Tag Archives: Representative Discovery

D.Neb.: Defendant Limited To Full Discovery For 2 Plaintiffs and Representative Discovery From 15% of Class Where Almost 300 Opt-ins

Morales v. Farmland Foods, Inc.

This matter was before the court on the plaintiffs’ Motion for Protective Order, seeking protection from responding to discovery requests including interrogatories, requests for production, and requests for admission served on nearly all of the almost 300 FLSA opt-in plaintiffs.

Granting Plaintiffs’ Motion, the court reasoned:

“As a starting point, “[p]arties may obtain discovery regarding any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense-including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any documents …” Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). However, “[t]he District Court does have discretion to limit the scope of discovery.” Credit Lyonnais v. SGC Int’l, Inc ., 160 F.3d 428, 431 (8th Cir.1998). To determine if a matter is discoverable, the court must first evaluate whether the sought discovery is relevant to a claim or defense. Accordingly, although limited, relevant evidence includes “any matter that could bear on, or that reasonably could lead to other matter that bears on” the claims or defenses of any party.   Oppenheimer Fund, Inc. v. Sanders, 437 U.S. 340, 351 (1978). “Some threshold showing of relevance must be made before parties are required to open wide the doors of discovery and to produce a variety of information which does not reasonably bear upon the issues in the case.” Hofer v. Mack Trucks, Inc., 981 F.2d 377, 380 (8th Cir.1992). “Determinations of relevance in discovery rulings are left to the sound discretion of the trial court and will not be reversed absent an abuse of discretion.” Hayden v. Bracy, 744 F.2d 1338, 1342 (8th Cir.1984). Once the requesting party meets the threshold relevance burden, generally “[a]ll discovery requests are a burden on the party who must respond thereto. Unless the task of producing or answering is unusual, undue or extraordinary, the general rule requires the entity answering or producing the documents to bear that burden.” Continental Ill. Nat’l Bank & Trust Co. of Chicago v. Caton, 136 F.R.D. 682, 684-85 (D.Kan.1991) (citation omitted).

The defendant has met its burden of showing the discovery sought is relevant to the claims and defenses in this matter, in a broad sense. Similarly, the plaintiffs have met their burden to show the plaintiffs are subject to unusual, undue or extraordinary burden by having to respond on behalf of each separate opt-in class member. Allowing the defendant to obtain the discovery sought from each opt-in class member is inappropriate in this FLSA lawsuit. See Reich v. Homier Distr. Co., 362 F.Supp.2d 1009, 1015 (N.D.Ind .2005) (“The individual discovery required … would destroy ‘the economy of scale envisioned by the FLSA collective action procedure.’ ”). The defendant seeks to obtain information about the differences between each opt-in class member, however the defendant fails to explain how the representative sampling method suggested by the plaintiffs is deficient for the purpose of establishing (or refuting) similarity between the opt-in class members. Furthermore, the extensive nature of the discovery sought outweighs the benefit. See Geer v. Challenge Fin. Investors Corp., No. 05-1109, 2007 WL 1341774 (D.Kan. May 4, 2007) (finding “the burden and expense the requested discovery (depositions of [each of the 272] opt-in plaintiff[s] ) would impose on Plaintiffs clearly outweighs the likely benefit of such discovery”); see also Fast v. Applebee’s Int’l, Inc., No. 06-4146, 2008 WL 5432288 (W.D.Mo. Dec. 31, 2008) (denying motion to compel interrogatory responses from each opt-in plaintiff). The plaintiffs’ generous proposal of limiting discovery to a random sample of fifteen percent of the opt-in class members is reasonable. See Nerland v. Caribou Coffee Co., Inc., 564 F.Supp.2d 1010, 1016 (D.Minn.2007) (noting the court had “authorized individualized discovery for eighty-five randomly selected opt-in plaintiffs through completion of questionnaires and a limited number of depositions”). The court will not determine the content of the discovery requests as it appears the parties will be able to resolve the issue without court intervention. Upon consideration,

IT IS ORDERED:

The plaintiffs’ Motion for Protective Order (Filing No. 158) is granted as follows.

1. The defendant may take full discovery of the two named plaintiffs.

2. The defendant may serve discovery on a random sample of fifteen percent of the FLSA opt-in class members.

3. No opt-in class member will be allowed to testify at trial unless first responding to the discovery discussed in paragraph 2 above.”

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W.D.Mo.: Where Over 1,000 Opt-ins, “Full Discovery” Targeting All Class Members Inappropriate

Dernovish v. AT&T Operations, Inc.

This case involved a collective action brought under the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”). Plaintiffs, call center employees, alleged that Defendant failed to pay them for some time spent working, while they were in the process of logging in to Defendant’s computer system, prior to their scheduled shift.  The issue before the Court was what proper scope of discovery should be granted to Defendant, with respect to the over 1,000 members of the opt-in class.  While the Defendant maintained that all opt-ins were parties and thus, they were entitled to full discovery from each and every class member, the Plaintiffs disagreed.  The Court held that the opt-ins need only produce limited discovery responses, because they were akin to class members in a Rule 23 class.

