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Acosta v. Neurological Care P.C.

United States District Court, E.D. New York

February 28, 2018

R. ALEXANDER ACOSTA, Secretary of Labor, United States Department of Labor, Plaintiff,
NEUROLOGICAL CARE P.C. et al, Defendants.


          Cheryl L. Pollak United States Magistrate Judge.

         Plaintiff R. Alexander Acosta (the "plaintiff or the "Secretary"), in his capacity as the Secretary of Labor of the United States Department of Labor, filed this suit on June 30, 2017 under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 (the "FLSA" or the "Act"), 29 U.S.C. § 201 et seq. The Secretary seeks to restrain the defendants, Neurological Care P.C, Sofia Amoashiy, and Michael Amoashiy (collectively, the "defendants"), from committing further violations of the Act and to recover from them back wages and liquidated damages on behalf of defendants' employees.

         The Secretary filed a letter motion to compel on February 7, 2018, which identified certain deficiencies in the defendants' discovery responses. (See generally PL's Mot., Feb. 7, 2018, ECF No. 25). Defendants filed their opposition on February 12, 2018. (See generally Defs.' Opp'n, Feb. 12, 2018, ECF No. 26). The Secretary filed his reply on February 14, 2018. (See generally PL's Reply, Feb. 14, 2018, ECF No. 27).

         The Court held a status conference in this matter on February 28, 2018, at which the Court resolved several of the parties' disputes. This Order memorializes the Court's rulings from the conference and resolves the remaining discovery dispute.


         A. The Court's Rulings at the Conference

         At the status conference, the Court ordered the defendants to complete the search for electronically stored documents and produce responsive documents by March 16.2018, or submit a letter explaining why defendants are unable to meet that deadline. If the search yields so many results that a single production by the deadline would be unwieldy, the defendants are Ordered to produce the documents on a rolling basis.

         Also by March 16.2018. the defendants shall provide a letter indicating the search terms they used to locate responsive documents, the e-mail addresses searched, and the identity of the third-party vendor providing discovery services. Furthermore, defendants' counsel is Ordered to contact the vendor to ensure that the documents which are identified in response to any search are provided to counsel in the first instance and at the same time such documents may be produced to the client. "The obligation to conduct a reasonable inquiry is fundamentally important, and although it runs first to counsel, it applies with equal force to the party itself." Martinez v. City of New York. No. 16 CV 79, 2018 WL 604019, at *26 (E.D.N.Y.Jan. 24, 2018); see also, e.g.. Zubulake v. UBS Warburg LLC ("Zubulake V"). 229 F.R.D. 422, 433 n.80 (S.D.N.Y.2004) (explaining that counsel "has a duty to advise and explain to the client its [discovery] obligations"). Counsel therefore must supervise the discovery process, and he remains responsible for deficient responses. See, e.g.. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26(g)(1)(A).

         B. Discovery Regarding Punitive Damages

         1. The Parties' Positions

         The Secretary seeks to compel the defendants' to respond to discovery requests regarding their assets. (See PL's Mot. at 2). The Secretary submits that such discovery is relevant and proper because this case involves a claim for punitive damages. (See id. at 2-3).

         Courts regularly permit "discovery into a defendant's assets, so as to avoid the burden on the parties, court, and jury that would occur if discovery was not permitted until after a finding of liability." (Id. at 3 (citing Munoz v. Manhattan Club Timeshare Ass'n. Inc.. No. 11 CV 7037, 2012 WL 479429, at *2 (S.D.N.Y.Feb. 8, 2012)). Furthermore, the Secretary only propounded formal discovery requests on this topic when the defendants refused to provide a financial affidavit, an option which was offered as "a means less intrusive than [a] document request." (Id. at 3). Finally, the Secretary contends that the defendants have waived all of their objections because they have failed to satisfy the specificity requirement of Rule 34(b)(2)(B), and have instead asserted only general boilerplate objections of the type universally found to be insufficient by federal courts. (Id. at 3-4). As a salient example, the Secretary points to defendants' objections to a request for production on the basis that the Secretary "fail[ed] to define the term 'Interrogatories.'" (Id at 4; see id Ex. 3).

         Defendants oppose the motion by arguing that discovery into defendants' finances is irrelevant. First, defendants argue that the parties stipulated that the defendants' revenue exceeds $500, 000 to establish the applicability of the FLSA. (See Defs.' Opp'n at 2). That stipulation, defendants argue, renders records relating to their finances irrelevant to the litigation. (Id.) Second, defendants argue that punitive damages are unlikely in this case and that discovery should only be allowed once liability is established at trial, but such discovery is not relevant at this time. (Id.) In support of this contention, defendants rely solely on cases from New York state courts and federal cases raising only state law claims. (Id.) ...

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