United States District Court, D. Maryland
Mark Coulson United States Magistrate Judge.
September 13, 2017, Michael Chavis and Stanley Taylorson, Jr.
(collectively, “Plaintiffs”) filed suit against
the Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 486 Union's Pension
Plan (“the Plan”) and members of the Plan's
Board of Trustees (“the Board”) (collectively
“Defendants”). (ECF No. 1). Plaintiffs brought
six claims for relief under the Employment Retirement Income
Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”). Id. In
addressing an earlier dispositive motion (ECF No. 33), Judge
Hollander summarized the basis for these claims as
Plaintiffs' assertion that their benefits were wrongfully
suspended when Defendants erroneously concluded that
Plaintiffs pursued “unauthorized employment”
post-retirement, such that their benefits could not resume
until they reached age 62 or until their unauthorized
employment terminated, pursuant to certain IRS provisions
linking benefits to “bona fide retirement.” (ECF
No. 33 at 4-6).
case was referred to me for discovery and related scheduling
matters. I have reviewed Defendants' Motion for
Protective Order, Plaintiffs' Cross-Motion to Compel
Discovery, and the related Oppositions and Replies thereto.
(ECF Nos. 57-60). The Court also held a brief conference call
with Counsel on September 25, 2019 to discuss the pending
discovery dispute. On both Motions, I find that no hearing is
necessary. See Loc. R. 105.6 (D. Md. 2018). For the
reasons that follow, Defendants' Motion for Protective
Order and Plaintiffs' Motion to Compel Discovery each
will be GRANTED IN PART and DENIED IN PART.
allege that they are members of the Plumbers and Steamfitters
Local 486 Union (“the Union”) and participants in
the Union's Pension Plan. (ECF No. 1 ¶¶ 1-2,
20, 74). Each Plaintiff claims that, after retiring from
Union employment, the Defendant-Board initially approved
their applications for pension benefits under the Plan, but
later suspended those benefits wrongfully. Id.
¶¶ 28-32, 38-43, 80-82, 89-94. Plaintiffs also
allege that the claims procedures they encountered in their
appeals process were not “reasonable” under the
Plan's terms, and therefore the Board's decisions are
“entitled to no deference.” Id.
¶¶ 71-72, 134-35.
brought six claims for relief under ERISA. Id.
¶ 18. Defendants moved to dismiss all claims. (ECF No.
24). Judge Hollander dismissed two of Plaintiffs' claims
on August 23, 2018 upon Defendants' Motion to Dismiss.
(ECF No. 34). Plaintiffs' remaining claims seek to: (1)
recover benefits due, and enforce rights, under the Plan
(Id. ¶¶ 136-45); (2) remove members of the
Board of Trustees because they breached their fiduciary
duties under ERISA (Id. ¶¶ 147-52,
160-67); and (3) to recover attorneys' fees (Id.
¶¶ 178-79). On March 29, 2019, Plaintiffs filed a
Joint Motion for Partial Summary Judgment. (ECF No. 45).
Defendants filed a Cross Motion for Summary Judgment on April
12, 2019. (ECF No. 46). Both motions remain pending. On June
13, 2019, Defendants moved to stay discovery pending the
Court's ruling on the motions for summary judgment. (ECF
No. 51). The Court denied this request but agreed to extend
the discovery deadlines to August 28, 2019. (ECF No. 56 at
1). On August 26, 2019, Judge Hollander granted the
parties' Joint Motion to Amend the Scheduling Order and
extended: the Requests for Admissions deadline until 30 days
after this Court's Order on the pending discovery motions
(ECF Nos. 57, 58, 59, 60); the Discovery Deadline for sixty
days after this Court's Order regarding the same; and the
Dispositive Motions deadline for 90 days after this
Court's Order on the same. (ECF No. 63).
current discovery disputes relate to redacted documents
produced by Defendants in discovery, Defendants'
objections to ten interrogatories served by Plaintiff Chavis,
and the permissible scope of depositions. (ECF No. 57
¶¶ 12-14, 16-17). The nature of these disputes will
be outlined in turn.
in response to Plaintiffs' Requests for Production,
Defendants served upon Plaintiffs redacted versions of the
following documents: communications between the Board and
other plan participants regarding those plan
participants' suspension of benefits; a report from
Johnson & Krol, LLC (“the Report”) that
contained recommendations concerning the suspension of both
Plaintiffs' and other plan participants' benefits;
and a copy of the Board's minutes from April 27, 2009 to
September 28, 2017. Id. ¶¶ 12-14.
