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Earle v. H&M Hennes & Mauritz L.P.

United States District Court, N.D. New York

February 28, 2017

H&M HENNES & MAURITZ L.P.; OFFICER TODD ROBERTS, Town of Guilderland Police Department; SENIOR INVESTIGATOR THOMAS FUNK, Town of Guilderland Police Department; INVESTIGATOR BRIAN LEACH, Town of Guilderland Police Department; & TOWN OF GUILDERLAND, Defendants.

          DECISION & ORDER

          DANIEL J. STEWART United States Magistrate Judge

         On the eve of the close of the already-extended discovery period, the Court received a Letter-Motion from Plaintiff's counsel seeking, inter alia, to extend the deadline to complete certain limited discovery, as well as a corresponding extension of the deadline for the filing dispositive motions. Dkt. 48, Pl.'s Lt.-Mot. In addition, Plaintiff's counsel requests time to obtain a computer expert and engage in expert disclosure. Id. On February 8, 2017, the Court held a telephone conference on the record and made several rulings on certain issues while reserving on others. As set forth during that conference, and summarized below, Plaintiff's requests are granted in part and denied in part.

         I. BACKGROUND

          A. Plaintiff's Complaint

         This action was commenced on August 27, 2015. Dkt. No. 1, Compl. An Amended Complaint was then filed as of right on September 30, 2015. Dkt. No. 6, Am. Compl. The Amended Complaint alleges that on the evening of November 14, 2014, Plaintiff and an acquaintance - both African American males - went to the H&M store located inside the Crossgates Mall, located in Guilderland, New York, where Plaintiff intended to purchase some clothes. Am. Compl. at ¶¶ 23-25. Plaintiff selected a “pair of sweatpants and brought the item to the register in order to pay.” Id. at ¶ 26. At the register, Plaintiff attempted to use a payment card associated with his “MasterCard account ending with 3605.” Id. at ¶ 27. After “swip[ing]” Plaintiff's card, the H&M employee told Plaintiff that the card “registered” as a Visa card ending with 7505.[1] Id. at ¶¶ 28-29.

         The employee contacted H&M store security, and one or more of the security officers told Plaintiff to wait inside the store. Id. at ¶¶ 30-31. H&M employees also contacted the Guilderland Police Department. Id. at ¶ 32. Plaintiff indicates that he voluntarily waited until police arrived to “straighten out the issue with his payment card.” Id. at ¶¶ 33 & 112. Defendant Guilderland Police Officer Todd Roberts arrived at the store, arrested Plaintiff, and walked him through Crossgates Mall in handcuffs. Id. at ¶¶ 35-38. After an investigation, lasting about two hours, the officers allegedly determined that the credit cards that Plaintiff had on his possession at the station were validly his and not stolen. Id. at ¶¶ 43-46 & 50-52. Guilderland Police then released Plaintiff in the Crossgates Mall parking lot. Id. at ¶ 53. As part of the follow-up investigation, Officer Roberts returned to H&M and had Earle's MasterCard swiped, which showed the correct information. Id. at ¶¶ 55-56.

         The Amended Complaint alleges the following claims against the Defendants: (1) illegal detention in violation of the Fourth Amendment; (2) excessive force in violation of the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments; (3) discrimination under 42 U.S.C. § 1981; (4) illegal detention under New York State law; and (5) assault and battery under New York State law. Id. at ¶¶ 58-163. The Guilderland Police Defendants have answered the Amended Complaint and asserted numerous affirmative defenses, including a claim that they had reasonable suspicion and/or probable cause to detain the Plaintiff. Dkt. No. 9 at ¶¶ 47-48. The H&M Defendants also rely on a common law privilege codified as New York General Business Law § 218. Dkt. No. 12 at ¶ 32.

