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Cole v. Federal Bureau of Investigation

United States District Court, D. Montana, Billings Division

April 29, 2019

EARLINE COLE, CLETUS COLE, and PRECIOUS BEARCRANE, a minor child, Plaintiffs,
v.
FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATIONS, SALT LAKE CITY FIELD OFFICE, FEDERAL BUREAU OF INVESTIGATIONS, BILLINGS OFFICE, [1] Defendants.

          MEMORANDUM AND ORDER

          SAM E. HADDON, UNITED STATES DISTRICT JUDGE.

         Introduction

         On February 28, 2019, Plaintiffs moved to compel responses to discovery, seeking the Court to compel Defendants to provide more detailed responses to certain interrogatories and document requests.

         The Court on March 7, 2019, inter alia: (1) adopted, accepted, and affirmed Magistrate Judge Cavan's Findings and Recommendation as to Defendant Matthew Oravec's Motion to Dismiss;[2] and (2) ordered limited additional discovery.[3] The single claim remaining relates to First Claim for Relief of the Second Amended Complaint, which alleges equal protection violations against the FBI.[4]

         The Motion to Compel is fully briefed and ripe for decision.

         Discussion

         The Court is vested with broad discretion in management of discovery.[5]Discovery is permitted for "any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party's claim or defense and proportional to the needs of the case."[6] Proportionality is assessed by "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."[7] Although the moving party has the ultimate burden of showing that discovery sought is relevant, the Court "look[s] to evidence and arguments from both sides in deciding whether discovery ... is permitted under Rule 26."[8]

         Defendants contend that the responses sought are both irrelevant and disproportionate to Plaintiffs' remaining claim. In addition, Defendants claim some of the information sought has, in fact, already been provided. Plaintiffs nonetheless assert that further disclosures are required since "[u]nder Rule 26, relevant information is any information that 'appears reasonably calculated to lead to the discovery of admissible evidence.'"[9]

         Plaintiffs' claimed discovery standard is incorrect. The "reasonably calculated" standard cited by Plaintiffs was removed from Rule 26 in 2015.[10]

         As the Advisory Committee on the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure has explained, "[t]he phrase [reasonably calculated] has been used by some, incorrectly, to define the scope of discovery . .. [t]he 'reasonably calculated' phrase has continued to create problems, however, and is removed by these amendments."[11] With the 2015 amendment, "[t]he test... is whether evidence is 'relevant to any party's claim or defense,' not whether it is 'reasonably calculated to lead to admissible evidence.'"[12]

         In addition, Plaintiffs fail to address the 2015 proportionality standard. At bottom it is the obligation of the Court both to determine whether the discovery sought is: (1) relevant to any party's claim or defense; and (2) in proportional in light of the factors outlined in Rule 26(b)(1).[13]

         I. Interrogatories

Interrogatory # 2. Please identify and describe the processes and procedures by which you work and coordinate with state victims' assistance programs and/or personnel.[14]

         Objection is made to this interrogatory on grounds that it is unreasonably broad, is not reasonably limited in temporal scope, and is irrelevant.

         The interrogatory as framed and as served on Defendants fails to specify or limit the request to any relevant time period. Processes and procedures undoubtably change from time to time. The request is overbroad. No. additional response is required.

Interrogatory # 4, Please identify and describe any and all complaints, whether informally in writing or orally, or judicial or administrative, received you [sic] regarding Defendant Oravec during the period he has worked for the FBI, including but not limited to the substance of the complaint, the person making the complaint, the person(s) receiving the complaint, the person(s) who were told about the complaint, and the actions taken by [sic] in response to the complaint.[15]

         This interrogatory is objected to on grounds that it is overbroad and irrelevant. The response provided nevertheless states that a thorough search of the FBI complaint system disclosed no additional information not already known to the Plaintiffs. The response is adequate. The objection to the response is denied.

Interrogatory # 7. Please identify and describe the processes and procedures by which you work and coordinate with state law enforcement agencies and/or personnel.[16]

         This interrogatory is objected to on grounds that it is overbroad, unduly burdensome, not proportional to the needs of the case, and that '"work and coordinate with' are undefined and consequently do not allow Defendants to formulate an appropriate response."[17] The Court agrees. Absent some limitation, any description of the process by which work and coordination with state law enforcement or personnel is carried out is potentially endless. The objection to the response to Interrogatory No. 7 is denied.

         II. Document Requests

Document Request # 2. Please produce any and all documents containing, referencing or related in any way to investigatory procedures, processes and/or instructions regarding FBI investigations, including but not limited to any and all manuals and handbooks, in use during the period January 1, 2000 to the present.[18]

         This request is objected to on grounds that it is overbroad, unduly burdensome, and not proportional to the needs of the case. Notwithstanding the objection, the response provided references policy and procedures followed in Indian ...


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