United States District Court, N.D. Illinois, Western Division
September 8, 2005.
DEMETRIC BELL, MARILYN BERRY, CATHERINE BROWN, KIMBERLY BUCHANAN, GILBERTO GONZALEZ, DELLA JARRETT, TIMMY LINK, EDDIE MANNING, JR., KIM NACHAMPASSACK, DUANE PARKS, BRENDA RILEY, DARNEL ROYAL, ROBIN SALLIS, VELMA SANDERS, BARBARA SMITH, TONY TRIPLETT, JANET WILKINS and FRED WYNNE, individually and on behalf of similarly situated persons, Plaintiffs,
WOODWARD GOVERNOR COMPANY, Defendant.
The opinion of the court was delivered by: P. MICHAEL MAHONEY, Magistrate Judge
MEMORANDUM OPINION AND ORDER
This matter is before the court on Defendant's August 24, 2005
Motion to Compel Plaintiffs to Provide Full and Complete
Responses to its December 31, 2004 Interrogatories. For the
reasons stated below, Defendant's Motion is granted in part and
denied in part.
On December 31, 2004, Defendant served six written
interrogatories on Plaintiffs. On May 12, 2005, this court
granted Defendant's Motion to Compel answers to the
interrogatories and ordered production by June 27, 2005.
Plaintiffs' answers were served in accordance with the court's
order, but Defendant now maintains the "answers are grossly
inadequate, incomplete, and duplicative of each other." Def.'s Mtn., at 3. Plaintiffs
maintain their "answers are a diligent attempt to respond to
defendant's interrogatories that far exceeds in detail the sort
of interrogatory responses served by defendant." Pl.'s Resp., at
The court turns to the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure for
guidance in deciding a motion to compel more complete answers to
interrogatories. Under Rule 33, which governs the use of
interrogatories, interrogatories are intended to allow parties to
prepare for trial, narrow the scope of the issues at hand, and to
minimize the possibility of surprise at trial. According to Rule
33, every interrogatory must be "answered separately and fully in
writing under oath, unless it is objected to, in which event the
objecting party shall state the reasons for objection and shall
answer to the extent the interrogatory is not objectionable."
Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(b)(1). There is a duty to provide full answers
to interrogatories i.e., answers should include all the
information within the responding party's knowledge and control.
See Bell v. Woodward Governor Co, No. 03 C 50190, 2005 WL
289963, at *2 (N.D. Ill. Feb. 7, 2005) (requiring Defendant to
more fully respond to discovery requests).
Although as a general matter, parties "may obtain discovery
regarding any matter, not privileged, that is relevant to the
claim of defense of any party," discovery must have practical
limits. Fed.R.Civ.P. 26. Under Rule 26(b)(2), courts have the
discretion to limit the use of otherwise permissible discovery
methods if the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or
unduly burdensome or expensive. See Patterson v. Avery Dennison
Corp., 281 F.3d 676, 681-82 (7th Cir. 2002). In a motion to
compel, the burden is on the responding party, here Plaintiffs,
to convince the court that an interrogatory is objectionable.
Fed.R.Civ.P. 37. In this case, the interrogatories at issue are contention
interrogatories. Contention interrogatories, distinct from the
identification interrogatories largely completed in this case,
inquire into a party's opinions or "contentions" about a
particular fact or application of the law to a fact. See
Fed.R.Civ.P. 33(c). A contention interrogatory may, under the
rules, ask for the material or facts that support a party's
contentions in a case. Id. Answers to such interrogatories are
useful because they, amongst other things, aid the propounding
party in "pinning down" a party's position and determining the
proof required to rebut the party's position. However, as with
identification interrogatories, courts have the discretion to
limit the use of otherwise permissible contention interrogatories
if the discovery sought is unreasonably cumulative or unduly
burdensome or expensive. Patterson, 281 F.3d at 681-82; Steil
v. Humana Kansas City, Inc., 197 F.R.D. 445, 447 (D. Kan. 2000)
(holding that an interrogatory requesting "each and every" fact
and application of law to fact was overly broad and unduly
burdensome because it would require "a laborious, time-consuming
analysis, search, and description of incidental, secondary, and
perhaps irrelevant and trivial details").
