Plaintiff can’t just say he ‘will produce’ responsive discovery
Williams v. CoreCivic, Inc.
In this employment discrimination case, the court found the plaintiff’s initial discovery responses entirely inadequate and ordered him to supplement his production.
Kenneth Williams filed this case alleging that his former employer (collectively, “CoreCivic”) discriminated against him.
Earlier, CoreCivic had moved to compel Williams to supplement his discovery responses and initial disclosures. It alleged that his disclosures lacked specificity and failed to estimate damages. Williams shifted the blame, asserting that any “deficiencies” were the result of his “forced relocation” after CoreCivic terminated him. The court ordered Williams to promptly serve initial disclosures that fully complied with Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 26.
After Williams supplemented his disclosures, CoreCivic filed another motion to compel. It argued that the court should deem Williams’s “general, conditional, and form objections” waived. CoreCivic again asked the court to compel Williams to fully respond to its interrogatories and requests for production.
Williams “d[id] not address many of [CoreCivic’s] arguments” but denied withholding documents or information. He claimed that he was merely asserting his objections “to preserve them for trial.” He noted that he had “even asked [CoreCivic’s] counsel what they would propose” as a response to preserve his objections.
The court noted the dual requirements of relevance and proportionality that govern the scope of discovery under Rule 26(b)(1). When, as here, requested discovery “appears relevant,” the objecting party bears the burden to demonstrate that it is not. The court went on to cite “the ordinary presumption” favoring broad disclosure.
First, the court considered Williams’s “boilerplate” general objections. Case law establishes that “general objections are … ‘overly broad and worthless’” unless they are “substantiated with detailed explanations.” Williams, however, “made no meaningful effort to show how [his objections] apply” to CoreCivic’s specific requests.
The court found those objections “improper,” deemed them waived, and overruled them.
Turning next to Williams’s conditional objections, the court bluntly held that they were “invalid and unsustainable.” Objections must be “either raised or they are waived”; they cannot be reserved.
Therefore, the court overruled Williams’s conditional objections and deemed them waived.
The court next considered Williams’s allegedly incomplete responses to interrogatories and requests for production. Among the 19 interrogatory answers at issue, the court found 15 of Williams’s answers incomplete. The court granted CoreCivic’s motion to compel full supplemental answers to those interrogatories.
Williams answered every one of CoreCivic’s requests for production with the same response. He stated that he would “produce relevant, non-privileged documents that are responsive to this request on a rolling basis as they become available.”
This, the court plainly noted, was “not an adequate response” to a request for production. Rather, the court cited Williams’s duty, under Rule 34, to produce responsive discovery within his possession, custody, or control.
But the court could not determine from his response whether Williams actually had any responsive documents. Without that information, it could not compel production. Therefore, the court ordered Williams to serve supplemental answers identifying all the documents that he had produced. Further, if a request sought documents not within his possession, custody, or control, he must clearly explain that.
Finally, the court addressed Williams’s Rule 26 disclosures, specifically those regarding damages. The court ordered Williams to supplement his disclosures “to include an actual computation” of the categories of damages he claimed.
In total, the court granted CoreCivic’s motion in part and denied it in part.
Takeaways on Formulating an Ediscovery Strategy
Playing “hide the ball” with discovery violates the rules of court and doesn’t work anyway. It typically gains you nothing while subjecting you to potential sanctions. Instead, share the discoverable information that you have. If you have a strong case, your opponent should be able to see that quickly, prompting settlement negotiations. If you don’t, cut your losses early; don’t try to hide that fact with discovery gamesmanship.