are relevant to Plaintiff’s FLSA claims and may
demonstrate that Plaintiff was an employee and not an independent contractor.
However, Defendant stated in both her discovery response and in subsequent
email conversations that no responsive documents exist for any of these requests,
other than what has already been produced. Thus, Defendant does not dispute
Plaintiff’s contention that the items requested would be relevant. Defendant merely
claims that the items Plaintiff seeks have either already been produced or do not
exist. Because Defendant has adequately stated that there are no materials that
exist in response to requests 11-12 and 21, Plaintiff’s Motion, on this basis, must be
Finally, in request 27, Plaintiff seeks the “complete personnel file of Plaintiff
and any and all other documents related to his employment by the Defendant.”
[D.E. 43]. Defendant objects to this request because Defendant has purportedly
stated to Plaintiff on many occasions that Defendant has no personnel files to
produce. Other than the documents relating to Plaintiff’s independent contractor
status, Defendant believes that she has met her discovery obligations and that
request 27 has no merit. We agree that, similar to the requests discussed above,
Defendant has adequately stated in her discovery response to request 27 that no
additional documents exist in relation to Plaintiff’s claims.
continues to question the veracity of Defendant’s contentions, there is nothing in
the existing record to suggest that Defendant representation is false or misleading.
As such, Plaintiff’s Motion, as it relates to request 27, is DENIED.
For the foregoing reasons, it is hereby ORDERED AND ADJUDGED that
Plaintiff’s Motion to Compel is GRANTED in part and DENIED in part. [D.E.
Defendant is compelled to produce to Plaintiff her federal tax returns in
request 1 from 2013 to 2016 within fourteen (14) days from the date of this Order.
To this extent, Plaintiff’s Motion is GRANTED. As for the remainder of Plaintiff’s
document requests, Plaintiff’s Motion is DENIED.
DONE AND ORDERED in Chambers at Miami, Florida, this 8th day of
/s/ Edwin G. Torres
EDWIN G. TORRES
United States Magistrate Judge
Both parties seek attorney’s fees pursuant to Rule 37 in connection with
Plaintiff’s Motion. Plaintiff believes that fees are warranted because Defendant
purportedly made baseless objections that rise to the level of bad faith. On the
other hand, Defendant states that it was crystal clear that this dispute could have
been easily avoided, but for Plaintiff’s bad faith conduct in failing to cooperate and
resolve the issues without court intervention. Yet, at this time, we decline to award
fees to either party. Therefore, to the extent either party seeks an attorney fee
award, those motions are DENIED.
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