The guidepost on the proper scope of contention interrogatories
is to allow parties to prepare for trial by narrowing the scope
of the issues and minimizing the possibility of surprise at
trial. In order to accomplish this purpose, this court expects to
find, at least, in answers to contention interrogatories those
facts that a party intends to offer to prove their case-in-chief
or intends to offer in defense. Anything less would frustrate the
purpose of having contention interrogatories.
Here, Defendant's interrogatories seek information regarding
the following: (1) Plaintiffs' and charging parties' contentions that they were placed in a job,
job code, job level, or salary range as a result of unlawful race
and/or sex discrimination; (2) Plaintiffs' and charging parties'
contentions that their wage rate is/was a result of race and/or
sex discrimination; (3) Plaintiffs' assertions that other current
or former minority employees were placed in a job, job code, job
level, or salary range as a result of unlawful race and/or sex
discrimination; (4) Plaintiffs' assertions that other current or
former minority employees' wage rates were a result of unlawful
race and/or sex discrimination; (5) all alleged discriminatory
acts and/or omissions by Woodward that Plaintiffs believe were
acts of discrimination or evidence of discrimination; and (6) the
identification of all documents that Plaintiffs believe material
to each paragraph of the Complaint and the reasons why Plaintiffs
consider the documents material.
At this point, the court does not intend to reject as overly
broad or unduly burdensome all of Defendant's contention
interrogatories that seek the underlying facts and supporting
materials of Plaintiffs' case. However, the court also does not
choose to charge Plaintiffs with the task of providing, in
essence, a running narrative of their entire case, together with
identifications of all knowledgeable persons and all supporting
documents. There is no reason nor justification for this kind of
indiscriminate discovery in this class action employment
discrimination case with well over 200 class members and 18 named
It is fairly clear, after reviewing and organizing Defendant's
Interrogatories and Plaintiffs' Answers, where Plaintiffs'
response lacks the clarity and completeness required by the
Federal Rules.*fn1 While the court will not strike all the
responses as "grossly inadequate" as requested by Defendant, the court finds that Defendant is
entitled to some additional detail from Plaintiffs.
The court will address the adequacy and inadequacy of each
individual Answer below. Applicable to all Interrogatories, the
court finds that Plaintiffs properly limited its answers to
"Plaintiffs" excluding "Charging Parties" and to "race
discrimination" excluding "sex discrimination."
A. Interrogatory #1
With regard to Interrogatory #1, Defendant states Plaintiffs
have failed to list any single contention regarding what job
levels or salary ranges are discriminatory, why certain job
levels or salary ranges are discriminatory, who made
discriminatory decisions, and the reasons they contend they are
discriminatory. As a result, Defendant claims it is unable to
discern what employment decisions Plaintiffs consider unlawful.
Plaintiffs do not address Interrogatory #1 individually, but do
state that their responses are detailed and any further response
would be burdensome, duplicative of other discovery, and
inappropriate in light of the Defendant's own discovery
Here, it appears to the court that Plaintiffs have avoided
Defendant's actual question about specific contentions of job,
job code, job level, or salary range determination discrimination
by focusing their answer on their disparate impact claims. The
court and Defendant are not blind to Plaintiffs' allegation that
a pattern and practice of discrimination has adversely impacted the Plaintiffs and other members of the
advancement class, but Plaintiffs' general statement that "the
basic evidence supporting these claims is contained in
defendant's work force data base as well as the personnel files
produced by defendant" does not pass muster. Defendant is not
asking Plaintiffs about their case in a general matter. Defendant
is after specifics. Where Plaintiffs have identified specific
material or principal facts to support their prima facie case,
Plaintiffs must provide this information to Defendant. Thus, in
accordance with the above, and the attached breakdown of
Interrogatory #1, Plaintiffs are ordered to supplement their
Answer #1 within twenty-one days of receipt of this Order.
B. Interrogatory #2
Defendant incorporates its objections to Interrogatory #1 into
its objections to Interrogatory #2, maintaining it cannot
ascertain the contentions of Plaintiffs regarding wage rates.
