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Crumb v. McDonald's Corp.

United States District Court, D. Maryland

April 27, 2017



          DEBORAH K. CHASANOW United States District Judge.

         Presently pending and ready for resolution in this discrimination case are: (1) a renewed motion to compel discovery, filed by Defendants McDonald's Corporation and Ram Foods, Inc. (collectively, “Defendants”) (ECF Nos. 81; 102); (2) a motion for reconsideration, filed by Plaintiff Ealise Crumb (“Plaintiff”) (ECF No. 104); and (3) Plaintiff's renewed motion to modify the scheduling order to extend discovery (ECF Nos. 76; 103). The issues have been briefed, and the court now rules, no hearing being deemed necessary. Local Rule 105.6. For the following reasons, Defendant's motion to compel will be granted in part and denied in part, and Plaintiff's motions will be denied.

         A recitation of the factual and procedural background of this case can be found in the court's prior memorandum opinion resolving Defendants' motions to dismiss. (See ECF No. 67, at 2-8). Discovery in this case closed September 6, 2016. (ECF No. 71). On November 18, 2016, the court denied Plaintiff's motions to determine the sufficiency of Defendants' discovery responses (ECF Nos. 74; 75), and motion for leave to serve additional interrogatories (ECF No. 80); granted Defendants' motion to strike Plaintiff's untimely discovery requests and stay further proceedings pending mediation (ECF No. 89); and granted Defendants' unopposed motion for an extension of the motions deadline (ECF No. 91). (ECF No. 95, at 8-9). Two other motions were denied without prejudice to renewal if mediation was not successful: Plaintiff's motion to modify the scheduling order to extend discovery (ECF No. 76), and Defendants' motion to compel discovery (ECF No. 81). (ECF No. 95, at 7). A settlement conference was held before Magistrate Judge William Connelly on January 30, 2017. (ECF No. 93). On January 31, the undersigned was advised that settlement efforts were unsuccessful, and the parties were instructed to renew their motions or advise the court if no renewed motion would be filed. (ECF No. 99). Both parties renewed their motions and filed additional responses.

         I. Defendants' Motion to Compel

         On February 16, 2017, Defendants filed a supplemental memorandum renewing their motion to compel discovery (ECF No. 81), and their motion to extend the deadline for filing dispositive motions (ECF No. 91).[1] (ECF No. 102). The motion to compel was filed on September 29, 2016 (ECF No. 81), and Plaintiff filed a response in opposition on October 4 (ECF No. 92). Defendants did not file a reply.[2] Defendants moved to compel Plaintiff to provide discovery concerning her prior lawsuits for alleged racial discrimination and her mental health records, and to appear for a deposition. (ECF No. 81).

         A. Defendants' Written Discovery Requests

         Defendants seek to compel discovery regarding other discrimination suits filed by Plaintiff, arguing that evidence of Plaintiff's previous claims may be admissible under Maryland and District of Columbia law. They urge the court to “be mindful of the likelihood of repeated, substantially identical claims, ” arguing that “the degree of similarity among the claims is important, inasmuch as a series of disparate but bona fide claims seems more likely than a string of very similar ones.” (ECF No. 81-1, at 10). Plaintiff argues that her previous discrimination claims are not relevant, noting that it is not “unusual for African Americans . . . to suffer repeated acts of race discrimination within a short period and at the hands of different persons, ” and that “race discrimination is just the way of life for African Americans.” (ECF No. 92, at 9).

         Whether information is admissible under the Federal Rules of Evidence is not synonymous with whether it is discoverable under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure, and the admissibility of any lawsuits previously filed by Plaintiff is not presently before the court. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1):

Parties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case, considering the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties' relative access to relevant information, the parties' resources, the importance of the discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Information within this scope of discovery need not be admissible in evidence to be discoverable.

         The scope of discovery is broad, but it is not limitless. Defendants have asked for extensive discovery, not only of any claims for racial discrimination Plaintiff has “ever made, ” but also regarding “any other instance of racial discrimination (before or after the occurrence)” that Plaintiff has ever experienced. (ECF No. 81-1, at 5-6). Defendants argue that this information is relevant to their defense in the same way that evidence of a plaintiff's prior claim for similar physical injuries may be relevant to damages, to show “the amount of damages reasonably attributed to this incident when compared with the others.” (Id. at 11). Plaintiff's claim concerns two discrete incidents of alleged discrimination that she alleges “cause[d] her hurt, embarrassment, humiliation . . . [and] a fear of going into another Defendant McDonald's restaurant for the rest of her life[.]” (ECF No. 92, at 15). She states that this harm is separate from her severe emotional distress, which “these Defendants didn't cause.” (Id.). Defendants appear already to be aware of many of the claims on which they are seeking discovery; they note that Plaintiff's “long history of . . . litigation of racial discrimination claims” may be discovered through “[a] simple [G]oogle search.” (ECF No. 81-1, at 1 (collecting cases)). They may also be able to obtain more tailored discovery at Plaintiff's deposition. Most significantly, Plaintiff does not appear to be seeking the kind of damages that would make Defendants' personal injury cases an apt analogy. Defendants' discovery requests are not proportional to the needs of this case.

         Defendants also seek discovery regarding Plaintiff's “claim-mindedness” or “litigiousness” generally, arguing that it may be presented to the jury. (Id. at 11-12). The court will not decide whether any such evidence would be admissible at trial at this time, but Defendants' discovery requests on this topic are overbroad. Again, given the public availability of court filings, the resources of the parties, and the limited importance of such information in resolving the issues presented in this case, the discovery Defendants seek is not proportional to the needs of this case.

         Finally, Defendants have moved to compel responses to their discovery requests regarding Plaintiff's mental health history and treatment, arguing that she opened the door to such discovery by making a claim for non-economic damages. (Id. at 12-13). Defendants also contend that evidence of mental health treatment “could be admissible on the issue of liability because [the employee] denied she made the offending comment.” (Id. at 13). They assert, with no other basis than the accused employee's denial of the incident and Plaintiff's supposed history of mental health treatment, that “Plaintiff may suffer from irrational feelings of persecution, or even hear voices calling her bad names.” (Id. at 13). Plaintiff has not alleged that she suffered a severe psychological impact from the alleged discrimination, and she need not disclose records pertaining to her mental health at this stage of the case. Defendants' motion to compel responses to their interrogatories and requests for production therefore will be denied.

         B. Deposition of Plaintiff

         Defendants have also moved to compel Plaintiff's attendance at her deposition. Plaintiff's deposition was originally noticed for August 22, 2016. (See ECF No. 81-2, at 28). It was rescheduled at her request to accommodate her schedule and preferred location. (See Id. at 29-32). Three days before her rescheduled deposition, Plaintiff informed Defendants' counsel that, although she did not “have a problem having [her] deposition taken, ” she would not attend the deposition. (Id. at 33). Plaintiff states that she cancelled her deposition because she was dissatisfied with Defendants' responses to her discovery requests. (Id.; ECF No. 92, at 16-18). While she reiterates in her opposition to the motion to compel ...

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