Tag Archives: Protective Order

S.D.Tex.: Defendants’ Motion For Protective Order, Seeking To Bar Plaintiffs’ Attorneys From Communicating With Putative Class Denied; No Evidence Of Coercive, Misleading, Or Improper Communications

McKnight v. D. Houston, Inc.

In this collective action under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”), 29 U.S.C. § 201, et seq., Plaintiffs sued six strip clubs in Houston, along with the owners and operators.  The court conditionally certified a class previously.  Following the conditional certification, the defendants filed an expedited motion for a protective order, asking the court to forbid the plaintiffs and their attorneys from using the class members’ contact information “for any purpose other than the mailing of the court-approved notice,” or, alternatively, to require “specific approval from the court for any mailings, emails, phone calls or communications with potential opt-in plaintiffs other than the court-approved notice.” (Id. at 9). The defendants argued that without such an order, the plaintiffs will be able to recruit more plaintiffs under the guise of contacting fact witnesses, undermining the purpose of court-approved notice to potential class members.  Holding that the Defendants failed to satisfy their burden of proof to necessitate such a protective order, the court denied the Defendants’ motion.

The court reasoned:

“The defendants argue that communications ban is necessary to prevent solicitation of clients under the guise of contacting fact witnesses. In support, they cite portions of McKnight’s deposition testimony in which McKnight explains that she spoke to the individuals who are now her coplaintiffs about her plans to file a lawsuit and gave them her attorney’s contact information. They also point to inconsistencies between the practices alleged by the plaintiffs in their declarations and described in their depositions, and conclude that “[t]he dynamic between the unlawful solicitations to join the suit and the subsequent substantial inconsistencies between the declarations that were filed in support of the motion for notice to class members and the deposition testimony of the plaintiffs suggests some level of impropriety or inaccuracy with regard to the pre-suit solicitations and communications that occurred in this case.” (Docket Entry No. 47 at 5-6).

This evidence falls short of the “evidence of coercive, misleading, or improper communications” necessary to impose the type of order the defendants seek. See Jackson, 2009 WL 650181, at *2. There is no evidence that McKnight’s precertification communications with her coplaintiffs were misleading or coercive. There is also no evidence that the plaintiffs plan to engage in improper communications going forward. Gulf Oil cautioned against protective orders that make it “more difficult [for counsel] … to obtain information about the merits of the case from the persons they sought to represent.” 452 U.S. at 101. The record does not support a protective order to prevent misleading or otherwise abusive communications by plaintiffs and their counsel.

The defendants’ expedited motion for a protective order is denied on the present record.”

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M.D.Fla.: Magistrate Judge’s Order Requiring That FLSA Defendant Take Out-of-State Opt-in Plaintiff’s Deposition In Opt-in’s Home Forum Upheld

Fiore v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

This matter was before the Court on defendant’s Objection to Order on Plaintiff’s Motion for Protective Order Regarding the Location of an Opt-In Plaintiff Deposition.  Previously, the Magistrate Judge had granted in part a protective order by declining to compel an opt-in plaintiff who resides in Texas to come to the Middle District of Florida for a deposition, and further required the deposition to be held in Texas.  The Magistrate Judge found that “forcing an out of state opt-in plaintiff to travel hundreds of miles to take a deposition would undermine the purpose of this collective action, and effectively destroy any benefits gained by proceeding as a class under the [Fair Labor Standards Act] FLSA. It would be unreasonable to force Wandell to attend a deposition in Tampa, Florida. Wandell did not choose the Middle District as his forum, the forum was chosen for him.”  

Agreeing that the Magistrate Judge’s order was not contrary to law or clearly erroneous, reviewing the prior order, the District Judge reasoned:

“A district court reviews an objection to a non-dispositive order of a magistrate judge to determine whether the order was clearly erroneous or contrary to law. 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1)(A); Fed.R.Civ.P. 72(a). Defendant argues that the Magistrate Judge was clearly erroneous and disregarded Middle District of Florida Local Rule 3.04(b), and that Wandell should appear for his deposition in the Middle District of Florida. Because the Order was neither clearly erroneous nor contrary to law, defendant’s objection is overruled.

The Court finds that the Magistrate Judge applied the correct law and that her decision was not clearly erroneous. Control of discovery in a civil case is committed to the sound discretion of the court. Chrysler Int’l Corp. v. Chemaly, 280 F.2d 1358, 1360 (11th Cir.2002). This is the standard recognized by the Magistrate Judge in her Order. (Doc. # 73, p. 2.)

