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Sheehy v. Wehlage

August 9, 2006

ROBERT SHEEHY, ET AL., PLAINTIFFS,
v.
MARY ANN WEHLAGE, ET AL., DEFENDANTS.



The opinion of the court was delivered by: Hon. Hugh B. Scott

Order

Before the Court are defendants Mary Ann Wehlage and Allegany County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals ("Allegany County SPCA")'s joint motions (a) for a protective order against responding to plaintiffs' interrogatories (Docket No. 161*fn1 ); (b) to compel plaintiffs to respond to the discovery demands of Wehlage and Allegany County SPCA (collectively "SPCA defendants") (Docket No. 165*fn2 ); and (c) plaintiffs' cross-motion*fn3 to compel the SPCA defendants to answer plaintiffs' interrogatories and document demands, seeking leave of Court for plaintiffs' to complete interrogatories and demands, and granting them a forty-day extension to answer or object to defendants' interrogatories (Docket Nos. 169, 170, Pls. Atty. Aff. ¶ 16).

BACKGROUND

This civil rights case arises from the seizure of plaintiffs' dairy cattle from their family farm upon the alleged direction of the SPCA defendants. Familiarity with the facts from prior Reports & Recommendations (Docket Nos. 38, 72, 117, 137) and Orders (Docket Nos. 79, 95, 123, 130, 140) is presumed.

Pending Discovery Motions

After delays due to other parties' motions, the remaining defendants and plaintiff engaged in discovery (see also Docket No. 157, Scheduling Order). Plaintiffs served upon the SPCA defendants a set of interrogatories that asks 114 interrogatories, with a total of over 300 questions including the subparts (Docket No. 162, Def. Atty. Decl. ¶ 4, Ex. A) and document requests that exceed this Court's local rules limiting the number of requests, see W.D.N.Y. Loc. Civ. R. 34 (not to exceed 25 requests, including discrete subparts) (id. ¶ 4). Despite requests by defense counsel to withdraw these interrogatories as violating the limits set in the Federal Rules for the number of interrogatories, see Fed. R. Civ. P. 33(a) (not to exceed 25 questions including all discrete subparts), and being unduly burdensome, plaintiffs persist in raising these interrogatories (id. ¶¶ 4, 5, Ex. B). Plaintiffs contend that every request in their demand is relevant, and that the case is complex, involving several parties and over 100 head of cattle at issue (Docket No. 170, Pls. Atty. Aff. ¶¶ 4, 5). Apparently, tests were performed on each cow and thus plaintiffs needed to pose individual questions as to the results of each test on each cow, avoiding confusion if questions were consolidated (id. ¶ 6). Plaintiffs deny that Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 33 or this Court's Local Civil Rule 34 limit the number of requests to 25 (id. ¶ 9). They argue that the SPCA defendants have not shown how any of their interrogatories are improper (id. ¶¶ 10-11).

Belatedly, plaintiffs now seek leave to pose the number of questions and requests they sought beyond the limits set forth in the rules (Docket No. 169).

Meanwhile, the SPCA defendants served their discovery demands, which plaintiffs had not responded to. In particular, these defendants served requests for production of documents and interrogatories (Docket No. 166, Def. Atty. Decl. ¶¶ 2, 3, Exs. A, B) in June and, without requested extensions of time to respond, plaintiffs had not responded to these discovery demands. Defense counsel made efforts to obtain this material short of motion practice (and noting plaintiffs' waiver if timely responses or requests for extension were not made) but plaintiffs have not responded (id. ¶¶ 4-6, Exs. C-E), by rule waiving any objections to these requests. These defendants, in fact, had to cancel two depositions due to plaintiffs' default (id. ¶ 7). Plaintiffs now cross-move for an extension of forty days to respond to defendants' demands, stating that counsel believed she had sent the interrogatories to her clients, but they never received them (Docket No. 170, Pls. Atty. Aff. ¶¶ 13-15), but plaintiffs or their counsel did not state this to the SPCA defendants in response to defendants' inquiries prior to filing their motion.

The SCPA defendants, in their reply, repeat that plaintiffs' demands are burdensome. For example, the mixture of discovery devices (interrogatories that must be under oath and document demands under Rule 34 which are not under oath) would require defendants to separate the responses requiring verification from the rest that do not (Docket No. 174, Defs. Reply Decl. ¶ 3 n.2). The SCPA defendants state that plaintiffs never conferred with them regarding plaintiffs' cross-motion (id. ¶ 4). They deny that this matter is complex so as to require the extensive inquiry from plaintiffs, as this matter is limited in time and number of people (id. ¶ 5), regardless of the number of cattle involved.

Briefing Schedules

The Court set briefing schedules for each motion. Responses to the motion for a protective order were due by July 14, 2006, and any reply was due by July 21, 2006 (Docket No. 164); responses to the SPCA defendants' motion to compel were due by July 21, 2006, and any reply was due by August 1, 2006 (Docket No. 168), as was when responses to plaintiffs' cross-motion were due (Docket No. 172). All pending motions were deemed submitted, without oral argument, on August 1, 2006 (Docket Nos. 168, 172, see Docket No. 164).

DISCUSSION

I. Discovery Standards and Sanctions

Discovery under the Federal Rules is intended to reveal relevant documents and testimony, but this process is supposed to occur with a minimum of judicial intervention. See 8A Charles A. Wright, Arthur R. Miller & Richard L. Marcus, Federal Practice and Procedure ยง 2288, at 655-65 (Civil 2d ed. 1994). "Parties may obtain discovery regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the claim or defense of any party, including the existence, description, nature, custody, condition, and location of any books, documents, ...


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