United States District Court, D. Maryland
Hunt Valley Baptist Church, Inc.
Baltimore County et al.
LETTER TO ALL COUNSEL OF RECORD
case concerns an action filed by Hunt Valley Baptist Church,
Inc. (“HVBC”) against Baltimore County (the
“County”) and the Baltimore County Board of
Appeals (the “Board”) for allegedly violating the
Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000,
and the First and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States
Constitution by prohibiting the construction of a church at
821 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, MD, 21030. This matter was
referred to me for discovery and related scheduling. (ECF No.
71). Pending before this Court is Plaintiff's Motion to
Compel the Deposition Answers of the Defendants'
Designee. (ECF No. 91). The issues are briefed, and no
hearing is necessary. Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2016). For the
reasons stated below, Plaintiff's Motion is
October 19, 2018, Plaintiff served a Notice of Deposition
upon Defendants that included forty-one (41) topics to be
testified to by the Defendants'
designee(s). (ECF No. 96-2). Defendants responded to
the notice on November 27, 2018, (ECF No. 91-2), and the Rule
30(b)(6) deposition was held on November 28, 2018. During the
deposition Defendants produced nine (9) designees to testify
and permitted the deposition to continue for ten (10) hours.
(ECF No. 95 at 3). Notably, the Parties contacted this
Chambers concerning the issues at hand that morning, but I
was in a settlement conference and unable to take the call.
(ECF No. 96-3 at 44:1-6). Fortunately, the Parties did
proceed and now present to the Court the disputes that arose.
contends that no individuals were designated to testify as to
Topics 35 and 37; and that Defendants' designees were
inadequately prepared to testify as to Topics 2, 12, 26, 28,
and 29. (ECF No. 91). Based on these failures, Plaintiff asks
this Court to reopen discovery for an additional Rule
30(b)(6) deposition of the Defendants and to compel the
designation of adequately prepared individuals to testify as
to the seven outstanding topics. (Id.). In the
alternative, Plaintiff asks this Court to bar the Defendants
from making any argument or introducing evidence at trial
related to the topics at issue. (ECF No. 96 at 20). Plaintiff
further requests sanctions in the form of attorneys' fees
and cost. (Id.).
objections generally fall into three categories: (1) the
topics are vague, overbroad, lack particularity, or are
unduly burdensome; (2) the demanded answers are either
nonexistent or unconnected to their “related”
topic; and (3) the topics are temporally overbroad.
(See ECF No. 95). Each topic will be addressed in
asks for a designee to testify as to “[t]he
County's review, report, recommendations, decisions, and
communications concerning the Plaintiff's Applications
and proposed use of the Subject Property.” (ECF No.
91). Plaintiff argues that none of the three original
designees, nor the additional designee at the deposition,
could adequately testify on this topic. Specifically,
Plaintiff asserts that none of the designees could testify as
to “whether the recommendations made by the
County's Zoning Advisory Committee regarding the
Plaintiff's application were satisfied.” (ECF No.
96 at 7). In response, Defendants argue that there is no such
thing as “satisfaction of recommendations” and
that each designee testified extensively. (ECF No. 95-6).
initial matter, Plaintiff cannot obtain testimony concerning
a practice that does not exist. Notwithstanding that barrier,
it is the Court's belief that the dispute arose because
Topic 2 lacks reasonable particularity. Under Federal Rule of
Civil Procedure 30(b)(6), a party may send notice of a
deposition to an organization, in which it must
“describe with reasonable particularity the matters in
which examination is requested.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 30(b)(6).
