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D.Nev.: Defendant Compelled to Produce Time and Pay Records Maintained by Third-Party Payroll Company, Notwithstanding Objection That They Did Not “Possess” Same
Kiser v. Pride Communications, Inc.
This case was before the court on plaintiff’s motion to compel the production of discovery related his wages and hours. As discussed here, the defendants objected to such discovery. Defendants’ primary objection was that it did not have actual possession of the discovery sought. Rather, defendants maintained that they should not be responsible to produce the discovery, because it was in the possession of their third-party payroll vendor. The court rejected defendants’ contention and ordered the production of the discovery.
Overruling defendants’ objection regarding physical custody of the discovery sought, the court explained:
“Defendants’ objection based on their assertion that they do not possess the requested documents or electronically kept data because “a third-party vendor … process[ed][the] payroll” is overruled. Pursuant to Fed.R.Civ.P. 34, documents sought in discovery motions must be within the “possession, custody, or control” of the party upon whom the request is served. However, the “phrase ‘possession, custody, or control’ is disjunctive and only one of the numerated requirements need be met.” Soto v. City of Concord, 162 F.R.D. 603, 619 (N.D.Cal.1995)(quoting Cumis Ins. Society, Inc. v. South–Coast Bank, 610 F.Supp. 193, 196 (N.D.Ind.1985). Therefore, “actual possession” is not required. Soto, 162 F.R.D. at 619. Rather, a “party may be ordered to produce a document in the possession of a non-party entity if that party has a legal right to obtain the document or has control over the entity who is in possession of the document.” Id (internal citation omitted).
Here, the fact that defendants do not actually possess the documents does not matter. As admitted to in their response (# 28–1 Exhibit B) and their opposition (# 29), the defendants requested and ordered the third-party payroll vendor, Southwest Payroll Service, Inc., to perform the acts of processing and maintaining the payroll and the accompanying records. Thus, it is “inconceivable” that the defendants lack the ability to request and obtain such records from Southwest Payroll Service, Inc. Id. at 620 (holding that when a third-party physician performed evaluations on officers at the request of the defendant, “it seems inconceivable that the [defendant] lacks the ability to obtain such evaluations upon demand .”). Therefore, the court finds that such records are in Pride’s control, and should be disclosed in response to the plaintiffs’ request. Id. at 619 (finding that the “term ‘control’ includes the legal right of the producing party to obtain documents from other sources on demand)(emphasis added)(internal citations omitted); See also Japan Halan Co. v. Great Lakes Chem. Corp., 155 F.R.D. 626, 627 (N.D.Ind.1993)(holding that close business relationships constituted control of documents held by a third-party.).
Accordingly, and for good cause shown,
IT IS ORDERED that plaintiffs Anthony Kiser et al’s Motion To Compel The Production Of Documents (# 28) is GRANTED.
IT IS FURTHER ORDERED that defendants Pride Communications, Inc. et al shall produce the requested documents, in any and all available forms, on or before November 30, 2011.”
As more and more employers, small and large, continue to rely on third-party payroll vendors, this will likely be a decision with wide-felt impact in wage and hour circles. Especially in cases involving so-called ESI (Electronically Stored Information)- where the employer transmits data to a payroll service like ADP or Paychex and retains little or none of the required records itself, this decision seems to say that anything the payroll company has, the defendant will be deemed to “have” as well.
Click Kiser v. Pride Communications, Inc. to read the entire Order.
2d. Cir.: Award of Attorney’s Fees for All Time Worked Cannot Be Based Solely Upon Court’s Observation of Counsel
Scott v. City of New York
This case was before the Second Circuit for the second time on the issue of attorney’s fees. The plaintiffs prevailed in the underling case, but the plaintiffs’ attorney failed to keep contemporaneous time records. Nonetheless, following judgment for employees in a Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) suit, the trial court awarded plaintiffs’ attorney partial attorney fees. On the first appeal, the defendant appealed, and plaintiffs’ attorney cross-appealed from denial of certain fees. In a decision discussed here, the Court of Appeals, 626 F.3d 130, vacated the initial fee award and remanded because the district court did not explain the basis on which attorney was excepted from requirement to submit contemporaneous time records with fee application. Upon remand, the District Court, 2011 WL 867242, reinstated original award, and based the award on its own observations of plaintiffs’ counsel during the case. Both parties appealed. The Second Circuit held that the district court’s personal observation and opinions of attorney (alone) did not constitute exceptional circumstances that permitted award of attorney’s fees. Thus, the case was again remanded for a finding as to reasonable attorney’s fees.