Plaintiffs seek to compel Plaintiffs to produce the
unredacted versions of these documents, particularly seeking
the name, address and phone number of other Plan
participants. (ECF No. 58-1 at 5).
on March 29, 2019, Plaintiff Chavis served his first set of
Interrogatories on the Defendant Plan. (ECF No. 57-2 ¶
16; ECF No. 58-2 ¶ 14). The first ten interrogatory
questions sought information regarding the suspension of
other Plan participants' benefits, and again centered
around identifying those participants. (ECF No. 60-2 at
6-10). On June 6, 2019, the Defendant Plan sent a letter
requesting that Plaintiff Chavis withdraw these ten
Interrogatories. (ECF No. 57-2 ¶ 18; ECF No. 57-7 at 2).
Plaintiff Chavis, by letter the same day, denied this
request. (ECF No. 58-2 ¶ 16; ECF No. 58-3 at 2-4). On
June 28, 2019, the Defendant Plan served its Response to
Plaintiff's First Set of Interrogatories, wherein the
Plan objected to each of the ten challenged Interrogatories.
(ECF No. 60-2 at 6-10).
Plaintiffs served upon various Defendants Notices to Take
Depositions. (ECF No. 57-2 ¶ 17). Defendants object to
the questioning of these witnesses, to the extent that those
questions pertain to matters outside of the AR. (ECF No. 57-1
at 9, 16).
Motion for Protective Order
may obtain discovery “regarding any non-privileged
matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense
and otherwise proportional to the needs of the case.”
Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). Under Federal Rule of Civil Procedure
26(b)(1), relevance, rather than admissibility, governs
whether information is discoverable. Id.
Importantly, the 2015 revisions to Rule 26(b)(1) removed the
often-misconstrued phrase “reasonably calculated to
lead to the discovery of admissible
evidence.” This Amendment reminds parties that
discovery must also be 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.” Id.
Notably both parties and the Court have a shared
responsibility to consider proportionality in resolving
discovery disputes. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1) advisory
committee's note to 2015 amendment.
26(c)(1) permits courts to, “for good cause, issue an
order to protect a party or person from annoyance,
embarrassment, oppression, or undue burden or expense. . .
.” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(c)(1). Further, both Rule 26(c)(1)
and Local Rule 104.7 require that prior to requesting court
action, the moving party confers with the other side in good
faith to resolve the dispute and provide certification to
that effect. Id. Where a protective order is sought,
the moving party bears the burden of establishing good cause.
CX Reinsurance Co. Ltd. v. City Homes, Inc., 2018 WL
5080944 (D. Md. Oct. 18, 2018) (citing Webb v. Green Tree
Servicing, LLC, 283 F.R.D. 276, 278 (D. Md. 2012)). This
burden requires more than “stereotyped and conclusory
statements, ” but rather the “movant must present
a ‘particular and specific demonstration of fact'
as to why a protective order should issue.”
Webb, 283 F.R.D. at 279 (quoting Baron Fin.
Corp. v. Natanzon, 240 F.R.D. 200, 202 (D. Md. 2006)).
“To determine whether the movant has met his burden, a
court must 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.'” Fidelity & Guaranty Life
Ins. Co. v. United Advisory Grp., Inc., 2016 WL 632025,
at *4 (D. Md. Feb. 17, 2016) (quoting UAI Tech, Inc. v.
Valutech, Inc., 122 F.R.D. 188, 181 (M.D. N.C. 1988)).
“In other words, the district Court ‘must weigh
the need for the information versus the harm in producing
it.'” Slager v. Southern States Police
Benevolent Ass'n, Inc., 2016 WL 4123700, at *2
(D.S.C. Aug. 3, 2016) (quoting Helping Hand, LLC v. Balt.
