Thomas v. City of Annapolis, Maryland et al
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER denying 25 Defendants Motion for Summary Judgment without prejudice to refile; denying as moot 31 Plaintiffs Motion for Sanctions; denying 42 Defendants Motion to Seal and the parties are directed to refile redacted vers ions not under seal and unredacted versions under seal of all documents as therein set forth; granting 43 Plaintiffs Joint Motion to Enlarge Time and Seal and Plaintiff is directed to refile these pleadings as therein set forth. Signed by Magistrate Judge Beth P. Gesner on 3/6/2018. (jnls, Deputy Clerk)
IN THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
FOR THE DISTRICT OF MARYLAND
Civil No.: BPG-16-3823
CITY OF ANNAPOLIS, et al.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
Currently pending before the court is: Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment
(“Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment”) (ECF No. 25); Plaintiff’s Opposition to
Defendants’ Motion (“Plaintiff’s Opposition”) (ECF No. 29); Defendants’ Reply in Further
Support of Its Motion for Summary Judgment (“Reply”) (ECF No. 37); Plaintiff’s Motion for
Immediate Sanctions and Motion to Strike Memorandum In Support of Summary Judgment
(“Plaintiff’s Motion for Sanctions”) (ECF No. 31); Defendants’ Renewed Motion to Seal
(“Defendants’ Motion to Seal”) (ECF No. 42), and Plaintiff’s Joint Motion for Leave to Enlarge
the Time Within Which Plaintiff Must File a Renewed Motion to Seal Nunc Pro Tunc and
Motion to Seal Medical Records and Disability Retirement Hearing Records (“Plaintiff’s Motion
to Enlarge Time and Seal”) (ECF No. 43, 43-2). A hearing was held on February 13, 2018.
(ECF No. 47). For the reasons stated below, Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF
No. 25) is denied without prejudice to refile, Plaintiff’s Motion for Sanctions (ECF No. 31) is
denied as moot in light of the relief noted herein, Defendants’ Motion to Seal (ECF No. 42) is
denied with further instructions provided by the court herein, and Plaintiff’s Motions to Enlarge
Time and Seal (ECF Nos. 43, 43-2) are granted.
Plaintiff, a former Annapolis City police officer, initiated this action against the City of
Annapolis, Annapolis Police Department, and the Chief of Police at the time of plaintiff’s
employment. Plaintiff is alleging employment discrimination based on his race and disability, in
addition to unlawful retaliation by the defendants.
I will first address Plaintiff’s Motion for Sanctions which alleges that defendants included
information and exhibits in their summary judgment motion that they failed to produce to
plaintiff during discovery, in violation of Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(c)(1).1 This rule states that “[i]f a
party fails to provide information or identify a witness as required by Rule 26(a) or (e), the party
is not allowed to use that information or witness to supply evidence on a motion, at a hearing, or
at a trial, unless the failure was substantially justified or is harmless.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(c)(1).
The Fourth Circuit has developed a five-factor test to determine if the non-disclosure was
substantially justified or harmless: “(1) the surprise to the party against whom the evidence
would be offered; (2) the ability of that party to cure the surprise; (3) the extent to which
allowing the evidence would disrupt the trial; (4) the importance of the evidence; and (5) the
non-disclosing party's explanation for its failure to disclose the evidence.” Southern States Rack
& Fixture, Inc. v. Sherwin-Williams Co., 318 F.3d 592, 597 (4th Cir. 2003). The party who
failed to disclose the information bears the burden of establishing that such nondisclosure was
justified or harmless. Id. at 596. District courts are given broad discretion in analyzing whether
As I noted during the motions hearing in this case, plaintiff’s argument that Defendants’ Motion for Summary
Judgment should be stricken because it exceeds the page limit noted in the Local Rules is rejected. The court
already granted leave to file said pleading. (ECF No. 33).
the nondisclosure is substantially justified or harmless, and they are “not required to tick through
each” of the factors. Wilkins v. Montgomery, 751 F.3d 214, 222 (4th Cir. 2014); see Contech
Stormwater Solutions, Inc. v. Baysaver Technologies, Inc., 534 F. Supp. 2d 616, 622 (D. Md.
2008) (“Excluding evidence as a sanction for non-disclosure, even in the absence of bad faith,
supports what the Fourth Circuit has identified as the ‘basic purpose’ of Rule 37(c) (1), which is
to prevent surprise and prejudice to the opposing party.”)
The discovery information that defendants did not produce pertains to alleged
"comparators," that is, individuals claimed by plaintiff to be similarly situated to him, but treated
more favorably. During discovery, defendants refused to produce comparator information, but
now rely on such information in their Motion for Summary Judgment. Plaintiff challenges
defendants' use of this information, claiming that it was responsive to plaintiff’s interrogatories
and document requests. (ECF No. 38 at 3).2
Defendants maintain that no sanctions are
warranted because they only rely on 14 pages of previously non-disclosed documents, their
failure to disclose was inadvertent, and plaintiff should have pursued his discovery dispute in a
more timely fashion.
Counsel have made a procedural mess of this case.