Plaintiffs, likewise, state that their responses are detailed and
any further response would be burdensome and duplicative of other
Plaintiffs again appear to be hiding behind their disparate
impact claims. Plaintiffs' more specific answer to Interrogatory
#5 reveals that Plaintiffs compiled large amounts of detailed
information concerning specific allegations of discrimination.
Nonetheless, reviewing Plaintiffs' Interrogatory #2 Answer, it
appears that not one Plaintiff contends their specific wage rate
was discriminatory. Plaintiffs' general statement contending that
they should have been paid in a manner "comparable to white
employees" avoids more issues than it elucidates. Without
identification of "comparable white employees," Plaintiffs'
contention is useless. Where Plaintiffs have identified specific
material or principal facts to support their contentions,
Plaintiffs must provide this information to Defendant.
Consequently, in accordance with the above, and the attached breakdown of Interrogatory #2, Plaintiffs
are ordered to supplement their Answer #2 within twenty-one days
of receipt of this Order.
C. Interrogatory #3
If Plaintiffs' response to Interrogatory #3 was really their
full and complete answer containing all the information within
their knowledge and control as required by the rules, it would be
safe to assume that not one Plaintiff can identify another
minority employee whom they contend were placed in a job, job
code, job level, or salary range as a result of unlawful race
discrimination. Plaintiffs' Interrogatory #5 Answer belies this
statement. Thus, in accordance with the above, and the attached
breakdown of Interrogatory #3, Plaintiffs' Answer to
Interrogatory #3 is struck as inadequate and off-point.
Plaintiffs are ordered to respond to Interrogatory #3 within
twenty-one days of receipt of this Order.
D. Interrogatory #4
Plaintiffs' response to Interrogatory #4 is as woefully
inadequate as their response to Interrogatory #3. Not one
specific contention that other current or former minority
employees' wage rates were a result of unlawful race
discrimination could be parsed from Answer #4, which is really a
regurgitation of Answer #2. As held above, where Plaintiffs have
identified specific material or principal facts to support their
prima facie case, Plaintiffs must provide this information to
Defendant. Thus, in conformance with the above, and the attached
breakdown of Interrogatory #4, Plaintiffs' Answer to
Interrogatory #4 is struck. Plaintiffs are ordered to respond to
Interrogatory #4 within twenty-one days of receipt of this Order.
E. Interrogatory #5
By far, Plaintiffs' most complete answer to Defendant's
contention interrogatories is found in Answer #5. Spanning approximately 50 single-spaced
pages, Plaintiffs lay out a list of specific acts or omissions
that Plaintiffs contend are incidents of discrimination. The
Answer is organized by individual Plaintiff and contains detailed
descriptions of each alleged event of discrimination. Plaintiffs,
however, note in their response that the list is not all
inclusive. Defendant maintains that it is entitled to all of
Plaintiffs' contentions of discrimination, not just Plaintiffs'
This court finds that Defendant is entitled to the information
that Plaintiffs have identified as specific material or principal
facts supporting their prima facie case. Description of
incidental, secondary, or trivial details, though responsive to
Defendant's Interrogatory, need not be included. Thus, in
conformance with the above, and the attached breakdown of
Interrogatories, Plaintiffs are ordered to supplement Answer #5
within twenty-one days of receipt of this Order.
F. Interrogatory #6
Here, common sense must come into play. Defendant has asked
Plaintiff to identify each document material to each paragraph of
Plaintiffs' Complaint by paragraph number. There are 142
paragraphs in the Complaint, and well over 100,000 documents
produced. The request is overly burdensome. In fact, the request
violates the court's case management order as Interrogatory #6 is
actually 142 separate and discrete inquiries, while the case
management order allows only 75 interrogatories. The court,
therefore, strikes Interrogatory #6.
In conclusion, and for the reasons stated above and in the
attached breakdown of interrogatories and responses, Defendant's
Motion to Compel Plaintiffs to Provide Full and Complete Responses is granted in part and denied in part.
Plaintiffs are ordered to supplement Interrogatories # 1, 2, and
5, and to respond anew to Interrogatories # 3 and 4 within
twenty-one days of receipt of this Order. The court strikes
Interrogatory #6 as overly burdensome.
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