         B. Discovery History

         A Rule 16 Conference was held with the Court on December 2, 2015, and the on the following date, a Uniform Pretrial Scheduling Order was issued, setting forth, inter alia, a discovery deadline of December 27, 2016. Dkt. No. 17. That Scheduling Order specifically provided that service of Plaintiff's expert disclosure was to be completed by September 28, 2016, and Defendants' deadline to serve their expert disclosures was set for November 14, 2016; rebuttals were to be served by November 28, 2016. Id.

         During the Rule 16 Conference a discussion ensued regarding the cash register readout and related technical issues. The Plaintiff's initial position in this lawsuit was the that operative event which led to his arrest and detention, was a computer glitch. Am. Compl. at ¶ 64 (“The sole information defendants relied upon to arrest and detain plaintiff for use of a stolen credit card was that the H&M computer at the cash register made an error in printing out two digits on the receipt.”). Plaintiff's counsel indicated his desire to obtain from Defendant H&M their complete point of sale billing software, with all manuals, and the Court expressed its view that such a wide ranging demand was not proportionally relevant to the needs of this particular case.

         Following the Rule 16 Conference, the parties, on several occasions, solicited the Court to intervene and rule on discovery issues. First, on December 22, 2016, Defendants sought a Court conference based upon a dispute over access to Plaintiff's credit card report in order to determine what cards he was authorized to use and what transactions were registered. Dkt. No. 27, H&M Lt.-Mot. Following a telephone conference with the parties, I directed that such report be provided to me for an in camera review. Dkt. No 32, Text Order, dated March 15, 2016. Approximately one month later, Defendant H&M requested Court assistance in obtaining the credit card history for the credit card number which the cash register at H&M recorded for Mr. Earle's transaction. Dkt. No. 34, H&M Lt.-Mot. In stating his position on Defendant's proposed subpoena, Plaintiff's counsel renewed requests regarding “disclosure of the computer software and operation manual of the software being run at the H&M store in Crossgates on the date in question.” Dkt. No. 35, Pl.'s Lt. Based upon the written arguments submitted to the Court, I authorized and directed that a subpoena be issued to the Astoria Savings and Loan Association, which issued the subject Visa card, to produce to the Court for an in camera review all transaction records for that card for a limited period of time. Dkt. No. 39, Order dated Apr. 27, 2016. As to Plaintiff's discovery requests, the Court reserved until after receipt of the in camera records; I also noted that the discovery deadline was currently set for December 27, 2016, I extended the mediation deadline to August 22, 2016, and I directed the parties to continue to engage in discovery. Id. Upon receipt and review of the records, [2]the Court issued an Order allowing disclosure to the parties. Dkt. No. 43, Text Order, dated June 7, 2016.

         On December 12, 2016, just prior to the expiration of the discovery period, Plaintiff's counsel submitted a Letter-Motion requesting that discovery be extended until February 1, 2017. Dkt. No. 46, Pl.'s Lt.-Mot. No request at that time was made to extend the expert disclosure deadlines, and indeed those deadlines set forth in the Scheduling Order had long since passed. There was also no mention of any enduring discovery dispute lingering with the parties. In light of the impending expiration of the deadline, the Court granted an extension of the discovery deadline to February 1, 2017, and accordingly extended the dispositive motion filing deadline to March 17, 2017; all other provisions of the Scheduling Order remained in effect. Dkt. No. 47, Text Order, dated December 14, 2016.

         Days prior to the expiration of the newly set discovery deadline, the Court received a Letter-Motion from Plaintiff's counsel seeking a conference with the Court in order to resolve more discovery disputes and, once again, to extend the discovery deadline. Dkt. No. 48, Pl.'s Lt.-Mot.

         Within his Letter-Motion, Plaintiff raises several issues including: 1) the need to depose a non-party witness, namely, the former employee of H&M who worked the register during the transaction with Plaintiff;[3] 2) Plaintiff's request for copies of personnel files for the three non-party witnesses prior to the scheduled depositions; 3) Plaintiff's desire to “engage an expert witness concerning operation of the H&M point-of-sale register at Crossgates and the H&M ...

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