A reviewing court applies an abuse of discretion standard in its review of a decision on a motion to compel. Holloman v. Mail-Well Corp., 443 F.3d 832, 837 (11th Cir.2006). A judge abuses her discretion if she applies an incorrect legal standard, follows improper procedures in making the determination, or makes findings of fact that are clearly erroneous. Morgan v. Family Dollar Stores, Inc., 551 F.3d 1233, 1260 (11th Cir.2008). Additionally, a court “abuses its discretion when it misconstrues its proper role, ignores or misunderstands the relevant evidence, and bases its decision upon considerations having little factual support.” Serra Chevrolet, Inc. v. GMC, 446 F.3d 1137, 1147 (11th Cir.2006). Absent such situations, discretion means that a magistrate judge is allowed a range of choices, and should not be second-guessed unless the decision reflects a clear error of judgment.   Holloman, 443 F.3d at 837.

The Court concludes that the magistrate judge did not abuse her discretion. Control over discovery, including the location of a deposition, is committed to the sound discretion of the Court. The decision was not clearly erroneous, i.e., there has been no showing that the location of the deposition was a clear error in judgment. The Magistrate Judge recognized Local Rule 3.04(b), and stated adequate reasons for her decision as to the location. Her decision is well within the permissible range of choices allowed in the sound exercise of discretion.”

However, the Court clarified that it was ruling on the issue before it only, (whether the Magistrate Judge had abused her discretion):

“The Court does not hold that an opt-in [plaintiff’] cannot be required to give a deposition within this District. The Court only holds that, as to Mr. Wandell, there was no abuse of discretion in requiring a deposition in his home district. If this case is certified as a collective action, there may be other considerations as to the locations of depositions. That issue, however, is not before the Court at this time. The Court also does not necessarily adopt the FLSA rationale articulated by the Magistrate Judge.”

Click Fiore v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. to read the entire Opinion and Order.

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W.D.Wash.: Plaintiffs’ Immigration Status Irrelevant To FLSA/RCW Claims; Affirmative Defense Seeking To Estop Undocumented Immigrants From Recovery Based On Immigration Status Dismissed; No Counterclaim Against A Plaintiff For Indemnity Is Legally Cognizable Either

Bailon v. Seok AM No. 1 Corp.

This case was before the court on plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss and motion for protective order.  The issues presented turned largely around the question of whether the immigration status of plaintiffs/employees is at all relevant to the claims those employees filed against their defendant/employer under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FSLA”) 29 U.S.C. §§ 201-219 and the Washington Minimum Wage Act (“MWA”) RCW 49.48.010 et. seq. Defendants sought to pursue discovery against plaintiffs arguing that their alleged status as illegal aliens prevents them from pursuing claims for unfair employment practices.  The Court concluded that the plaintiffs’ immigration status is irrelevant to any valid claim or defense and that public policy prohibits defendants from pursuing such discovery.  Additionally, the Court held that an FLSA Plaintiff may not properly be the subject of a counterclaim for indemnity based on actions taken as Defendants’ supervisory employee. 

The Court framed the issues before it as follows: (1) Whether alleged undocumented-worker immigration status provides a defense or counterclaim in an FLSA/MWA case for work already performed; (2) Whether FLSA/MWA defendants have a right to seek indemnity or contribution from third parties such as co-workers or joint employers; and (3) Whether FLSA/MWA claims are subject to personal defenses such as waiver, estoppel, unclean hands, laches, “independent intervening conduct of” third party, failure to mitigate damages, “equal[ ] or exceed[ing] fault of plaintiffs,” proximate cause of third party, failure to pay taxes, or a public policy punitive damages defense.

Addressing Plaintiffs’ Motion to Dismiss Defendants’ Affirmative Defenses first, the Court stated, “After carefully reviewing the case law and the facts as alleged by the parties, it appears that plaintiffs’ immigration status is irrelevant to any issue in this case. While the Supreme Court ruled that immigration status bars recover for future wages, see Hofman Plastics Compounds v. NLRB, 535 U.S. 137, 149, 122 S.Ct. 1275, 152 L.Ed.2d 271 (2002), if the wage claim involves damages for past work performed, then the immigration status of the plaintiff is irrelevant. See Rivera v. Nibco, Inc., 364 F.3d 1057, 1063-69 (9th Cir.1004) (discussing Hoffman, Title VII claims for back wages are not barred because of employee’s immigration status).