Discussing the issue, the Court said:

“The Court holds Plaintiffs’ view is more appropriate. Normally, a class action governed by Rule 23(b)(3) would permit those defined by the class definition to opt out of the suit. The FLSA effectively changes the normal situation in two ways: it creates its own class action device that replaces the one created in Rule 23 and requires individuals defined by the class definition to opt in, not opt out. See Hoffmann-La Roche Inc. v. Sperling, 493 U.S. 165, 170 (1989) (describing section 216(b) as permitting “employees to proceed on behalf of those similarly situated”); Anderson v. Unisys Corp., 47 F.3d 302, 305 n. 6 (8th Cir.1995) (declaring that “Certification of ADEA class actions is governed by 29 U.S.C. § 216(b) rather than Fed.R.Civ.P. 23.”); Kelley v. Alamo, 964 F.2d 747, 749 (8th Cir.1992) (“the FLSA provides for a form of ‘class action’ suit under” section 216(b)); Kloos v. Carter-Day Co., 799 F.2d 397, 399-400 (8th Cir.1986) (describing section 216(b) as creating a “type of statutory class action”). Other courts have reached the same conclusion. E.g., Alvarez v. City of Chicago, No. 09-2020, slip op. at —- (7th Cir. May 21, 2010) (“A collective action is similar to, but distinct from the typical class action…. The principle difference is that plaintiffs who wish to be included in a collective action must affirmatively opt-in to the suit….”); Thompson v. Weyerhaeuser Co., 582 F.3d 1125, 1127 (10th Cir.2009) (“the opt-in class mechanism of the [FLSA] authorizes class actions when the complaining parties are ‘similarly situated.’ ”); Smith v. T-Mobile USA Inc., 570 F.3d 1119, 1122 (9th Cir.2009) (“A plaintiff seeking FLSA collective action certification does not have a procedural right to represent a class in the absence of any opt-in plaintiffs.”); Ruehl v. Viacom, Inc., 500 F.3d 375, 379 & n. 3-4 (3d Cir.2007). This characterization suggests the permissible scope of discovery for the class members is not necessarily intended to be as great as it is for the actual parties to the case.

Another factor affecting the scope of discovery is the measure of damages, which consists of “the payment of wages lost and an additional equal amount as liquidated damages.” 29 U.S.C. § 216(b). This determination is based on a formula, not subjective testimony; there is no recovery for pain and suffering or emotional distress. Defendant’s policies provide the commonality that binds the class together. If it is determined that employees were required to login before the start of their shift, damages will be calculated by multiplying the applicable wage by the amount of time necessary to login, multiplied again by the number of days the employee worked. There is also no great need to rely on the employees’ memory to ascertain damages-the superior, more reliable evidence resides in Defendant’s records.”

The Court was careful to note that the Defendant was entitled to some individualized discovery:

“Nothing the Court has said, however, means that Defendant is not entitled to any information about the individuals who opt in. Even in a traditional class action under Rule 23, class members may be required to supply a certain amount of information. However, allowing the “full” range of discovery defeats the purpose of permitting a collective/class action by denying the efficiencies such a procedure is intended to produce. The nature and extent of the discovery effort is subject to the trial court’s discretion and depends on the nature of the case and the purported need for the information. Manual for Complex Litigation (Fourth) at 256.

With these principles in mind, the Court has reviewed Defendant’s discovery requests. The Court concludes it is appropriate and proper for those who opt-in to the case to answer Interrogatory Number Two. This interrogatory asks the individual to identify job titles, supervisors, and locations worked for Defendant. The remaining interrogatories ask for information that is more readily (and conclusively) found in Defendant’s records (such as Interrogatories 3 and 5), carries a significant burden that can be obviated by seeking discovery from the named Plaintiffs (such as Interrogatories 1 and 4), or ask for information that is of dubious importance in the case (such as Interrogatories 6, 7, 8, and 9).

The Request for Production of Documents presents an additional problem: Defendant has posed “contention”-type requests. For instance, Defendant asks the class members to produce “[a]ll documents regarding your assertion that AT & T ‘required these call center employees to be ready to work at the beginning of their scheduled shift.’ “ The undersigned generally finds such interrogatories to be unnecessary at best and inappropriate at worst . Here, requiring the class members to supply the documents will result in significant duplication and inefficiencies that are not warranted in the circumstances of this case. The class members will be required to produce any documents they may have responsive to requests 2 and 3, and submit any such documents along with their answer to Interrogatory Number Two. The remaining requests for documents need not be answered by the class members.”

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E.D.Tex.: Where Class Consists Of Over 1000 Plaintiffs, Court Limits Discovery To 91 Randomly Chosen Representative “Discovery Plaintiffs”

Nelson v. American Standard, Inc.