Apparently, during discovery, the
parties disputed whether this comparator information was discoverable.
position, taken at the depositions in this case and in discussions between counsel, was that this
information is privileged. That position is erroneous -- the information is confidential, not
privileged, and a Protective Order should have been timely entered into in this case. The
defendants did not produce any responsive documents during discovery in this case, directed at
least one deponent not to answer questions (ECF No. 35-1) in violation of the Local Rules of this
This information is also responsive to Interrogatory No. 22 directed to Defendant City of Annapolis. (ECF No. 317 at 3).
Court, and did not enter into a Protective Order until after the discovery deadline in this case,
which was 26 days before Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment was filed. Even after the
Protective Order was entered, defendants did not produce the information at issue, maintaining
that their non-disclosure was an "oversight", and asserting that plaintiff has been able to address
the non-disclosed information in its Opposition to Summary Judgment.
Defendants fundamentally misconstrue the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure when they
argue that "[n]othing prevents Defendants from supplementing [their discovery responses] at the
time of the Motion for Summary Judgment is filed", (ECF No. 40-1 at 7), and that they
"reasonably construed [plaintiff’s discovery requests] to pertain to trial documents and defenses
at trial.” (ECF No. 35 at 3). The Rules are specifically designed to ensure production of relevant
evidence during the discovery period in a case so as to prevent surprise and prejudice. Contech
Stormwater Solutions, 534 F. Supp. 2d at 622. Plaintiff, on the other hand, raised the issue of
non-disclosure of comparator information during discovery, but did not bring the dispute to the
court's attention in a timely fashion. By first raising the issue in its Motion for Sanctions,
plaintiff further added to the procedural turmoil in this case. Plaintiff’s lack of due diligence,
however, does not negate the prejudice to plaintiff resulting from defendants’ lack of timely
disclosure of highly relevant discovery. Application of the Southern States factors to the facts of
this case mandates the conclusion that defendants' non-disclosure was not substantially justified
or harmless and that discovery in this case must be reopened to remedy the non-disclosure.
First, there is significant surprise to plaintiff here in that he requested discovery on
certain alleged comparators, was denied the information, and the information was included in
Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment. Second, as to plaintiff’s ability to cure the surprise,
plaintiff certainly could have availed himself of better options, such as filing a motion to compel
or filing a Rule 56(d) affidavit stating that he did not have the factual information necessary to
oppose defendants’ summary judgment motion. Nonetheless, the plaintiff’s lack of diligence is
not just cause for precluding plaintiff from curing the surprise through additional discovery.
Regarding the third element, a trial has not been scheduled in this matter. The failure of
defendants to timely produce relevant evidence has resulted in plaintiff’s inability to challenge
defendants’ summary judgment motion which, if granted, would mean there would be no trial.
The most compelling Southern States factor here is the importance of the evidence in this
case. It is critical to plaintiff’s ability to present his case. The evidence concerning alleged
comparators is at the heart of the plaintiff’s claims and is essential, not just at trial, but at the
summary judgment phase of this case. This point is highlighted by the bizarre procedural
posture we find ourselves in: plaintiff’s case is premised upon the existence of comparators, but
he has no evidence regarding comparators because defendants did not produce such evidence
while discovery was ongoing. But yet, defendants rely on such non-disclosed evidence to
support its summary judgment motion and plaintiff has not had the opportunity to conduct
discovery so as to determine if there is evidence to refute defendants’ arguments.
Finally, defendants’ explanation for failing to disclose the evidence was that it was an
inadvertent oversight during the 26 day period between when the Protective Order was filed and
their summary judgment motion was filed. This argument overlooks the fact that this evidence
should have been produced much earlier in the case so that plaintiff could have questioned
deponents about this relevant evidence. In sum, the non-disclosing party bears the burden of
establishing that its failure to disclose was justified or harmless, and defendants have failed to do
Plaintiff must be afforded an opportunity to cure the non-disclosure of this critical
evidence. The court is left with no alternative but to reopen discovery so as to allow full
production of all documents that should have already been produced by defendants and to permit
plaintiff to conduct depositions once he has those documents. During the hearing held in this
case, upon being asked what additional discovery plaintiff would conduct, plaintiff's counsel
advised that he would reconvene the depositions of Michael Pristoop and Paul Rensted. Under
the circumstances, I find those requests to be reasonable. Accordingly, noted below is a schedule
to govern additional limited discovery and briefing in this case. Because the court is reopening
discovery, Plaintiff’s Motion for Sanctions (ECF No. 31) is denied as moot.
Also pending are the parties’ Motions to Seal. Defendants’ Motion to Seal seeks to seal
its entire summary judgment motion, plaintiff’s opposition and defendants’ reply as well as all
exhibits attached thereto. (ECF No. 42). Local Rule 105.11 requires a party seeking to seal
documents to provide the court with “reasons supported by specific factual representations to
justify the sealing” and “an explanation why alternatives to sealing would not provide sufficient
protection.” Loc. R. 105.11. Defendants have failed to make that showing and the wholesale
sealing of all of the summary judgment pleadings is not warranted. See Visual Mining, Inc. v.
