Hayes v. Wisconsin & Southern Railroad LLC
ORDER signed by Magistrate Judge William E Duffin on 10/30/2019. IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant's Motion to Strike and for a Protective Order is DENIED. (ECF No. 66 ) (cc: all counsel) (mlm)
UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT
EASTERN DISTRICT OF WISCONSIN
JUSTIN HAYES and AMANDA HAYES,
Case No. 18-cv-923
WISCONSIN AND SOUTHERN RAILROAD, LLC., et al.,
ORDER DENYING DEFENDANT’S MOTION TO STRIKE AND FOR
In this action under the Federal Employment Liability Act (FELA), Wisconsin and
Southern Railroad, LLC (WSOR) has moved to strike a declaration of David Paspalofski
submitted in support of plaintiffs’ motion for partial summary judgment. Because
plaintiffs’ ex parte contact with Mr. Paspalofski falls outside the type of conduct
prohibited by Rule 4.2 of the ABA’s Model Rule of Professional Conduct, WSOR’s motion
to strike will be denied. Additionally, WSOR’s request for a protective order will be
denied as overly broad.
Justin Hayes is a current employee of WSOR. On February 12, 2018, Hayes was
working as a carman welder for WSOR at its shop in Horicon, Wisconsin when he
suffered a severe electrical shock. He has since undergone numerous medical and
psychological examinations and treatment.
Hayes filed this action on June 19, 2018, and the matter was randomly assigned to
Magistrate Judge David Jones. Upon Judge Jones’s resignation, the case was randomly
reassigned to this court. All parties have consented to the jurisdiction of this court.
On June 25, 2019, Hayes moved for partial summary judgment as to Count I of his
amended complaint, arguing that no genuine issue of material fact exists as to whether
WSOR breached its non-delegable duty to provide a reasonably safe work place and that
such a breach was a cause of Hayes’s injuries. In support of his motion for partial
summary judgment, Hayes submitted a declaration from David Paspalofski, a co-worker
who witnessed the incident.
On July 25, 2019, WSOR moved to strike Paspalofski’s declaration and for a
protective order preventing the plaintiffs from contacting WSOR’s employees. The
motion is fully briefed and ready for disposition.
WSOR has moved to strike Paspalofski’s declaration based on alleged violations
of Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule 20:4.2 and Fed. R. Civ. P. 26. WSOR also seeks a
protective order forbidding plaintiffs from future ex parte contact with its employees.
A. Wisconsin Supreme Court Rule 20:4.2
In the course of investigating the underlying facts of this lawsuit, Hayes’s counsel
spoke with and subsequently obtained a declaration from Paspalofski, a current WSOR
employee . WSOR argues that Hayes’s attorney had an ethical obligation under SCR
20:4.2 to seek permission from WSOR or the Court prior to speaking with Paspalofski.
Because no such permission was sought, the Court must strike Paspalofski’s declaration.
SCR 20:4.2 provides that, when representing a client, “a lawyer shall not
communicate about the subject of the representation with a person the lawyer knows to
be represented by another lawyer in the matter, unless the lawyer has the consent of the
other lawyer or is authorized to do so by law or court order.” Wis. Sup. Ct Rule 20:4.2.
SCR 20:4.2 is identical to Rule 4.2 of the ABA’s Model Rules of Professional Conduct, the
relevant commentary to which states:
In the case of a represented organization, this Rule prohibits
communications with a constituent of the organization who supervises,
directs, or regularly consults with the organization’s lawyer concerning the
matter or has the authority to obligate the organization with respect to the
matter or whose acts or omission in connection with the matter may be
imputed to the organization for purposes of civil or criminal liability.
SCR 20:4.2, ABA Comment 7. Thus, under Comment 7, Rule 4.2 prohibits a lawyer from
communicating with those employees of another party who fall within one of the
following categories: (1) those who supervise, direct, or regularly consult with the
organizations lawyer concerning the matter at issue; (2) those with the authority to
obligate the organization with respect to the matter at issue; or (3) those whose acts or
omissions in connection with the matter may be imputed to the organization for purposes
of liability. See Id.; see also Br. in Opp’n 3.
WSOR claims that Paspalofski’s statements “potentially constitute an employee
admission which may be imputed against WSOR for the sake of imposing civil liability
in the litigation under Fed. R. Evid. 801(d)(2)(D).” As such, Hayes’s contact with
Paspalofski violated SCR 20:4.2. It contends that the rule “explicitly prohibits ex parte
communications with current employees whose statements in connection with the matter
may be imputed to the organization for purposes of civil liability.” Id.
WSOR contends that SCR 20:4.2 prohibits ex parte communications with
employees whose statements, which potentially constitute employee admissions under
the Federal Rules of Evidence, may be imputed to the organization. However, the ABA
has made clear that the Rule’s prohibition on ex parte communication is not co-extensive
with Rule 801(d)(2)(D). In fact, the ABA amended its commentary in 2002 specifically in
an attempt to correct this mistaken understanding.
