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Echon v. Sackett

United States District Court, D. Colorado

January 27, 2016

ESMERALDO VILLANUEVA ECHON, JR., MARIBEL ECHON, and JUSTIN ECHON, Plaintiffs,
v.
WILLIAM SACKETT, and LEONIDA SACKETT, Defendants.

ORDER

Nina Y. Wang United States Magistrate Judge

This civil action comes before the court on Plaintiffs’ Second Motion to Compel Discovery [#60], filed on December 4, 2015 by Plaintiffs Esmeraldo Villanueva Echon, Jr., Maribel Echon, and Justin Echon (collectively, “Plaintiffs” or the “Echons”). This motion was referred to the undersigned Magistrate Judge pursuant to 28 U.S.C. § 636(b)(1), the Amended Order Referring Case dated August 28, 2015 [#46], and the memorandum dated December 4, 2015 [#61]. The time for Defendants to respond to Plaintiffs’ Second Motion to Compel Discovery has passed, and no response has been filed. Accordingly, having reviewed Plaintiffs’ Second Motion to Compel Discovery, the relevant case law, and the entire docket of this action, this court finds that oral argument would not materially assist in the disposition of Plaintiffs’ Motion and hereby GRANTS IN PART and DENIES IN PART Plaintiffs’ Second Motion to Compel for the following reasons.

BACKGROUND

Plaintiffs initiated this action on December 18, 2014 by filing a Complaint asserting the following claims: (1) violation of the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization Act (“TVPRA”); (2) violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (“FLSA”); (3) violation of the Colorado Minimum Wage of Workers; (4) violation of the Colorado Wage Claim Act; (5) Breach of Contract; (6) Breach of Contract-Third Party Beneficiary Claim; and (7) Unjust Enrichment. [#1]. Plaintiffs allege that Defendants, who operate several businesses and manage a farm in Rocky Ford, Colorado, held them in “debt bondage, requiring them to work on their crops and in their market, clean and maintain their rental properties, and perform various other jobs from 2011–2014, ” without pay. [#1 at ¶ 2]. Defendants, who are proceeding pro se, filed an Answer on March 18, 2015. [#11].

This court held a Scheduling Conference on April 23, 2015, at which the undersigned ordered the Parties to complete discovery by October 22, 2015 and file dispositive motions by January 22, 2016. [#16, #17]. On August 8, 2015, Plaintiffs moved this court to amend the Scheduling Order due to a stated reluctance on the part of Defendants to comply with their obligations to respond to discovery under the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. [#23]. After a telephonic status conference, this court amended the Scheduling Order to extend the discovery completion date to January 22, 2016 and dispositive motion deadline to February 19, 2016. [#27]. Defendants subsequently filed a letter with the court representing that they did not receive notice of the telephonic status conference until four hours after the telephone conference was to take place, and that the conference was set for a time when they were unable to participate. [#40].

On August 19, 2015, Plaintiffs filed their first Motion to Compel Discovery seeking an order compelling Defendants to respond to their First Set of Interrogatories and Requests for Production Nos. 2 through 9, and 11. [#32]. In response, Defendants filed their interrogatory responses, but did not respond to the first Motion to Compel Discovery. [#50]. The court held a hearing on October 1, 2015, in which Mr. Sackett stated that although Defendants could afford counsel, they preferred to proceed pro se. This court explained to Defendants that although they were proceeding pro se, they were obligated to abide by the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure. In addition, this court explained that failing to respond to discovery appropriately could lead to sanctions. [#52]. Based on Defendants’ stated concerns regarding disclosing their private information, the court ordered the Parties to meet and confer regarding a protective order, and to file a proposed protective order for the court’s consideration no later than October 15, 2015. [Id.]. At the hearing, Defendants brought a number of responsive documents and produced them to Plaintiffs. [#60 at 7].

The following day, Plaintiffs filed a second Motion to Amend the Scheduling Order, seeking to extend the pretrial deadlines yet again to accommodate Defendants’ forthcoming discovery responses. [#53]. This court granted that second Motion to Amend the Scheduling Order; the operative deadlines now include a discovery deadline of April 22, 2016, a dispositive motions deadline of May 20, 2016, and interim expert witness deadlines of February 15 and March 15, 2016. [#55]. The court had not yet set a Final Pretrial Conference date. [Id.].

Unfortunately, the Parties’ pretrial difficulties did not cease. On October 15, 2015, Plaintiffs submitted a Status Report representing that Defendants had failed to participate in the negotiation of a proposed protective order. [#56]. After allowing two weeks for Defendants to respond, the court entered a Protective Order without input from Defendants. [#57]. On November 30, 2015, the court held an informal discovery conference regarding Defendants’ continued failure to comply with discovery in this case. [#59]. This court again reminded Defendants that their continued resistance towards responding to discovery would lead to sanctions, potentially including default judgment. [Id.]

On December 4, 2015, Plaintiffs filed the instant Second Motion to Compel Discovery. [#60]. In their Second Motion to Compel Discovery, Plaintiffs seek a second order compelling Defendants to respond to their First Set of Interrogatories. [Id. at 6-7]. Defendants further contend that Defendants have still failed to produce documents responsive to Request for Production Nos. 2-4, 6, 8, 10, and 11. [Id. at 7-10]. The time for Defendants to respond to the Second Motion to Compel Discovery has long passed, without a response.

ANALYSIS I. Applicable Law

A. Discovery Rules

Rule 26(b)(1) of the Federal Rules[1] governs the scope of discovery in a civil action, and permits the discovery of any nonprivileged matter that is relevant to any party’s claim or defense so long as it is proportional to the needs of the case. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(b)(1). In assessing proportionality, the rule requires the court to consider the importance of the issues at stake in the action, the amount in controversy, the parties’ relative access to relevant information, the parties’ resources, the importance of discovery in resolving the issues, and whether the burden or expense of the proposed discovery outweighs its likely benefit. Id. This case presents several issues that the court will account for in its consideration of proportionality, including the fact that Defendants are unrepresented; the Parties in this case are related and such relationship has caused complications regarding the progress of this litigation; and the allegations as set forth in the Complaint raise serious issues of human trafficking and violations of labor and wage laws.

A party receiving discovery has obligations under the Federal Rules. A party responding to interrogatories must serve its answers and any objections within 30 days after being served with the interrogatories. Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(2). To the extent that it is not objected to, each interrogatory must be answered separately and under oath. Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(3). In addition, the grounds for objecting to interrogatories must be stated with specificity, and a responding party has the obligation to explain and support its objections. Cartel Asset Mgmt v. Ocwen Financial Corp., No. 01-cv-01644, 2010 WL 502721, *10 (D. Colo. Feb. 10, 2010).

Similarly, a party must respond to requests for production of documents within 30 days after being served. Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(A). For each item or category, the response must either state that inspection or production will be made, or set forth with specificity a ground for objection. Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(B). If a party contemplates production of documents, then the production must be made no later than a reasonable time set forth in the response. Id. If a party objects, the party must state whether any responsive materials are being withheld on the basis of that objection. Fed.R.Civ.P. 34(b)(2)(C). The Advisory Committee’s Notes are clear: an objection may state that a request is overbroad but the objection must also state if ...


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