Ziegler, No. PWG-12-3227, 2014 WL 690905, at *5 (D. Md. Feb. 21, 2014) (“A protective order
regulates the parties’ extrajudicial conduct but is not sufficient, by itself, to justify the continued
sealing of filings in court.”).
Upon review of the memoranda and exhibits, it appears that an
alternative to sealing -- redaction -- would more appropriately protect the confidential
information contained in the parties’ pleadings relating to individuals who are not parties in this
case, while preserving the right of public access to court records. See Rushford v. New Yorker
Magazine, Inc., 846 F.2d 249, 253 (4th Cir. 1988). For this reason, as well as those noted in my
previous order denying Defendants’ Motion to Seal (ECF No. 41), Defendants’ Motion to Seal
all of the summary judgment pleadings is denied. Defendants and plaintiff are directed to refile
redacted versions of their summary judgment papers in accordance with the instructions provided
Plaintiff’s Motion to Enlarge Time and Seal, on the other hand, is more limited in scope
and seeks to seal specific exhibits attached to the original Complaint, Amended Complaint and
Plaintiff’s Opposition (ECF No. 43-2). These exhibits are plaintiff’s private medical records,
medical evaluation notes, and disability retirement hearing transcripts. Such information is
appropriately sealed. See Jones v. Joubert, No. CCB-14-2391, 2017 WL 915009, at *3 (D. Md.
Mar. 8, 2017) (sensitive personal medical information subject to sealing).
plaintiff’s motion to seal is granted.
In light of the reopening of discovery, I am denying Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment without prejudice to refile upon the conclusion of discovery. As counsel are aware,
the court has already fully reviewed all of the pending pleadings. Therefore, the parties are not
to modify or edit the current pleadings in any way. The only modifications you should make to
the summary judgment pleadings you have already filed (ECF Nos. 25, 29, 37) is to file redacted
versions consistent with this opinion, and unredacted versions under seal.
I will allow
supplemental briefing solely as it relates to the additional discovery permitted herein. Plaintiff
will be permitted to file a Supplemental Opposition to Defendants' Motion for Summary
Judgment not to exceed 10 pages and defendants will be permitted to file a Supplemental Reply
to Plaintiff’s Opposition not to exceed 10 pages.
It is my intention to address any new material
presented by the parties, not to revisit that which I have already reviewed.
For the foregoing reasons, the following is hereby ORDERED:
1. Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment (ECF No. 25) is denied
without prejudice to refile.
2. Plaintiff’s Motion for Sanctions (ECF No. 31) is denied as moot in light of
the rulings herein.
3. Defendants’ Motion to Seal (ECF No. 42) is denied and the parties are
directed to refile redacted versions not under seal and unredacted versions
under seal of all documents filed in connection with their summary
judgment motion and related pleadings, insofar as they reference any nonparty Annapolis Police Department personnel. Counsel are directed to
confer with the clerk’s office to ensure that their filings effectuate this
order and are consistent with the Local Rules.
4. Plaintiff’s Joint Motion to Enlarge Time and Seal (ECF Nos. 43, 43-2) is
granted. Exhibits 4, 5, 6 and 7 to Plaintiff’s Complaint (ECF No. 1) and
Exhibits 2, 4, 7, 8, 10 and 11 to Plaintiff’s Opposition (ECF No. 29) shall
be filed under seal. Plaintiff is directed to refile these pleadings consistent
with this portion of the order, as well as the above portion of the order
regarding redactions to Plaintiff’s opposition.
5. The following schedule shall govern this case:
a) By no later than March 23, 2018, defendant shall produce ALL
documents and answers responsive to plaintiff’s discovery requests
relating to comparators (not limited to the 14 pages attached to its
summary judgment motions) and such production may be subject to
the Protective Order (ECF No. 23) as agreed to by the parties. Said
responses shall be complete and unevasive; noncompliance shall be
subject to sanctions pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37.
b) By no later than April 20, 2018, plaintiff may redepose Michael
Pristoop and Paul Rensted, solely regarding the new documents
and information produced by defendants. Pertinent portions of
these depositions may be subject to the Protective Order (ECF No.
23) as agreed to by the parties. Said deponents are directed to
provide complete and unevasive responses; noncompliance shall
be subject to sanctions pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 37.
c) On May 7, 2018, defendants and plaintiff are directed to file
redacted and unredacted copies of their previously filed summary
judgment pleadings (25, 29, 37) consistent with the instructions set
forth in this Memorandum Opinion and Order. No substantive
changes may be made to said pleadings.
d) On May 7, 2018, plaintiff may file a Supplemental Opposition to
Defendants' Motion for Summary Judgment not to exceed ten (10)
e) By no later than May 21, 2018, defendant may file a Supplemental
Reply to Plaintiff's Supplemental Opposition not to exceed ten (10)
No pleadings or motions other than those noted above shall be
filed by the parties.
Date: March __6__, 2018
Beth P. Gesner
United States Magistrate Judge
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