“The original Comment 7 to Rule 4.2 stated that Rule 4.2 prohibits communication
with any person ‘whose statement may constitute an admission on behalf of the
organization.’” Paris v. Union Pac. R.R., 450 F. Supp. 2d 913, 915 (E.D. Ark. 2006). “In 2002,
the American Bar Association amended Comment 7 to Model Rule 4.2 to remove the
prohibition on communications with anyone ‘whose statements may constitute an
admission on behalf of the organization’ because that prohibition was ‘broad and
potentially open-ended’ and ‘had been read to prohibit communication with anyone
whose testimony would be admissible against the organization as an exception to the
hearsay rule.’” Paris v. Union Pac. R.R., 450 F. Supp. 2d 913, 915 (E.D. Ark. 2006) (citing
Am. Bar. Ass’n, Annotated Model Rules of Professional Conduct 4.2 (5th ed. 2003)).
There is no evidence that Paspalofski fell into any of the three categories of
employees set forth in the commentary. At the time of the incident, Paspalofski was a
trainee at WSOR, working under Hayes. (ECF No. 61-2, ¶ 3.) There is no evidence that
Paspalofski supervised or regularly consulted with WSOR’s lawyer, or that he committed
some act or omission in connection with Hayes’s injuries. While WSOR argues that
Paspalofski’s statements may potentially obligate the railroad in this litigation, as noted,
that argument is unavailing. In short, there is no basis to conclude that Paspalofski was
the sort of employee for whom ex parte contact is prohibited. See EEOC v. Hora, Inc., 239
F. App'x 728, 731 (3d Cir. 2007) (discussing instances where employees were found to be
within the scope of rules similar to ABA Rule 4.2). Accordingly, the Court will not strike
the declaration pursuant to SCR 20:4.2.
B. Fed. R. Civ. P. 26
WSOR next argues that Paspalofski’s declaration should be stricken pursuant to
Fed. R. Civ. P. 37 for Hayes’s failure to disclose him as a potential witness under Fed. R.
Civ. P. 26(a)(1). Rule 26 of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure provides that each party
must disclose “the name and if known, the address and telephone number of each
individual likely to have discoverable information—along with the subjects of that
information—that the disclosing party may use to support its claims or defenses, unless
the use would be solely for impeachment.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 26(a)(1). “If 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 … unless the
failure was substantially justified or is harmless.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 37(c)(1). “The
determination of whether a Rule 26(a) violation is justified or harmless is entrusted to the
broad discretion of the district court.” King v. Ford Motor Co., 872 F.3d 833, 838 (7th Cir.
WSOR argues that, had Hayes “disclosed the nature of Mr. Paspolofski’s
discoverable information,” it would have been able to interview him “to learn more about
the basis for his opinions.” Because he was not disclosed earlier, WSOR argues, it is
“forced to respond to a dispositive motion based, in part, on an affidavit from a witness
that was never disclosed ….”
Hayes acknowledges Rule 26’s disclosure requirement but argues that the rule
requires supplemental disclosure “not immediately, but ‘in a timely manner.’” Because
Paspalofski’s declaration was provided to Hayes on July 20, 2019, and was provided to
WSOR five days later as an exhibit to Hayes’s motion for partial summary judgment,
Hayes asserts that his supplemental disclosure was timely.
Any noncompliance with Rule 26 in this instance was harmless. While WSOR
alleges prejudice from not having had the opportunity to interview Paspalofski before he
submitted his declaration, it does not explain how it was prejudiced. It had the
opportunity to speak with him once it received his declaration and before responding to
Hayes’s motion. Striking Paspalofski’s declaration under Rule 37 is unwarranted.
C. Protective Order
Finally, WSOR seeks a protective order preventing Hayes from “engaging in
further ex parte contact with current WSOR employees without WSOR’s or the Court’s
permission.” The Court will deny WSOR’s request as too broad. As noted above, ABA
Rule 4.2 allows an attorney to contact an employee of a represented organization unless
the employee is one of the three types of employees for which prior permission is needed.
If an employee does not fall into one of the three categories, then ex parte communication
with an organization’s employees is not limited. See State Farm Mut. Auto. Ins. Co. v.
Sanders, 975 F. Supp. 2d 509, 511 (E.D. Pa. 2013).
For all the foregoing reasons, the railroad’s motion to strike and for protective
order will be denied.
NOW, THEREFORE, IT IS HEREBY ORDERED that Defendant’s Motion to
Strike and for a Protective Order is DENIED.
Dated at Milwaukee, Wisconsin this 30th day of October, 2019.
WILLIAM E. DUFFIN
U.S. Magistrate Judge
Disclaimer: Justia Dockets & Filings provides public litigation records from the federal appellate and district courts. These filings and docket sheets should not be considered findings of fact or liability, nor do they necessarily reflect the view of Justia.
Why Is My Information Online?