The court reasoned:
“An award based entirely on the district court judge’s personal observation and opinions of the applying attorney, however, is contrary to Carey and must be vacated. If nothing else, permitting that basis for what should be a rare exception is completely unfair to an attorney who has done identical work, failed to keep the required contemporaneous records but whose reputation is unknown to the judge. It would also be unfair to that lesser-known attorney who has done good work but for one reason or another has failed to impress the judge. Moreover, such an “exception” is not an exception to the Carey rule at all. It is an abrogation. We interpreted Carey as conditioning attorney’s fees on contemporaneous records in all but the “rarest of cases.” Scott, 626 F.3d at 133. A district court judge has an opportunity to see and evaluate a lawyer’s work in all cases. On appellate review there are additional considerations. As we recognized in Carey, it is difficult if not impossible for courts of appeal to meaningfully review awards based entirely on a district court’s sense of fairness. 711 F.2d at 1147. Without contemporaneous records “we have little choice but to show considerable deference to the District Court’s conclusion as to how many hours were reasonably compensable.” Id. Abuse of discretion review in these instances, however, requires a more searching inquiry. While it is true that we will—by default—need to rely on a district court’s estimate of compensable time when Carey’s narrow exception is triggered, such deference is a necessary evil brought about only by some other good reason. It is not a justification unto itself.
We have been pointed to no evidence that would permit us to conclude that this case falls within an exception to the Carey rule that would justify an award of all the fees for time that might be documented by an attorney’s contemporaneous records. Nonetheless, we are persuaded that Puccio should be eligible to recover limited fees for any contemporaneously documented time that he was physically before the district court. We thus hold that entries in official court records (e.g. the docket, minute entries, and transcriptions of proceedings) may serve as reliable documentation of an attorney’s compensable hours in court at hearings and at trial and in conferences with the judge or other court personnel. Where the court’s docket reflects that Puccio was in the courtroom participating in trial or was in chambers in conference with the judge and other counsel, these entries, comparable to contemporaneous attorney time records, may be effective substitutes for Puccio’s own contemporaneous records. In so holding, we hasten to add that this is not an invitation for district courts to engage in the type of conjecture that has occurred here with respect to Puccio’s purported 120 hours of trial time. Instead, attorneys seeking fees must point to entries in the official court records that specifically and expressly demonstrate their presence before the court and indicate with reasonable certainty the duration of that presence. No accommodation is to be made for travel time or out-of-court preparation because that will vary from attorney to attorney and issue by issue. Finally, we emphasize that the onus of gathering the applicable docket entries and other court records, if any, is on the applying attorney, not the district court. The district courts are under no obligation to award fees based on such time. Our holding today merely clarifies that using such remedies in this limited fashion will not run afoul of Carey if the district court chooses to do so. We believe that such a regime prevents a totally inequitable result in cases such as this while, at the same time, preserving the strong incentive Carey creates for lawyers to keep and submit contemporaneous records.”
Accordingly, the Second Circuit vacated the district court’s order reinstating plaitniffs’ attorney’s fees, and remanded the case to the district court so that plaintiff could submit a new application for attorney’s fees based exclusively on official court records.
As some have noted, the series of decisions rendered in this case seem to be in contradiction to previous Second Circuit jurisprudence, which has not required contemporaneous time records in order to support an award of fees. Since the Second Circuit did not explicitly overrule its prior cases, it will be interesting to see what effect, if any, the Scott decisions will have on future cases.
Click Scott v. City of New York to read the entire Second Circuit opinion.
2d. Cir.: Contested Attorney’s Fee Petition Must Be Accompanied By Contemporaneous Time Records
Scott v. City of New York
After prevailing at trial, the Plaintiff in this Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) case, moved for an award of attorney’s fees and costs pursuant to 216(b). The Defendant opposed the amount of attorney’s fees sought by Plaintiff’s attorney. The trial court awarded plaintiffs’ attorney partial attorney fees, based on the fees asserted. The Defendant appealed the award, asserting that the fee award was improper, inasmuch as the Plaintiff’s attorney had not submitted contemporaneous time records in support of his fee application. Plaintiff’s attorney cross-appealed from denial of certain of those fees. On appeal, the Second Circuit held that a contested attorney’s fee petition must be accompanied by contemporaneous time records. Therefore, they remanded the case back to the trial court in order to make a detailed finding regarding appropriate fees to be awarded (or in the alternative to state the basis for an exemption from such requirements).
Click Scott v. City of New York to read the entire opinion.