Before the Court is Plaintiffs’ motion for entry of limited discovery order, filed in support of Plaintiffs’ proposal contained in the Joint Motion for Entry of Discovery and Case Management Plan and Scheduling Order.  Although the parties largely agreed on the extent of discovery to be conducted, Plaintiffs sought an Order limiting such discovery a representative sampling of 91 “discovery Plaintiffs,” while Defendants claimed they should be entitled to seek discovery from every individual class member.  Agreeing with Plaintiffs, the Court pared discovery down to the 91 representative Plaintiffs.

The Court described the dispute as follows:

“[The parties] have agreed to the scope of oral discovery and to a schedule governing the deadlines in this case. The parties have also agreed that they will select individual case participants as “Discovery Plaintiffs” as a representative sample from all of the individuals who are named plaintiffs or who have opted into the litigation. The “Discovery Plaintiffs” are to be selected as follows: (1) three Named Plaintiffs (Nelson, Gross, and Dewberry); (2) 19 individuals who submitted declarations in support of the Motion for Notice; and (3) 84 opt-ins selected at random by the parties from the 1,328 individuals in the consolidated case, with a specified number of opt-ins for each location.  The fundamental disagreement which remains to be resolved by the Court is the scope of written discovery. The central disagreement is that Plaintiffs seek to limit written discovery to the Discovery Plaintiffs who may be used at trial while Defendant seeks to allow written discovery to be issued to the entire class of 1,328 opt-in plaintiffs in some capacity. In the joint motion, both sides present their proposals on how written discovery should be conducted. In support of Plaintiffs’ proposal contained in the joint motion for discovery order, Plaintiffs’ also filed a motion for entry of limited discovery order. (Dkt. No. 110.) Plaintiffs seek to limit both written and oral discovery of class members to the agreed upon group of 91 Discovery Plaintiffs rather than to require all 1,328 participants to be subjected to written discovery and disclosures. Defendant seeks individualized written discovery for all opt-in plaintiffs.”

Citing other courts that have reached the same conclusion, the Court ordered representative discovery, rather than individualized discovery, stating:

“The Eastern District of Texas, and specifically this Court, is one of many jurisdictions that has ordered limited, representative discovery of the named plaintiffs and opt-in plaintiffs in FLSA actions. Schiff et al. v. Racetrac Petroleum, Inc., 2:03-cv-402-TJW, Dkt. No. 111 (E.D. Tex. June 8, 2005) (limiting discovery to a random sample of 35 opt-in plaintiffs). Numerous other courts also have found that individualized discovery is generally not appropriate in FLSA collective actions and should be limited to a representative sample of the entire group. See Smith v. Lowes Home Ctrs., 236 F.R.D. 354, 356-58 (S.D.Ohio 2006) (denying defendant’s request for individualized discovery of more than 1,500 opt-ins and instead ordering a representative sample of 90 randomly selected individuals from the opt-in plaintiffs); Cranney v. Carriage Services, Inc., 2008 WL 2457912 at *3-5 (D.Nev. June 16, 2008) (limiting individualized discovery to 10% of a relevant combination of workers and work sites for the opt-in plaintiffs). The Court finds that limiting discovery in a FLSA action to a relevant sample minimizes the burden imposed on the plaintiffs “while affording the defendant a reasonable opportunity to explore, discover and establish an evidentiary basis for its defenses.” Smith, 236 F.R.D. at 357-58. Further, the Court finds that there is no due process violation to Defendant in limiting written discovery to the Discovery Plaintiffs.

In this case “representative” discovery refers not only to the named plaintiffs but to a sample of 91 largely randomly selected individuals that the parties have agreed to designate as “Discovery Plaintiffs.” The Court finds that there is no reason that all defenses and alleged differences among class members cannot be ascertained and articulated based on the results of full discovery for the “Discovery Plaintiffs.” If the discovery shows defenses and differences for these individuals, Defendant Trane will be able to make its case for decertification or summary judgment. The fundamental precept of statistics and sampling is that meaningful differences among class members can be determined from a sampling of individuals. The Court finds that the agreed upon group of “Discovery Plaintiffs” is a statistically acceptable representative sample of the entire group of opt-in Plaintiffs. Defendant Trane has not shown that the representative sample needs expanding to all class members for discovery purposes. However, if after conducting the discovery of the representative sample Defendant Trane can demonstrate to the Court that broader discovery is appropriate and necessary, the Defendant can so move.

III. CONCLUSION

Accordingly, it is ORDERED that written discovery in this case be limited to the named plaintiffs and the 91 opt-in plaintiffs who the parties have agreed to designate as Discovery Plaintiffs. A concurrent order will be entered that adopts the parties’ joint proposal for discovery and case management plan and adopts the Plaintiffs’ proposal on written discovery, consistent with this order. Thus, Plaintiffs’ Motion (Dkt. No. 110) is hereby GRANTED.”

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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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