The Rule represents a tradeoff: an organization will be bound
by the answers of the designee, but only if the notice gives
fair warning of the specific area of inquiry. When a topic is
not reasonably particular “the responding party is
unable to identify the outer limits of the areas of inquiry
noticed, and designating a representative in compliance with
the deposition notice becomes impossible.” Lipari
v. U.S. Bancorp, N.A, No. 07-2146-CM-DJW, 2008 WL
4642618, at *5 (D. Kan. Oct. 16, 2008). Blanket requests for
testimony regarding unidentified “communications”
do not meet the reasonable particularity standard. See
Richardson v. Rock City Mech. Co., LLC, CV 3-09-0092,
2010 WL 711830, at *9 (M.D. Tenn. Feb. 24, 2010) (ordering
the plaintiff to revise his deposition topics “to focus
on the information he really seeks in contrast to all
communications, in whatever form . . . .”); Phoenix
Life Ins. Co. v. Raider- Dennis Agency, Inc.,
07-CV-15324, 2010 WL 4901181, at *3 (E.D. Mich. Nov. 24,
2010) (striking topics seeking “all
communications” because “[t]he burden of this
far-reaching topic far outweighs its likely benefit.”);
In re Jemsek Clinic, P.A., 06-31766, 2013 WL
3994666, at *6 (Bankr. W.D. N.C. Aug. 2, 2013) (topics
requesting unspecified “communications” with
various parties “encompass thousands of potentially
calls for the designee to be familiar with a potentially
countless amount of communications, many, if not most, of
which would be irrelevant to the claims at issue.
Furthermore, Plaintiff's interpretation of the
topic's scope appears to encompass any information
regarding the County and its actions related to the Property.
This leaves the designees in the impossible position of
either knowing everything or being inadequately prepared.
Therefore, the Court will not compel further testimony as to
12 requests a designee to testify as to
“[c]ommunications between the County's and the
Board's officials, agents, and/or employees and third
parties, including but not limited to the Protestants,
concerning the Church's Applications.” Plaintiff
argues that the one designee had no knowledge and that
“Plaintiff is aware that there were such
communications, and these are relevant to Plaintiff's
claims under the Nondiscrimination section of RLUIPA . .
.” (ECF No. 91). Defendants objected to the topic as
overbroad and unduly burdensome before and during the
deposition. The Court agrees with Defendants.
only does Topic 12 lack reasonable particularity by demanding
testimony as to unidentified communications, but it further
expands any perceivable limits to communications with
“officials, agents, and/or employees and third
parties, including but not limited to the
Protestants . . . .” (emphasis added). The reasonable
particularity required by Rule 30(b)(6) is severely
undermined by amorphous language such as “and/or”
and “including but not limited to.” See
Richardson, 2010 WL 711830, at *10 (2010) (stating,
“topics in a rule 30(b)(6) notice are themselves
overbroad if they include ‘including but not limited
to' language”); Tri-State Hosp. Supply Corp. v.
United States, 226 F.R.D. 118, 125 (D.D.C.2005) (finding
topics overbroad due to “including but not limited
to” language and stating, “[l]isting several
categories and stating that the inquiry may extend beyond the
enumerated topics defeats the purpose of having any topics at
all”). Ultimately Topic 12's language expands the
possible subjects of testimony to an indefinite limit and
effectively prevents any designee from adequately preparing.
Considering the extensive discovery already completed by the
parties, Plaintiff could have reasonably narrowed the Topic
to focus on those communications that served as the basis for
its Topic 12 request. Thus, the Court will not compel further
testimony as to Topic 12.
26 asks to depose a designee as to “[t]he County's
policies, practices and procedures for reviewing applications
for special exceptions and/or special hearings.”
Plaintiff argues that the designees' testimony was
insufficient in that it only focused on the initial
processing of applications. Defendants counter that the three
designees adequately testified and all information under the
topic is easily accessible public knowledge. While the
existence of documents elsewhere does not excuse designation
and testimony, the Court is, nevertheless, inclined to deny
Plaintiff's request concerning Topic 26. Plaintiff
briefly addresses a deficiency in the designees' Topic 26
testimony in its initial motion, (ECF No. 91), but provides
no elaboration, evidence, records, or argument to
substantiate its request to compel testimony. (See
ECF No. 96). Since these motions came ...