Furthermore, although there is no Washington case directly on point, Washington courts have consistently construed the MWA in the same manner as the FLSA. See, e.g., Hisle v. Todd Pacific Shipyards Corp., 151 Wash.2d 853, 862, 93 P.3d 108 (2004); Chelan County Deputy Sherifs’ Assoc. v. County of Chelan, 109 Wash.2d 282292-93, 745 P.2d 1 (1987). While not binding, in the absence of state authority to the contrary, the federal precedent is persuasive on this issue. This appears to be consistent with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries’ policy, as stated by its Director in May of 2002, following the Hoffman Plastics decision. The Washington State Director of Labor & Industries, Gary Moore, issued the following statement:

The 1972 law that revamped Washington’s workers’ compensation system is explicit: All workers must have coverage. Both employers and workers contribute to the insurance fund. The Department of Labor and Industries is responsible for protecting worker safety, ensuring that all workers be paid at least the minimum wage and providing workers with medical care and wage replacement when an injury or an occupational disease prevents them from doing their job. The agency has and will continue to do all that without regard to the worker’s immigration status. Exhibit 2 to Schmitt Decl. (Statement by Gary Moore, Director of the Department of Labor & Industries, May 21, 2002) Doc. # 11.

Therefore, there appear to be no set of facts that would support any of defendants’ allegations that plaintiffs’ claims under the FLSA are barred by their immigration status. Furthermore, defendants have cited no authority for the proposition that the WMA claims should be barred because of plaintiffs’ immigration status either. Accordingly, plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss defendants’ counterclaim alleging that plaintiffs lacked “standing to be lawfully employed” is hereby GRANTED.”

Next the Court turned to the question of whether an FLSA Plaintiff may ever be required to indemnify Defendants for actions committed as a supervisor under Defendants’ employ.  Answering this question in the negative, the Court stated, “The Court is unaware of any case in the Ninth Circuit regarding whether an individual supervisor may be held liable for contribution or indemnity to another defendant who may be liable for violations of the FLSA. But several other courts of appeals in other circuits have rejected claims seeking indemnity or contribution under those circumstances. See LeCompte v. Chrysler Credit Corp., 780 F.2d 1260, 1264 (5th Cir.1986) (affirming dismissal of employer’s counterclaim against supervisory personnel for indemnity of plaintiffs’ claims under FLSA, and stating, “No cause of action for indemnity by an employer against its employees who violate the Act appears in the statute, nor in forty years of its existence has the Act been construed to incorporate such a theory”; Lyle v. Food Lion, 954 F.2d 984, 987 (4th Cir.1992) (affirming dismissal of employer’s counterclaim and third-party complaint for indemnity against plaintiff-supervisor for plaintiffs’ FLSA claims); Martin v. Gingerbread House, Inc., 977 F.2d 1405, 1408 (10th Cir.1992) (holding employer’s third-party complaint seeking indemnity from employee for alleged FLSA violations was preempted); Herman v. RSR Sec. Services Ltd., 172 F.3d 132, 144 (2d Cir.1999) (affirming dismissal of corporation chairman’s claims for contribution and indemnification against his co-owner and corporation’s manager and vice president).

 The Court is persuaded that it should dismiss defendants’ counterclaim seeking indemnity or contribution in this case. To rule otherwise would frustrate Congress’ purpose in enacting the FLSA, since an employer who believed that any violation of the statute’s overtime or minimum wage provisions could be recovered from its employees would have a diminished incentive to comply with the statute. LeCompte, 780 F.2d at 1264.

 Defendants argue they are entitled to assert their contribution and indemnity claim(s) based on state law, citing RCW 49.52.050, 49.52.070, Morgan v. Kingen, 166 Wash.2d 526, 210 P.3d 995 (2009), and Ellerman v. Centerpoint Prepress, 143 Wash.2d 514, 22 P.3d 795 (2001). Defendants’ argument misses the mark. This authority stands for the proposition that plaintiffs may have a claim against an individual supervisor, but does not stand for the proposition that another defendant who may be liable for wage claims has a contribution or indemnity claim against someone similarly situated.