Cty., 295 F.Supp.2d 585, 592 (D. Md. 2003)).
the broad discretion conferred on trial courts to decide when
a protective order is appropriate, and what degree of
protection is required, the standard for issuance of a
protective order is high. CX, 2018 WL 5080944, at
Motion to Compel
a motion for protective order, Local Rule 104.7 and Federal
Rule of Civil Procedure 37 require that counsel confer
regarding discovery disputes and make a good faith effort to
settle disputes without court intervention. Fed. R. Civ. P
37(a)(1); R. 104.7 (D. Md. 2018). This Court will not
contemplate discovery motions unless the moving party files a
certificate either: (a) reciting the date, time, and place of
the discovery conference between the parties, and the names
of the participants therein, or (b) counsel's attempts to
hold such a conference without success; and (c) an
itemization of the issues requiring resolution by the Court.
L.R. 104.7. Additionally, Local Rule 104.8 provides, in
If a party who has propounded . . . requests for production
is dissatisfied with the response to them and has been unable
to resolve informally . . . any disputes with the responding
party, that party shall serve a motion to compel within
thirty (30) days of the party's receipt of the response.
. . . The parties shall serve motions and memoranda under
L.R. 104.8 in accordance with Fed.R.Civ.P. 5(a) and shall not
serve them through the Court's electronic filing system
nor file with the Court notices of service of the motion or
L.R. 104.8(a). This Rule also requires that the parties
“hold [a] conference required by L.R. 104.7 after
serving upon one another all of the documents relating to the
motion to compel.” L.R. 104.8(b). As with a motion for
protective order, the burden is on the party resisting
discovery. United Oil Co. v. Parts Ass'n, 227
F.R.D. 404, 411 (D. Md. 2005); Hake v. Carroll
County, 2014 WL 3974173, at *5 (D. Md. Aug. 14, 2014)
(stating the party opposing a motion to compel carried the
burden “to establish that the information is not
relevant, or that the discovery request should be
Compliance with the Local Rules
first argue that “at least with respect to
Defendants' document production, ” Plaintiff's
Motion to Compel should be denied as untimely. (ECF No. 59 at
9-10). Citing Local Rule 104.8(a), Defendants contend that
Plaintiffs should have filed their Motion to Compel within
thirty days of March 20, 2019 (the day that Defendants served
their final document production on Plaintiffs). Id.
at 9. As Plaintiffs received these responses over three
months ago, Defendants argue that Plaintiffs' Motion is
untimely. Id. at 9-10. Plaintiffs counter that their
Motion is timely because “Defendants did not
unequivocally refuse to produce the requested discovery until
June 13, 2019.” (ECF No. 60 at 11-12).
Plaintiffs did not fully comply with Local Rule 104.8(a), as
described above, that failure is not fatal to their Motion.
Failure to comply with Local Rule 104.8 does not per
se require dismissal of a party's motion to compel.
Tucker v. Ohtsu Tire & Rubber Co., Ltd., 191
F.R.D. 495, 497 (D. Md. 2000) (“[A]n absolute rule
requiring [dismissal] without first determining whether the
opposing party would suffer any real prejudice if the motion
is granted would be too harsh a construction of the local
rule.” (citing Fed.R.Civ.P. 1)). If the non-moving
party will not suffer any undue prejudice as a result of the
moving party's failure to comply with Local Rule 104.8,
and there is good cause to excuse the failure to comply, then
the moving party's motion will not be dismissed because
of the procedural defect. See Blind Indus. & Servs.
v. Route 40 Paintball Park, 2012 WL 4470273, at
*1-2 (D. Md. Sept. 26, 2012) (finding Motion was not timely
filed, and such technical tardiness was fatal, as it was
unjustified). Of note, here, Judge Hollander has extended
Discovery Deadlines awaiting the resolution of this discovery
dispute, and thus, such a Motion to Compel will not disrupt
the Scheduling Order. See Webb, 2012 WL 3139551, at
*1 (emphasizing plaintiff's belated motion was
particularly troubling because if granted, it would disrupt
the Scheduling Order by extending the discovery deadline, and
thus denying plaintiff's motion to compel).
there is evidence that the parties communicated about the
disputed discovery matters. See Defs.' Letters
to Pls.' Counsel (ECF No. 57-7); Pls.' Letters to
Defs.' Counsel (ECF No. 58-3); and ECF No. 58-1 ¶
16(b) (attesting to an in-person conference between Pls.'
and Defs.' counsel on March 25, 2019, prior to Plaintiff
Chavis serving his First Set of Interrogatories upon
Defendant Plan). However, there is no evidence that
Plaintiffs served their Motion to Compel upon Defendants
prior to involving the Court in the dispute. Nor ...