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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.”