Furthermore, the FLSA’s preclusion of contribution and indemnity claims preempts state law. “Creation of a state-law-based indemnity remedy on behalf of employers would not serve the congressional purpose of creating and maintaining minimum standards of employment throughout the national economy.”   LeCompte, 780 F.2d at 1264.

In sum, plaintiffs’ motion to dismiss is GRANTED; defendants’ counterclaim based on contribution or indemnity against Plaintiff Esquivel is DISMISSED.”

 Last, the Court granted Plaintiffs’ Motion for a Protective Order regarding discovery sought concerning their immigration status.

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Filed under Affirmative Defenses, Discovery, Immigration Status

N.D.Ill.: Tailors Scope Of Representative Discovery In Stage 1 Class Of 522 FLSA Plaintiffs; Plaintiffs Entitled To Protective Order Re: RFAs Served On Entire Class

Russell v. Illinois Bell Telephone Co.

The case was before the Court on Illinois Bell’s motion to compel the depositions of thirty-eight individual plaintiffs and to dismiss three individual plaintiffs. Additionally, plaintiffs moved for a protective order, pertaining to RFAs and RFPs served on every individual Plaintiff, in this 522 person class. For the reasons set forth below, the Court grants the motions in part and denies them in part.At the time of the Motions, Defendant had deposed twenty-four plaintiffs. Each side selected twelve of the deponents.

Significantly, Plaintiffs requested a protective order excusing them from responding to requests for admission (RTA) and requests for the production of documents (RFP) propounded by Illinois Bell.

The RTAs were sent to opt-in plaintiffs that had not been deposed. Each set of RTAs is identical containing ten requests. The ten requests essentially ask the plaintiff to admit that Illinois Bell did not violate her FLSA rights (e.g., “Admit that you did not perform any work on behalf of Defendant without compensation after the end of your scheduled shift.”). Pls.’ Mot for a Protective Order at 4-5. Each of the ten requests is a variation pertaining to a different alleged violation of the FLSA. In granting Plaintiffs a protective order pertaining to the RFAs and requiring them to answer the RFPs, the Court reasoned:

“District courts have broad discretion over matters relating to discovery. E.g., Patterson v. Avery Dennison Corp., 281 F.3d 676, 681 (7th Cir.2002); Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(2). The Court agrees with plaintiffs that the responding to the RTAs would be unduly burdensome based on the circumstances of this case. As noted above, Illinois Bell is entitled to depose a reasonable and sufficient number of opt-in plaintiffs. Requiring the plaintiffs to respond to hundreds of RTAs, however, is unreasonable and will not advance the ball in this litigation. It is fair to assume that each plaintiff will deny the RTAs that pertain to her FLSA claim, leaving Illinois Bell without any additional information regarding similarities or dissimilarities among the class members. Conversely, requiring plaintiffs to respond to the RTAs would impose a significant burden on them and an enormous burden on their counsel, and it would defeat the purpose of utilizing representative discovery in FLSA class actions. E.g., Adkins, 143 F.R.D. at 174.

The RFPs were sent to opt-in plaintiffs who had not been previously been served with written discovery. They consist of four narrowly drawn requests for documents that would support or refute the particular plaintiff’s FLSA claims. The RFPs are more likely to yield relevant evidence than the RTAs. For example, disclosure regarding whether a plaintiff kept notes of when she allegedly worked overtime without appropriate compensation might be probative of whether such conduct actually occurred or the extent of it. Additionally, disclosure regarding whether a plaintiff possesses documents she contends required her to work overtime without compensation might be probative whether such a policy actually existed regarding or the whether plaintiff misinterpreted some policy of directive of Illinois Bell.

Moreover, certain actions by plaintiffs’ counsel have elevated the importance of the RFPs. During the deposition of one opt-in plaintiff, that deponent made reference to a document she contended Illinois Bell provided that informed her she would not be paid if she logged off of her phone. Plaintiffs’ counsel had not produced this document before the deposition, contending it was not responsive to a document request. Plaintiffs respond that the disclosures they made pursuant to Rule 26(a)(1) obviate the need for individual RFPs. The actions of plaintiffs’ counsel, however, undermine that contention.”

The Court concluded, “Illinois Bell’s RFPs are narrowly tailored, seek relevant information, and will not impose an undue burden on plaintiffs. Accordingly, the Court denies plaintiffs’ motion for a protective order regarding the RFPs.”

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