United States District Court, D. Maryland
DON J. BEADS, Plaintiff,
MARYLAND STATE POLICE, et al., Defendants.
MEMORANDUM AND ORDER
STEPHANIE A. GALLAGHER, Magistrate Judge.
Presently pending before the Court is a Motion for Protective Order filed by Defendants Maryland State Police, Marcus L. Brown, and Terrence B. Sheridan (collectively, "Defendants"). [ECF No. 57]. Plaintiff Don J. Beads filed no opposition. No hearing is deemed necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2014). For the reasons set forth herein, Defendants' Motion for Protective Order will be granted in part and denied in part.
In November, 2012, Plaintiff commenced this lawsuit against Defendants for race discrimination in violation of (1) Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, (2) the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, and (3) Article 24 of the Maryland Declaration of Rights. [ECF No. 33]. Plaintiff, who is African-American, alleges he suffered disparate discipline when his employer, the Maryland State Police ("MSP"), investigated and ultimately terminated him in August, 2010 for allegedly providing a test question from a promotional exam to another officer. Id. According to Plaintiff, the MSP did not pursue any charges against a white officer allegedly involved in the same incident. Id.
In February, 2014, Defendants moved for summary judgment. [ECF No. 39]. In March, 2014, Plaintiff moved to defer considering Defendants' summary judgment motion under Rule 56(d) because discovery had not yet occurred. [ECF No. 44]. Plaintiff's counsel included a declaration setting forth the discovery she would seek, namely: (1) the role of rank in the MSP disciplinary process, (2) specific information on MSP's handling of the investigation of the white officer involved in the same incident as Plaintiff, and (3) inconsistencies in the charging process for actions of comparable seriousness. [ECF No. 44-1]. In August, 2014, Judge Quarles granted Plaintiff's Rule 56(d) motion and denied without prejudice Defendants' motion for summary judgment, reasoning that the discovery Plaintiff sought "directly addresses the ultimate issues of comparable employees and the potential for racial pretext in the disciplinary proceedings." [ECF No. 50]. Discovery thereafter commenced. [ See ECF No. 53]. Defendants' instant Motion for Protective Order concerns several of Plaintiff's discovery requests that Defendants argue are confidential, irrelevant, and/or overly broad. [ECF No. 57].
II. LEGAL STANDARD
Courts may grant protective orders "to protect a party or person from annoyance, embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense." Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c). "The party moving for a protective order bears the burden of establishing good cause." Webb v. Green Tree Servicing LLC, 283 F.R.D. 276, 278 (D. Md. 2012). "Normally, in determining good cause, a court will balance the interest of a party in obtaining the information versus the interest of his opponent in keeping the information confidential or in not requiring its production." UAI Tech., Inc. v. Valutech, Inc., 122 F.R.D. 188, 191 (M.D. N.C. 1988). In other words, "the Court must weigh the need for the information versus the harm in producing it." A Helping Hand, LLC v. Baltimore Cnty., Md., 295 F.Supp.2d 585, 592 (D. Md. 2003) (internal quotation marks omitted). The standard for issuance of a protective order is high. Minter v. Wells Fargo Bank, N.A., 258 F.R.D. 118, 125 (D. Md. 2009). However, trial courts have broad discretion to decide "when a protective order is appropriate and what degree of protection is required." Seattle Times Co. v. Rhinehart, 467 U.S. 20, 36 (1984).
Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26(b)(1) provides that "[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense.... Relevant information need not be admissible at the trial if the discovery appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence." Defendants argue that the following discovery requests exceed the scope of discovery under this Rule:
Interrogatory No. 11: State the factual basis for your general denial of Plaintiff's allegation that the retention rate for black officers is significantly lower than the retention rate for white officers.
Interrogatory No. 15: Explain each and every reason why the percentage of black officers has declined since 2000.
Document Request No. 25: All documents related to any complaints, claims, administrative charges, and lawsuits against you by other black officers based on allegations of race discrimination, since January 1, 2007.
Document Request No. 30: All documents (including, but not limited to, reports, studies, statistical data, correspondence, notes, and memoranda) which relate to, describe, summarize, analyze or memorialize the retention rates for black ...